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Monday, 29 October 2012

ASIAN CALL CENTERS!

A few months ago I wrote a blog post about my feelings and experiences of Indian call centers. I think it's time for an update.

Some seem to be quite professional and capable of coherent thought without too much access to a script, but they are the exception, rather than the rule. The rule seems to be "keep rigidly to the script, don't allow the client to deviate from the call intention one iota, never listen to what's being said unless the answer is on the script, and never ever offer to put the client through to someone in the UK".

Over the past few days an Indian call center has called me at least once a day and twice on two occasions. Firstly they are calling me when the shouldn't be and secondly they made the following cardinal errors:-
 - On the first call I explained why they were calling in error, but the guy just ploughed on with his call.
 - When I asked to speak to someone in the UK he offered to put me through to his supervisor in Bombay.
 - On the second call he started off by saying "Hello, Richard." I replied I didn't know him and rang off.
 - He phoned back and started with "Mr Hardie" I replied in the affirmative, "I need to ask you some security questions". I told him he needed to firstly tell me who he was and then to ask me if it was convenient to talk. His reply was "What?". Said it all really.
 - On the last occasion the whole thing started from scratch with a new voice but the same script.

I'm now writing a letter. That's one of of those old fashioned things that people used to use to communicate, especially businesses with their customers, before they started using call centers on the other side of the world, that have a different language, different ethics, but a much lower price tag than their UK equivalent.

The plot has been lost, big time!

The foreign phone call is a menacing threat. Not only are most anonymous, soulless call centers overseas, but as a result of cold calls being banned from the UK, companies now bombard us from the Philippines and India about Accident Claims and PPI Claims. They should be closed down once and for all.

Blog on, Dudes!

Saturday, 27 October 2012

"ANOTHER AUTHOR'S BLOG"

One of the blogs I follow is written by a fellow author called Carol Hedges. Whe you visit her site you'll see she like Citroen 2CVs and the colour pink. There's no accounting for taste! However she also owns a virtual (I hope it's only virtual!) pink sofa, and she invites people who might have something interesting to say to contribute to her blog by joining her on the Pink Sofa.

Her latest invite is Anne E. Johnson, an American writer, whose blog post topic is getting published in America. For those authors who either publish independently, or are lucky enough to have secured a contract with a UK publisher, the post will be an eye-opener. It may also prompt some people to do what I did and secure an American agent / publisher.

Carol's blog post link is http://carolhedges.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/the-pink-sofa-welcomes-anne-e-johnson.html?spref=tw

Even if you don't like 2CVs, the colour pink, or even sofas, Carol's blog is always entertaining. Give it a go!

Blog on, Dudes!


Friday, 26 October 2012

MASTERMIND!"

I'm watching Mastermind at the moment and never cease to be amazed at the knowledge these people have on the quiz.

For two minutes they have a number of questions fired at them by John Humphries, a man who turns seasoned politicians into quivering blancmange, on a specialist subject of their own choosing. As if that wasn't bad enough they then have to answer  general knowledge questions for a further 3 minutes, with the person having the lowest score from the specialist rpound having to go first. The ignominy of it!

At least the specialist subject is a personal selection, but the trick is obviously to make the subject as precise as is allowed, rather than nominate something like "the history of the world". Even then there have been the odd times when contestants froze and scored 1 point where the average would be 10 and the best would be 17. The last placed person usually gets 8 odd points. Being asked to take the famous Black Seat under the pot light and being told you only have 1 point "and now let's see if you can double that score with your general knowledge" would make me want to pass and someone else have a go.

That's the ordinary Mastermind, but in round 2 and all subsequent ones up to the final the remaining contestants have to nominate a different specialist subject and that's where it gets really interesting. Would you choose your best subject for the 1st round, or save it for later in the hope that you'll win with your second best topic and need your best against the other bright sparks who make it through to the latest stages?

It's not like Eggheads, or University Challenge where teams can rely on their colleagues to take the blame, or  supply a spontaneously correct answer and make you look clever by reflecting in the glory of their intelligence. In Mastermind each contestant is absolutely on their own.

