Sunday, May 25, 2008

Padma Venkatraman's Book Tour at DMC

Padma Venkatraman's writing is as multifaceted as her life: an eventful life that included wonderful experiences such as diving in the Indian Ocean, backpacking across Europe, directing a school in England, and leading research cruises on the Baltic Sea. She has written novels, biographies, picture books, poetry, scientific journal articles, and over a hundred popular science articles for children and adults. Padma Venkatraman was born in India but is now a United States citizen.

It is an honor to have her with us at DMC for her Book Tour Stop for her new novel CLIMBING THE STAIRS. You must have already read the review of this book by our dear member Praba, today she shares her experience of juggling writing and being a Mom with all of us at DMC.

Over to Padma...


Finding time to write when you are a (sleepwalking) parent

Sandeepa, it’s great to be your guest blogger today! Thanks for hosting me on my 4th stop on my very first blog book tour!

And hello, desi moms! If there are any non-desi moms out there who are wondering who a desi mom is, desi is…well…anyone of Indian heritage…that’s pretty accurate, I think…and a mom is…well…what a mum is on the American side of the Atlantic.

A desi mom is one who most likely doesn’t need to have the words “Jai Hind” translated, and one who, when she reads The Protest March chapter of CLIMBING THE STAIRS, can hear the crowd singing Vande Mataram and Sare Jahan Se Acha.The first thing I want to say is Namaskaram, Namaste, and hats off to all of you parents – it takes a parent to really respect what a huge responsibility parenthood is and how much time it takes.

For a few years now, I’ve been juggling science and writing…but now, it’s science, writing and baby…and that really is a new skill. How does one write when a baby yells? Here are 3 tips for those of you with writing aspirations that interfere with yelling kids. Or it the other way around?

1. Write everyday, even if you don’t write everyday.Keep in touch with subject matter mentally on days when you aren’t able to write. Think about it – think actively and constructively about your manuscript – sometime every day – maybe not when you are driving to work, but perhaps at least when you brush your teeth at night. Why? It keeps the subject alive in you and makes it much easier when you finally do get time to sit and type at the computer. (Having lived in America for so many years, I feel almost compelled now, to add, WARNING – This tip is not to be practiced behind the wheel; dreaming about your book while driving can cause accident, serious injury or worse).

2. Don’t start at the very beginning. That’s a very bad place to start.Yes, despite that song about starting at the very beginning (is that from the Sound of Music, which even made its way into Arundathi Roy’s wonderful novel? I think so. If you are a desi mom, you probably know this non-desi movie and this desi book). Novels aren’t necessarily written in order. Some novelists do it, I’m sure, so if it works for you, then go ahead. However, especially after becoming a mom, I tend to just write whatever chapter I feel like when I finally get a moment. Whatever I can see most clearly that day. Then, I fill in the gaps. Does that work? I don’t know. I hope so. It has to work for me now, so I think it will. In 2010, when Island’s End is published, you can read it and compare it with CLIMBING THE STAIRS, and then you can tell me. Or maybe my editor (who says he is going to be reading these blog posts) will tell me long before that…

3. Don’t waste time worrying about rejection. You will get rejected. That’s part of being a writer. I mean, even after you are a published author, there will be rejections of different types. So, who cares? I try not to. Time is precious, especially when there’s a little baby around. And wasting it on the negatives isn’t a good idea. My editor thinks I’m a bit crazy, but after we got the first two reviews for CLIMBING THE STAIRS, both of which were starred, I told him I wasn’t going to read them. Well, recently, his assistant attended one of my readings and forced me to read another review which was also of the highest quality rating, in an important review journal. So I said okay, okay, and I finally read them. But I try hard not to let them get me too excited. Because in the end, if you are a writer, you need to derive your energy from the process of writing and the good that your books generate, not let yourself get too high or too low because of someone else’s critique.

My friend, writer Vijaya Bodach, who is also a writing desi mom had these words of wisdom: “Enjoy the kids. They grow up much too fast. Learn to write in-between the cracks. I started writing at the kitchen counter just 10-20 minutes a day, while my toddlers played on the floor and supper simmered on the stove. Although I started The Great American Novel, I put it away for smaller pursuits – magazine writing and short stories. I learned to write small things well and it has served me well for my bigger projects. One thing that helped me write *with* my kids was to include them in the writing. We’d all sit at the kitchen table for a few minutes writing stories quietly. Sometimes, I’d write a story and have them draw the pictures for it. Oh, take naps with the kids. It’s wonderful to drift off to sleep during the daytime, with ideas bubbling just under the surface. Then stay up late to write. Five years ago, this is how I carved out two hours of night-time writing. It sure beats writing in 15-min. chunks. Of course, all this changes once the children start school. Then you will have time during the day to write, when you’re actually awake and alert. So fret not when the children are little. Your time will come. After all, you can’t stop the children from growing up.”

She’s right. Holding a baby is even better than holding the very first copy of your debut novel in your hands. That’s saying a lot! Thanks for reading!

For those who want to look at the previous stops on this tour or the ones to come, the information is pasted below. And before I forget, if you want to look at reviews of CLIMBING THE STAIRS, here are some links:

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Coming soon...Padma Venkatraman's Book Blog tour on DMC - May 25th!

Hello Desimomz

Want to share with you a little bit about Padma Venkatraman's ( the author of Climbing the Stairs) book blog tour that is starting today. Proud to mention that Saffron Tree gets the honor of being the first to host Padma.

Padma, despite her busy schedule around book signing events, has done an interview with questions and answers for Saffron Tree about her book, and her writing career in general.

Padma will be available to take questions from readers throughout today on Saffrontree. If you happen to stop by, please don't forget to leave a comment.

I want to mention that our very own Sandeepa is hosting Padma at DMC on Sunday, May 25th. Padma is doing a guest post on parenthood and finding time to write. How wonderful and relevant a topic for all of us moms who are serious about our own writing/blogging! Really look forward to that...:-)

Here's list of all of Padma's blogtour stops. As you can see, her stops include Desimomzclub and Blogpourri this week. What I find as a fascinating aspect of her tour is that on each stop she is going to be discussing a plethora of topics centering around both personal topics such as parenting, travel, her writing, research career, and general issues relevant to India and the world - gender inequality, Indian marriages, the role of colonies during World War II. Her tour sounds as multi-faceted as her writing and the novel! Dont want you to miss the discussions in the book/author blogosphere, and our own mommy blogs!

1. Friday, May 23rd. Exploring issues of faith, culture and colonization in CLIMBING THE STAIRS; Gandhi and Martin Luther King at Olugbemisola Perkovich’s blog (author of Eight Grade Superzero, coming in 2009).

2. Saturday, May 24th. Travel, living in different Indian cities and different countries, how this has influenced my writing at

3. Sunday, May 25th. Being a writing mom, finding time to write, parenthood and writing at

4. Monday, May 26th. Where were the British colonies during WWII? A few funky facts I unearthed while doing background research for CLIMBING THE STAIRS at author Laura Purdie Salas’s blog.

5. Tuesday, May 27th. CLIMBING THE STAIRS. The process of writing the novel, weaving together the different threads.

6. Wednesday, May 28th. Oceanography, research and CLIMBING THE STAIRS. Making my schizophrenia work to my advantage. My (at least two) personalities. What it’s like to spend your 21st birthday on a research vessel at author Greg Fishbone’s blog.

7. Thursday, May 29th. What exactly is that dot on the forehead all about? Arranged marriages, Women in India in the 1940’s, Indian marriages today, gender equality issues in CLIMBING THE STAIRS, anything else you ever wanted to know about India at author Carrie Jones’s blog. Friday, May 30th.

8. The grand finale. Moving to America, Becoming an American, Multicultural writing at author Mitali Perkins’s blog.

Thank you all for reading!


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Climbing the Stairs

Author: Padma Venkatraman

Age group: Young Adult(teenage)/Adult novel

Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (May 1, 2008)

Not often do you get to read a novel set in historical, pre-independence India with a story so wonderful and riveting. Padma Venkatraman undoubtedly brings a wonderful and fresh voice to the world of young adult and adult English literature with her debut novel, Climbing The Stairs.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and found the story very touching. The book appeals to both young adults and adults alike. For both the groups, the story's backdrop can offer interesting insights into India's political and social fabric during World War II and the independence struggle.