Then there's the dreaded PASS. If a contestant answers a question wrongly John Humphries then tells them the correct answer. All that takes time and they only have 2 or 3 minutes in total, so they are allowed to say PASS and Humphries then goes straight on to the next question. However, at the end of the quiz the number of passes is tallied up and if there's a draw then the person with the fewest passes wins. Seeing the look of Homer Simpson "DOH!" on someone's face because they said PASS once too often and blew the quiz is a picture.

I've got great respect for anyone who goes on Mastermind and puts their knowledge or lack of it to the intense scrutiny of the nation. I really feel for them, but it doesn't stop me shouting at the TV if know the answer and they don't quicker than me.

Blog on, Dudes!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

"DOGS I HAVE KNOWN"

As those of you who have looked at my photos on Facebook will know, I quite like dogs. More specifically I love Cocker Spaniels.

As I write this post I have a lovely black cocker with a white shirt front curled up on the sofa by me keeping me company and occasionally opening one eye to check on me, probably to see whether there's an opportunity for food, or a walkies. His name is Benji.

Twice a year Benji and I go to the Gower Peninsular in South Wales and walk along the most beautiful coastline in the UK without seeing more than 3 or 4 people each day. We walk for anything up to 10 miles regardless of the weather and if it's raining we know we have the whole place to ourselves. We may be soaked, or rather Benji may be (I'm in my wet weather gear) but we don't worry, and it adds to the anticipation of a good rub down (in Benji's case) and a warm chalet with a nice glass of wine. I always take a number of vacuum packed rump steaks; really thick and succulent from our local butcher and I cook one each night, which we share to some degree. The rest of the wine slowly disappears as we curl up together on the sofa and watch Welsh television. I usually manage to put in 2 to 3 hours work either writing, or editing, while Benji goes off to his bed in disgust. Come 10.30 we go to bed and ten minutes later Benji wanders into the bedroom and curls up on the bed next to me. We haven't managed to make it this year, but I'm determoned to take him down there next year, probably in March or April.

Man's best friend, and certainly mine. No matter how bad I feel, or grouchy I am, he's happy.

Benji is my 5th Cocker since I was a kid and my third as an adult. The previous two were not brothers, but we had them at the same time and they went to the great kennel in the sky within a year of each other which, considering they were inseparable, is understandable. One was golden and the other a light blue roan (a sort of mottled black and white). We had the golden about 3 months before the roan and he was always the top dog, which is the way the roan wanted it. They were beautiful chaps, but they had each other. Benji on the other hand is a single dog and he is a significant part of the family. He has Daddy-Man, Mummy-Lady, Girl-Lady and The Boy. That's his family and long may it remain so!

When I take him for a walk in our local recreational field there are always other dog walkers. The strange thing is we all know the names of each others' dogs, but not the owners' names. Bit by bit that's changed and even found that a couple of dog walkers are fellow authors with Facebook pages. It's a small doggy world!

It's time to put on my steak and tuck into a good meal (the wine is already well under way) then watch Man U play some sort of football match. Doubtless Benji will curl up next to me and bark encouragement!

Blog on, Dudes!

Friday, 19 October 2012

EATING WITH GUSTO


For my American readers, and I suppose for anyone living outside the UK and for whom English is not their first language, GUSTO is not a type of vegetable, nor is it a sauce. It means "with relish". Oh dear, that doesn't help I suppose. especially if you're American. Okay, eating with GUSTO and eating with RELISH, both mean I bloody well enjoy it!

The 3rd Friday night of every month is always one to look forward because it's when 4 of my friends and I go to a particular location (can't tell you where, or you'd all want to come!) and have a superb meal and a few drinks.
Personally I always seem to have the same... a 10oz ribeye steak (medium rare), chips, mushrooms, a fried egg, onion rings, tomato and a pint of local ale. More chips are brought half way through as are more onion rings and mushrooms (to share with my friends). All that for £10 ($15)! I couldn't buy the ingredients for that! Not only that, but the same place sometimes offers specialities like kangaroo and ostrich steaks, and tonight is offering zebra steaks! I think I'll stick to my ribeye, though I could have the curry, a mixed grill, or a variety of fish dishes. Gosh, I'm hungry! Which brings me onto the point of the blog post.

All last week and this I worked in the kitchens of two teaching establishments. The first was a 6th form college that has over a 1,000 students who eat like they were 6,000. The amount of food preparation is quite unbelievable and yet the quality was great and I ate there every day. I always promised myself I'd have a salad, but I inevitably ended up with fish / meat, chips and vegetables, plus a cup of home-made soup and a mousse to finish. Maybe not the most healthy mix, but incredibly tasty to a growing lad... and me!


This week I've been working at one of the UK's top public schools where the fees are higher than most people earn and the food is therefore expected to be on a par. And it is. Yesterday, for instance, I managed to grab chicken sate with stir fried vegetables in a chinese 5 spices sauce and fried noodles in soy sauce. Stunning! That was followed with an apple sponge pudding that melted in the mouth. Today was something else. Lunch was fish and chips. Not just any old fish, it was an excellent Pollock done in a lovely batter and cooked, not deep-fried. It tasted beautiful, but I only had a small mouthful, bearing in mind the £10 banquet to come later this evening. Unfortunately the desert was a Pavlova I watched the chef prepare yesterday. The meringue had a lovely crust but melted in the mouth. The cream was superb and the fresh summer fruits were to die for. The combination of sharp fruits, bland cream and sweet meringue was too much and I had a bowl.

So it's a hour before we get together and leave for the secret location for tonight's bit of GUSTO and I've got to prepare. Now the next question is.... do I go for kangaroo, ostrich, zebra, or do I stick to my 10oz ribeye. I love making decisions like this!

Blog on, Dudes!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

"SPORTS PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR....QUANDARY!"

OK, so it's only October, but it won't be long before we're asked to vote for the TV Sports Personality of 2012. Usually a highlight of the year. But in 2012....I wonder.

Today, Heather Watson was the first Brit to win a woman's major tournament for what seems like centuries and the first to reach a final since Jo Durie, many many years ago. Andy Murray won the first Grand Slam tournament by a Brit in centuries. Actually the first since Fred Perry and the days of playing in long trousers and a quick cigarette between sets. Then there's the Ryder Cup winning Brit (OK Brit and Europe) team who came home from the States with the cup when it looked as though the Americans were going to walk it.
Who gets what out of that lot?

Then there's the Olympians and Paralympians who exceeded all expectations in both performance and in gold medals. Could they win the team award, and if so, which team would win it.

Mr Wiggins, of course, could win everything. The team award with Team GB (I hate that phrase. It's so American. Sorry America!), the individual award for his gold in the Olympic Games, and then his ultimate triumph of winning the Tour de France without the aidany artificial siubstance. One in the eye for Lance Armstrong!.

Personally I wouldn't like to draw up even a shortlist for the Sports Personality of the Year. So the challenge is...WHO WOULD YOU NOMINATE FOR EACH CATAGORY>
1. Personality winner
2. Runner up
3. Poor sod
4. Team award
5. Coach award
6. Overseas Personality award
7. Other award

Blog on, Dudes!

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Proof that Christmas is round the corner!

As if anyone needed reminding, Christmas is only a couple of months away. Scary!

But just in case anyone has forgotten, here are a few heavy hints dropped by retailers and anyone who makes money out of the festive season.
1. Christmas cards in boxes and singally are on sale in shops and post offices.
2. Festive wrapping paper is available with matching sticky tape (I won't say Sellotape).
3. Seasonal charity shops are opening in empty retail outlets.
4. Toys are being advertised on TV.
5. Garden centers are selling fake Christmas trees, life size Santas, Pointsettias and glitter balls.
6. Theaters are advertising pantomimes. "Book now. Few seats remaining".
7. It's Sunday night and there's not a thing on TV, unless you love Reality ahows and Ballroom Dancing. I like neither.