Please allow me to offer a little glimpse of the story's plot and the characters Hopefully, I am not giving away too much so you can go and find out for yourself how wonderful the book is.

Vidya and Kitta cruise their young adult/teenage years with their everyday lives filled with typical family and school related happenings when all of a sudden a bad event in the family forces them out of their homes into their uncle's home. In their new home, the two deal with clashes in values and judgements with members of the extended family. Kitta makes some important decisions for himself in line with his own ideals. And when it's Vidya's turn, the story's key focal point touches upon her personal struggles, and family and social pressures. Eventually, it boils down to how she makes some very important decisions for herself filled with determination, courage and hope.

A fascinating plot, and such interesting characterizations and text that kept me glued to the book cover to cover. With Padma's writing so lucid and well-structured, the book is a real treat and offers a multi-faceted experience. And for the teenage group, there are definitely lots of inspirations to draw from based on an interesting plot, and fascinating characters.

I should also mention that it was truly a pleasure to read the characterizations of both Kitta and Vidya. I would be missing the point if I didn't recoginize the fact they were both equally strong-willed and important characters.

Final Word: There are so many untold stories during World War II - societies and people in India already dealing with their own national political and social struggles. Thanks to Padma we got to hear one such story of young Vidya and Kitta whose personal challenges, and dreams many will find close to their hearts – a historical story so wonderfully told that it in fact is truly timeless in its appeal. Once again, many thanks to Padma Venkatraman for her fabulous new book, Climbing The Stairs.

Lastly, I think the book will be a neat pick for teenage book clubs, or for any bookclub reading for that matter. And if you are like me that enjoys reading juvenile/young adult fiction in order to compensate for those wasted teenage/high school years of limited non-academic reading... reading that came to a screeching halt (after Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys) during middle school, and later nothing-but-flirty-romance novels during college, I have to confess after a decade of being out of teenage, Ok...I will give it away - after 14 years of post-teen life, I am shamelessly going for young adult fiction with a vengeance...
I am not done yet - here's a little piece of advice for moms with pre-teens and teens - if you really want your children to read eclectically, and if you are involved in picking what they read, books such as these should be on top of your list! Books are indeed a great way to connect with our children and the world around us, isnt it?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Not doing it all

I was on a rant in my blog about how packaged masalas (not the primary ones like chilli powder, but the "biriyani mix", "idli mix", etc.) never work for me. The post elicited some comments, including the following:
"Hi Roopa, How do you manage to do everything so well -a great job/two kids/a blog/work out etc.etc..just curious. Can you please write a post about that to help some folks like me an idea about your routine.Take care!!!"

I'm flattered, but I'm not sure I'd say that I do do everything. There have been choices along the way. Things I chose NOT to do, things I choose to focus on right now, things I've decided can wait a couple of years.

  • Rifle shooting -- now that was something I was pretty great at. But it took three to five hours of training four to five times a week. Not the kind of training that a mother of twins, with an NYC mortgage to contribute to can keep at, I decided. Funnily, I don't miss it...especially given I'd done it for about sixteen years with a real passion.
  • Poetry -- I had dreamed at one time of truly taking time to read the greats, work with other poets, understand what it took to be good and evocative. Sports became the focus, coping with a new country and cadence became another, living life became a key distraction. It is not a passion anymore.
  • Consulting -- engaging around an issue, solving it and working through an issue with absolute focus. I had felt like a fish that had found its preferred body of water, but travel and the hours can conflict with the deep urge to sit down and spend a couple of hours coloring rainbows. Choosing a sane work-life balance was a real priority, and my current role has allowed for that.
Which brings us to the comment and question:
6:30 am: Wake up and stare into the fridge. Whip up a dish or two for the kids (this activity is put on hold every time a grandma is in town!)
7:00 am: In the summer, there is time for a vigorous swim before work (usually two or three times a week)
8:00 am: Off to work
6:30 pm: Try to get back from work, and hang out with the kids. Ideally eat dinner with them once or twice during the work week
8:00 pm: Start reading to the kids
8:30 pm: Three days a week or more, hubby will hang out with the kids as they fall asleep and I go down to the gym for 45 mins on the ellipse, or a crazy training session with Tracy!!
9:30 pm: Log back on and get an hour or two of work done
11:00 pm: Do a bit of blogging to keep my writing muscles alive
At least once a week, make sure to have a grown-up dinner and walk home with hubby.
Seems like a bit of a slacker life, if you ask me. Out there are are 17-year-olds writing novels, 30-year-olds millionaires , and single moms who struggle to make ends meet, give their children guidance and necessities .... I'm just a working mom, trying to make sure to be good to her family and herself; lucky in having a caring husband, fantastically supportive friends, family and colleagues, and the ability to access great schools and institutions in this metro. It's about priorities, circumstances and ambitions....