What happened to the two hour detective programmes they used to put on every Sunday? Poirot, Miss Marple, Midsommer Murders, Inspector George Gently, Morse....there's not a single one to be seen anywhere. Tonight the only programme of any worth is Merlin and even that is becoming predictable, though it's still good fun.

At least the "post early for Christmas" signs aren't up yet!

Blog on, Dudes!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012


PR Newswire: news distribution, targeting and monitoring
 

Publerati ebook Publisher Signs On With Worldreader

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The publishing firm and the non-profit organization are working to promote global literacy via new e-reading technologies.

PORTLAND, MaineOct. 10, 2012 /PRNewswire-iReach/ -- Publerati, the ebook publisher specializing in global fiction, announced at the Frankfurt Book Fair that its ebooks will be available through Worldreader (worldreader.org), a non-profit aiming to boost literacy by providing digital books to children and teachers throughout the developing world.
"The primary purpose of Publerati is to use ebooks as a better way for fiction writers to reach more readers around the world, and to do so in a way similar to museums where some people pay full admission and others get in free," says Caleb Mason, Founder and Publisher at Publerati.  "Working with Worldreader will help us fulfill our mission of opening access, where those who pay will know that our free ebooks plus no less than 5% of net proceeds are being donated to support Worldreader's efforts."
Publerati ebooks will be available on e-readers provided to children and teachers across Sub-saharan Africa as well as on the new Worldreader Book App for mobile phones, allowing millions of people in the developing world to have free access to a selection of Publerati ebooks.
"Worldreader is about books and literacy. We use new digital platforms to deliver books to people in the developing world who previously had little to no access to reading material of any kind. We now have the technology to make it happen, but we need like-minded publishers like Publerati to supply the content.  We are thrilled to have the support of Publerati and are humbled by their generosity to donate some proceeds to Worldreader's program," said Elizabeth Wood, Director of Digital Publishing for Worldreader.
Caleb Mason adds, "Publerati ebook fiction should have worldwide appeal, and I think in particular the stories of Lakshmi Raj Sharma will be very well-received in India as part of the Worldreader feature phone and free e-reader programs. And Richard Hardie's young adult time-travel series, which transports readers across historically fascinating time periods from Camelot to ancient Rome, will entertain and educate children in Africa and elsewhere."
About Publerati
Read ebooks. Spread literacy. Publerati is a new concept during the early years of digital change within book publishing, whose purpose is to widen access to high-quality fiction from around the world and to do so with a social purpose.  Publerati authors come from Indiathe United States, and Great Britain with several new novels scheduled for 2012-13. Media Resources available within the News section of www.publerati.com
About Worldreader
Worldreader is a US- and European not-for-profit organization that aims to put a library of digital books within the hands of children across the planet. Founded in 2009, Worldreader works with device manufacturers, local and international publishers, governments, education officials, and local communities to bring books to all. The non-profit has since put more than 200,000 international and local e-books into the hands of 1,000 students in Africa and is committed to continue increasing access to digital books in developing nations. The Worldreader Book Application is currently on over four million mobile phones, primarily in India and sub-Saharan Africa.  In July over 489,000 people read 25 million pages on the Worldreader Book App. www.worldreader.org
Media Contact:
Caleb Mason Publerati, 207-632-7007, calebmason55@gmail.com
News distributed by PR Newswire iReach: https://ireach.prnewswire.com
SOURCE Publerati


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PR Newswire (http://s.tt/1pE03)

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

A Cover Story

When I saw JK Rawling's new book cover (aparantly she's written another book) I was amazed how basic it was. It didn't drag me into it and I certainly didn't feel I just HAD to pick up a copy and find out what it was all about. I really didn't!.... and I still haven't. But I couldn't help thinking that if any other author had written The Casual Vacancy with a cover like that it wouldn't have seen the light of day, let alone the contents of my wallet!

So, does the cover really matter? You bet, though there obviously are two rules:-
1. If you're really, really famous and a multi-millionairess writer you can get away with anything people will buy your book even if the cover's rubbish, or even blank. The Beatles White Album is a great example. Mind you the album was brilliant!
2. As an author becomes better known, the title of the book gets smaller and the author's name becomes bigger. Terrry Pratchett is a great example. People buy his next Discworld novel because it's a Terry Pratchett and they know it'll be a cracker.

For us other poor mortals, the design of the cover is most important. It's the selling point and gives you less than 10 seconds to grab the potential buyer's attention and make them what to discover more. No amount of well thought out blurb will do that. 10 seconds, that's what you have to sell your book....hopefully a thousand times over, again and again!

Having launched my first book Leap of Faith (shameless advert and link at the end of this post) I talked the cover design over with the brilliant Tracey Tucker who onentscame up with a fantastic piece of artwork that had the teenage heroine shushing and in the background many of the main story components. The balance was perfect and she managed to avoid the deadly mistake of overloading. Book two in the Temporal Detective Agency series (Trouble With Swords) is coming out in November and (I think!) after weeks of talking to Tracey and Caleb my publisher we've got it right. Once again the model girl (Tertia the heroine and narrator of the story) strikes an interesting pose that attracts the casual browser and draws the viewer into looking at Excalibur, the sword in the stone as well as the Roman Coliseum. An intriguing mix and one that actually represents the book and its plot line.

The cover is important therefore, but seemingly less so as your fame grows. Shame really because I've had great fun helping to design the cover and I'd hate to think I could get away with a cover showing a small box with a cross in it.

Blog on, Dudes!

Saturday, 6 October 2012

THE STARCHED WOMAN (Part 12)

Part 12 of Lakshmi Raj Sharma's new short story set in India.

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                                                         THE STARCHED WOMAN (Part 12)

I wanted to ask her something but I awoke and realized that it was only a dream. The dream, however, did make me think. My dead grandmother had come in my dream because I was trying to enter the domain of the dead. This meant that the dead could feel the thoughts and actions of the living and could actually come back to the living. Neela Ghosh was making the best use of this principle but she had become a dried up soul in the process. I had to use the other method, the method of the dream-world, to solve my problems. I had to reach that state in which the soul finds its answers to questions intuitively or in the world of dreams. I had to become like those very few individuals, William Shakespeare being one, who could find solutions to the mysteries of life intuitively. These were not matters of the mind or the intellect; they had everything to do with the soul, the self without the body. In a state where the soul awakens, matter, the body, this world, become secondary or even redundant. The intellect can merely get caught up in the realm of logic and sense, but the soul can transcend the world of logic and see things clearly. In such a state the world of the dream and reality become one, or, better still, the world of the dream takes precedence over the world of reality. This was an unexpected realization for me and I suddenly became interested in dreams as I never had been. I began to see the connection between the world of logic and sense with materialism, political power and even bodily perfection. The desire for a beautiful body, or the will for a display of the body’s ability like flawlessly synchronized group-marching or a perfect P T display, these were all activities of a kind. But there was another kind of desire, the desire to know about the soul, the Creator, the other world. This was a yearning that could merge opposites. The ugly could become the beautiful; the fair could be the foul; death could be life. All this could happen beautifully in dreams or in a life that was made of the stuff that our dreams are made of.
I began to read more and more about dreams and then found so much truth that was conveyed through dreams, when they did come. They were great pointers to future happenings. Then one day I dreamed of Neela Ghosh. I saw that I was following her to the wooded patch of land. I saw her son there too. She looked so enlivened in the presence of her son. Her son looked grand almost a god. She sat in admiration of him. He told her that his father was in a poor shape in the world of the dead. He was paying for his sins. He was upset by what he saw happening to him. After all he was his father when they were alive in the world of the living. Neela Ghosh wept to hear that. Then her son told her something that upset her further. He said that he would be probably taking birth again within a year’s time, once again in Alipore. She was miserable to know that. How would she find him? How would she ever know where he had gone and taken birth? He said he would be born again as his soul was struggling to take birth again. But she did not feel convinced by what he said. She wept violently thinking that now she would actually lose her son and her weeping woke me up. I sat thinking of how real the dream was. It had revealed a great deal to me. But it was after all only a dream, I thought, and went to get ready to take on a new day.
Just as I got ready to set out towards the office of the newspaper I wrote for I heard a knock at my door. I opened the door and could not believe who I saw. It was my life standing there in a visible form. She was smiling but she seemed to have come to me in some distress. I kept looking at her face, not knowing what to do or say. She too looked at me meaningfully, trying to read the reaction in my eyes.
‘Won’t you ask me to come in?’
‘Yes, yes . . . of course,’ I said, ‘Come in, please come in!’