Tell me what you think about the following Boston Globe article. Initially, I felt the central assertion was questionable: that women are choosing not to pursue certain careers from aptitude, not just giving up given glass ceiling dynamics or personal circumstances. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to reflect a lot of my own choices. I did feel that the dynamics in India or China are quite different...
The freedom to say 'no': Why aren't there more women in science and engineering? Controversial new research suggests: They just aren't interested.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mothers Day

with Maggi Noodles and a small picnic.

Friday was Mother’s Day Tea at S’s pre-school. It was a rainy and dull morning but that one hour in her school pepped me up. It has been a year since S has been going to this pre-school and she is comfortable there now, I too know most of her class mates and some Moms unlike last year. So it was a happy one hour accompanied with iced tea and munchkins, it was another thing that S devoured 2 of mine. They then gave us the surprises they had made for us.


I knew about the art, but the cute photo frame made of popsicle sticks and stick-ons with a picture of S in the playground was a real surprise.
A day before S had told me, she has a surprise for me at school and she was not supposed to tell me what it is. In the next 5 minutes she had whispered in my ears, that when her teacher asked, “Why she loves her Mommy”
she had said “’Coz Mommy makes good food for me” :-)
She had drawn me and herself going to the restaurant and eating noodles that apparently I had cooked. Huh ? This girl doesn't want to miss out on the restaurant inspite of Mom's cooking, maybe she likes to have a backup plan.


Today Little S wanted to go to the park and I didn’t want to go to a crowded restaurant either so we decided on an impromptu picnic. Since there was hardly any time in hand, I made Maggi Noodles with eggs and some veggies, a favorite in our home and D made some sandwiches with fish sticks, cucumber and mustard and off we went to the nearest state park where the day turned out to be apparently cold and chilly.

S had fun and I always like a green view better than anything, so it was not all that bad and a nice way to spend a lazy Sunday

Maggi Noodles is an easy and quick lunch for my daughter too and she likes it even when I pack it for school. Of course she need huge amount of ketchup with it.

Easy Maggi Noodles

Boil the Noodles according to the package direction. Do not add the spices/seasoning in the packet. Drain the noodles and wash off the starch in cold water and toss with a little olive Oil
In a pan, heat Olive oil, add sliced onions and fry till pink. Add chopped tomatoes and sauté till soft. Add an egg and stir to scramble it. Add veggies (carrots, peas, beans or whatever you have, which have been steamed) to this.Add chopped green chillies if your kid is ok with it.
Sauté for a couple of minutes and add half of the Masala/seasoning that comes in the packet. Add salt and the Maggi Noodles.
Mix well and serve with Ketchup.
This serves as a good lunch to be packed for kids too

Hope all you Mommies had a fun Mothers Day.

(This post shared with Bong Mom's Cookbook my other blog)

In My Daughter's Eyes...

I do not listen to much of Country but this song touched a lot and it is such a beautiful song, I want to dedicate this to all the mothers with Daughters and otherwise also...My mom is my best friend and am very lucky to have her! If I could be just one percent of the mother of what she was to me, I have achieved something!