Thursday, 4 October 2012

THE STARCHED WOMAN (Part 11)

Part 11 of Lakshmi Raj Sharma's new short story set in India.

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                                                        THE STARCHED WOMAN (Part 11)

‘Shubendu, what makes you want to know of the dead? By trying to find out about Neela’s son you can become as stiff and lifeless as Neela herself. The worlds of the dead and the living are two separate worlds and the one should not interfere with the other if good health is to remain.’
I wanted to ask her something but I awoke and realized that it was only a dream. The dream, however, did make me think. My dead grandmother had come in my dream because I was trying to enter the domain of the dead. This meant that the dead could feel the thoughts and actions of the living and could actually come back to the living. Neela Ghosh was making the best use of this principle but she had become a dried up soul in the process. I had to use the other method, the method of the dream-world, to solve my problems. I had to reach that state in which the soul finds its answers to questions intuitively or in the world of dreams. I had to become like those very few individuals, William Shakespeare being one, who could find solutions to the mysteries of life intuitively. These were not matters of the mind or the intellect; they had everything to do with the soul, the self without the body. In a state where the soul awakens, matter, the body, this world, become secondary or even redundant. The intellect can merely get caught up in the realm of logic and sense, but the soul can transcend the world of logic and see things clearly. In such a state the world of the dream and reality become one, or, better still, the world of the dream takes precedence over the world of reality. This was an unexpected realization for me and I suddenly became interested in dreams as I never had been. I began to see the connection between the world of logic and sense with materialism, political power and even bodily perfection. The desire for a beautiful body, or the will for a display of the body’s ability like flawlessly synchronized group-marching or a perfect P T display, these were all activities of a kind. But there was another kind of desire, the desire to know about the soul, the Creator, the other world. This was a yearning that could merge opposites. The ugly could become the beautiful; the fair could be the foul; death could be life. All this could happen beautifully in dreams or in a life that was made of stuff that our dreams are made of.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

THE STARCHED WOMAN (Part 10)

The 10th part of Lakshmi Raj Sharma's new short story based in India.

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                                                          THE STARCHED WOMAN (Part 10)

The scene was getting very inauspicious and things didn’t seem to be boding well at all. Then the huge monkey came down on the ground with a loud thud and sat very close to me. It smiled at me, its big teeth showing, in an ominous way and I decided to run back the way I had come. For the first minute or so I felt that the monkey was chasing me but then that feeling di
minished as I reached the border of the wooded land. There I found the woman standing. For the first time I saw some expression in her eyes. She was looking at me furiously, as though I had entered her territory or violated her peace. I was not in the right frame of mind to talk to her and so just kept moving. I left the place as my confidence was shattered. I had made an ass of myself. What an idiot I was, I thought, to have entered an unknown place like that, and without another living presence to assist me.
I had worsened my conditions and now getting to the root of her story was becoming more difficult. I did not know how to make up for what I had lost. I was also losing my confidence as the situation was becoming more and more supernatural. I was travelling from the realms of realism towards a kind of magical realism. Who could have thought that a simple tale relating to a simple woman could take such a twist?
On an impulse I got up and went to the Oxford Bookstore on Park Street. There I asked for books that dealt with extra rational happenings. I liked one that was entitled, Death and Beyond. It was a book about how the dead could be approached. It dwelt at length on the significance of dreams. I returned to my room, had my light meal quickly and lay down on my bed to read. It was very fascinating reading and I don’t know when I fell asleep. I saw a dream in which my dead grandmother came and stood in front of me. This was the first time I had ever dreamt of her. She looked so real that I could never imagine that this was merely a dream. For some time she said nothing but then she spoke in a voice that was a scraped version of her living voice.