In my daughter's eyes I am a hero
I am strong and wise and I know no fear
But the truth is plain to see
She was sent to rescue me
I see who I want to be
In my daughter's eyes

In my daughter's eyes
Everyone is equal
Darkness turns to light
And the world is at peace
This miracle God gave to me
Gives me strength when I'm weak
I find reason to believe
In my daughter's eyes

And when she wraps her hand around my finger
Oh it puts a smile in my heart
Everything becomes a little clearer
I realize what life is all about

It's hangin' on when your heart
Is had enough
It's givin' more when you feel like givin' up
I've seen the light
It's in my daughter's eyes

In my daughter's eyes
I can see the future
A reflection of who I am
And what we'll be
And though she'll grow and someday leave
Maybe raise a family
When I'm gone
I hope you'll see
How happy she made me
For I'll be there
In my daughter's eyes

* A Martina McBride Song.
Song is here - Please listen as it is such a beautiful one!

Happy Mothers Day to one and all!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Views on Mothers Day for Hindustan Times

Hello Mommies, I got a mail from Riddhi Shah a journalist, who wants your views on Mothers Day. Please mail her at if you have anything to share

Dear Desi Momz,

I'm a journalist with the Hindustan Times in Mumbai and I'm working on a story about how mommy bloggers are planning to celebrate Mothers Day this year - on their blogs, at home, with other bloggers etc. So I was wondering if the folks over at DMC would want to speak to me? I'm working on a short deadline so I hope to hear from you soon. Thanks!


Potty Training - how we crossed the bridge

(This post is a condensed version of the one I posted at my blog a while back. Sandeepa thought it would be useful here, to benefit other parents in this phase.)

Last year, Operation Potty started with grandeur and flopped miserably. In post-analysis, several reasons were cited for its failure:

  • Kodi hadn’t fallen into a peeing/pooping routine - it was still random and unpredictable.
  • We always seemed to miss the timing by just a few minutes.
  • We might have had some success if we sat with him long enough in the bathroom, but I had no patience for prolonging that bathroom time. After all it was summer, time to be playing outside, not sitting in the toilet all evening.

But though I shelved it for summer, I didn’t really stop trying. Every weekend we were home and whenever we fancied, we’d put him in underwear, but it was really no use. It was the same over and over. Missed timing, accident, cleaning up, frustration. Then my first trimester came and I was too exhausted to even think potty training, so the whole idea was scrapped again. During Christmas break, I revisited the topic one more time, with a lot more determination and resolve. We had to find what we were doing wrong and had to break the endless cycle of missed timing.

So I went with the tried and true method - bribing. If bribes can get you college admissions, surely they can buy you potty training?! We re-explained the whole process to Kodi - of how only babies use diapers and big boys use the toilet. I might have repeated a hundred times about how he should tell me and where he should pee. After revisiting the basics, we introduced the bribe. ‘Kodi, you pee in the toilet and you get 1 Barney sticker, you poop and you get 2. Deal?’ He sounded intrigued. It was the first time he was being rewarded for anything, so more than anything, he was curious about this whole game, I think.

Then it required a lot of discipline from us -

  • The first step was to take the diaper off and forget it even existed.
  • The second was to leave him free willy. This was not possible - it was winter, so we went with underwear and regular clothes on top.
  • The third was to come up with some pattern of timing. I was frequenting the loo so many times a day anyway, so why not time it to my visits! And thats how it started - every time I had to go, I would let him go first. And if he wasn’t successful, we tried again in half hour, if he was, he’d get a huge cheer and a sticker.
  • The fourth and most difficult was to brace ourselves for more accidents, and be patient when it happened, instead of giving into frustration and temper. After all, he was not doing it on purpose.

Unlike our previous tries, this method worked like a charm, right from the start!

My theories on why it worked…

  • The lure of Barney stickers. We got out a fresh notebook for him, he picked the sticker he wanted, I put a date next to it, and a ‘good job’ with a star, made a huge deal and made him show it off to Bapa and all that. If he told us before he had to go, we doubled his bribe amount. Often during the day, I’d show him the notebook and marvel at how many he’d got already. That appealed to his vanity. The bribes made him feel it was worth his time to cooperate with us and try.
  • His body was more regulated now, he was somewhat predictable.
  • It was a case of I want to be a big boy
  • Two and half seems to be some magic number around which a lot of toilet training comes automatically. So in the end, Barney might have helped only with motivation, the rest might have been his own readiness.

I told his school that he seemed to be doing well and they gave it a try too. First couple of days, they kept his diaper on, and took him to the restroom every few hours. That worked, so they switched straight to underwear and we skipped the whole training pants phase! They used a diaper for his naps the first few days, but that turned out to be unnecessary, so now he is diaper free at naps as well. We use a cloth diaper for nights.