‘Shubendu, what makes you want to know of the dead? By trying to find out about Neela’s son you can become as stiff and lifeless as Neela herself. The worlds of the dead and the living are two separate worlds and the one should not interfere with the other if good health is to remain.’
I wanted to ask her something but I awoke and realized that it was only a dream. But the dream did make me think.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

THE STARCHED WOMAN (Part 9)

Part 9 of Lakshmi Raj Sharma's new short story based in India.

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                                                       THE STARCHED WOMAN (Part 9)

Now my journalistic story on Neela Ghosh was getting rather complicated. First, she herself seemed to be so other-worldly and now, in addition, she was even associated with a fakir who was far from ordinary. I was not sure how I would present the story in the newspaper and prevent it from appearing like a fairy tale. Of course it would take weeks, or months, before I c
ould get to the truth of the tale. I would adorn the role of a researcher till I got to know more about the woman. I decided to write on her under the caption of “The Starched Woman” because she always looked stiff and straight and she was all skin and bones. She never looked this side or that and went straight ahead, unbothered about what was going on around her. Her looks focused on something in front of her, beyond the here and now. She was unaffected by the cows, the dogs, the goats or the speeding vehicles on the road. It was a miracle that she never had an accident. Or, if she did that it remained unnoticed by others. People seemed as indifferent to her as she was towards them. She seemed to have reached a state in which nothing mattered. She had no desire to do anything else apart from going on her mysterious evening walk and her morning drive to the children’s school. Even in her car she looked straight ahead in her typically starched manner.

I was getting frustrated at not being able to follow her unnoticed to the place where, according to the fakir, she would go to meet her dead son. I was then struck by an idea. Instead of following her, I should reach that place ahead of her and wait for her to turn up there. I could then see what she did every day in the mysterious wooded patch. This was probably a better plan of action for me. Of course whether this could succeed still remained a mystery.
The next evening I reached the little forest in which this woman would enter daily. It had a narrow path leading straight into the wooded area. There, in the middle, was a clearing around a tall but slim peepal tree. I found this an apt place for me to sit and wait for the starched woman. Before two minutes could elapse I heard the sound of leaves rustling and thought someone was coming that way. But then the sound became louder and was accompanied by an eerie trembling voice that was difficult to decipher. I thought it was a male voice that had been muffled and brought to the pitch of a female’s. Then a monkey that had been sitting on the peepal tree suddenly made a strange sound that frightened me. I looked upward and found a great deal of commotion in the branches of the tree. Something was disturbing the monkey but what that was I could only guess. Then a huge bull came charging towards me. I had to instinctively move out of its way and I escaped its attacked very narrowly. At this point two dogs began to whine and cry out almost in a human way. The scene was getting very inauspicious and things didn’t seem to be boding well at all. Then the huge monkey came down on the ground with a loud thud and sat very close to me. It smiled at me, its big teeth showing, in an ominous way and I decided to run back the way I had come. For the first minute or so I felt that the monkey was chasing me but then that feeling diminished as I reached the boarder of the wooded land. There I found the woman standing. For the first time I saw some expression in her eyes. She was looking at me furiously, as though I had entered her territory or violated her peace. I was not in the right frame of mind to talk to her and so just kept moving. I left the place as my confidence was shattered. I had made an ass of myself. What an idiot I was, I thought, to have entered an unknown place like that, and without another living presence to assist me.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Humbling

For 30 years I've worked in the IT industry, both as salesman and as sales leader. In my last two roles I was sales leader for a major vendor and headed up their sales operation in the AsiaPac region, then sales director to a vendor that wanted to break into new regions, which I enabled them to do, Unfortunately I sold myself out of a job...something I won't go into.

After a year of trying to get an equivalent job, money became a leading necessity, because no matter how much saving you have they disappear very quickly. For the past 3 months I've worked for a recruitment company that specialises in day-by-day temporary work. Something I thought I'd never do.

Over the past few weeks I've worked in a major depot sorting out container lorries and carrying incredibly heavy boxes before sorting them into product types and sizes, then a number of days as a landscape gardener, during which I shovelled over 20 tons of top soil to create a number of borders in an incredible new garden. Over the last two weeks I've acted as a cleaner / handyman at a public school doing whatever I'm asked to do.... clean the showers and loos, shovel coal, clear drains, replace light bulbs, hoover the floors, mend the chairs, sweep the yard, stop that tap from dripping. And I love it!

The people I've been working with are without exception welcoming, understanding and incredibly nice. Even the boys at the school call me SIR! Is it humbling? Yes in a way it is. I used to earn excellent money in the IT sector and hopefully will again soon, but working with people who haven't been forced to work where they do by necessity, but by who they are has been wonderful. Without exception they've accepted me and become friends. Not only that but some of them have bought copies of my book Leap Of Faith. And no, I'm not using this as a base for advertising my book. Quite the opposite.

My experience over the past weeks has convinced me of the value of a "humbling" programme for employees of companies that have high flyers. Under no circumstances should they be allowed to say who they really are, but the need to empathise with people they would normally meet and would benefit them no end. This may sound condescending, but believe me it's not. It's a necessity. I've loved my last few weeks and probably will do for the next few weeks. Nobody has queried who I am or why I'm cleaning out the loos, they take me at face value and I have nothing but respect for them and strangely look forward to going in the next day again to meet them.

A strange blog post, but then that's life!

Blog on, Dudes!
THE STARCHED WOMAN (Part 8)

Part 8 of Lakshmi Raj Sharma's new short story set in India.
Blog on, Dudes!

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                                                      THE STARCHED WOMAN (Part 8)

I was utterly horrified to see that instead of a human hand he had a snake. Only one of his hands was human, in place of the other there was a snake. I looked at the snake that was a part of the man with feelings that combined revulsion and fear. At first I stood up to go. But then he smiled and said that he was harmless and that his snake had never bitten anyone.

‘Bu
t why are you not known all over the world for being so unusual, so extraordinary?’

‘Because I have never been known to show off my hand. I have kept the snake hidden in the sleeve. Those that have seen it accidentally have fallen unconscious or even passed away. I have been extra careful, therefore.’
I began to feel sick with fear and disgust at the hideous looking limb. I made excuse and left. When I looked back, the man was smiling at me. His smile said that he knew I was scared.

Now my journalistic story on Neela Ghosh was getting rather complicated. First, she herself seemed to be so other-worldly and now, in addition, she was even associated with a fakir who was far from ordinary. I was not sure how I would present the story in the newspaper and prevent it from appearing like a fairy tale. Of course it would take weeks, or months, before I could get to the truth of the tale. I would adorn the role of a researcher till I got to know more about the woman. I decided to write on her under the caption of “The Starched Woman” because she always looked stiff and straight and she was all skin and bones. She never looked this side or that and went straight ahead, untouched by what was going on around her. Her looks focused on something in front of her, beyond the here and now. She was unaffected by the cows, the dogs, the goats or the speeding vehicles on the road. It was a miracle that she never had an accident. Or, if she did that it remained unnoticed by others. People seemed as indifferent to her as she was towards them. She seemed to have reached a state in which nothing mattered. She had no desire to do anything else apart from going on her mysterious evening walk and her morning drive to the children’s school. Even in her car she looked straight ahead in her typically starched manner.

I was getting frustrated at not being able to follow her unnoticed to the place where, according to the fakir, she would go to meet her dead son. I was then struck by an idea. Instead of following her, I should reach that place ahead of her and wait for her to turn up there. I could then see what she did every day in the mysterious wooded patch. This was probably a better plan of action for me. Of course whether this could succeed still remained a mystery.