A couple of weeks of diligent work both at school and at home, and he was able to tell us before he had to go. For now, he can be considered potty trained. There are still occassional accidents though -

  • When he is thick in the middle of playing and waits too long. This happens more often in school than at home.
  • Even when he is not playing, he still won't tell his teachers before he has to go, they look for signs of him squirming and fidgeting, and end up taking him. Any suggestions from other parents on how to overcome this phase?

Hope this helps others who are in a similar boat. I recently read another mom's approach to the problem - check out Noon's potty training tips.


Some very useful suggestions that came out of the comments section:

Poppins suggests training underwear for kids who have just started, but aren't ready for long outings. "They are washable, reusable cloth underwear with absorbable material inside. It doesn’t fully absorb but absorbs enough to prevent an embarrassing dripping accident. No point in making me feel ashamed at school. You get them at Mothercare. "

2B's Mommy shares her experience "if you train intensively over 2-3 days, then that’s all it takes for the toddlers to get nappy-free. That’s how it happened with both of my kids, I just picked a weekend when I had not planned anything else and they were almost trained by Monday. But I did inform at their daycare a week before, so that they could put them on the toilet seat every hour to get the child used to the toilet seat and they had already had some success before the weekend. I think the kids learn when they watch the other kids using the toilet at the daycare."

Sandeepa's tips for traveling "..while travelling, don’t worry, you/the hybby can hold him to do his job. Till last year anyway I was not comfy with S going to public toilets in rest areas and so held her, which was uncomfortable but..sighh. For the hotels etc. you can carry the toilet seat."

CA recycled stickers at home "..I just used the address stickers sent from various organisations that were just piled in the house for potty training rewards."

Lavanya shares her experience "...i guess when children near their 3rd year, they r able to say before they pee, give or take a few months. and i would like to add that using diapers only when going out will not harm the training, becoz again, u can keep telling them that diapers r only for outings. my daughter was in this diaper-for-outingonly stage till she was three and when she started going to KG1(2 months after she turned 3) she was out of the diapers once for all."

Kiran's words sum up the trick to the whole deal .."What worked, I am told, was peer pressure. The other kids go to pee and tell the teacher when they need to poop. And he learnt. When the body is ready, the child will learn."

Thursday, May 1, 2008


A little late to this party - have been busy with the baby shower and with manufacturing more siblings for my son :)
I have posted about this quite often on my blog. I think having a sibling is one of the best things that could happen to a child. There are so many benefits, from the ones for the parents ( i.e. free time because the sibs are busy playing/ fighting with each other) to those for the kids themselves - they learn to share, they learn to stand up for their own rights, they learn to watch out for those weaker or younger than them...most of all it is the emotional bond between the two which is the biggest reason to have more than one child. My son has grown up so much since the days that he used to get jealous of the attention his baby sister got - now he's her protector, even against us. He finds it so easy to share even his most favourite things. I think the festival of Rakhi has come to mean more to me because of the way my two have bonded.

Some of the things that I think we did right:
1. Involved him from the beginning when we conceived Puddi - took him for the ultrasounds, let him feel her kicking around. Of course, we may have overdone the up-talk about having a new playmate because when this small, wailing, poopy thing emerged after the long wait - boy was he disappointed.
2. We divided and conquered - A got some paternity leave and spent most of his time with Chubbocks. I had to go for daily physiotherapy sessions for a broken ankle so we always took Chubbocks along so he would get some time alone with us, sans baby. Even now, on some weekends, we plan activities that she can't participate in so gets some time alone with us.
3. We never compared and contrasted and thankfully neither did any of our visitors.
4. We were watchful but we also let him help with the baby - bring her bottle or diapers, button her shirt etc.
5. Most of all, we were as patient as we knew how when he went through a jealous phase - listened, paid him more attention, tried to explain, let him work it out. That I think was the most important - had we become judgemental or admonitory during that phase, the jealousy might have continued.
That's about it and the way the two of them are going, I think they'll be fine company for the third one - and hope we poor parents, soon to be outnumbered - will survive to tell the tale!