Finding other ways to mark November in the year of the pandemic

Pen and quill Ranjani Rao 5 things I did instead of NaNoWriMo
Pen and quill Ranjani Rao 5 things I did instead of NaNoWriMo
Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash

Every year when news of NaNoWriMo floods my feed, I gear up to participate. Although not a novel writer, I figure that a 30-day challenge focused on writing anything — essays, blogposts, book reviews — would leave me with a good haul of writing at the end of the month. And like every year before this one, I find myself on the 30th of the month wondering why my good intentions don’t translate into desired results.

In addition to the usual excuses, this time I have Covid-19. I didn’t contract the disease, but my day job involves research geared towards finding a cure for it. My days are filled with meetings, discussions, troubleshooting, report writing, the list goes on. Certainly not conducive to producing the kind of output desired by serious NaNoWriMo participants. …

How to measure success by tracking distribution

Photo by Olena Ilinska on Unsplash

It has been difficult keeping up with the changes at Medium, specially as it relates to curation. Or should say distribution? While I’m having similar rates of being “chosen for distribution” when compared to before the roll-out of the change, it is definitely not pleasant to be kept in the dark about the topics for which an article was chosen.

It’s taken me weeks to round up this list of articles that were curated before and after the change.

Date Published: 28 Aug 2020
Publication: Curious
Story Duration: 5 minutes

Date Published: 1 Sep 2020
Publication: Curious
Story Duration: 4…

A virtual interaction cannot replace a live experience

Empty chairs in a room with only one person sitting
Empty chairs in a room with only one person sitting
Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

On the opening weekend of the Singapore Writers Festival 2019, I arrived early to find a seat in the quaint two-level Chamber room of the historic The Arts House. I looked around the warm ambiance created by the streaming morning light as I waited for my favorite travel writer, Pico Iyer, to speak on the topic “Beyond Borders, Beyond Words.”

He talked eloquently about his life in Japan, his two new books (one of which was Autumn Light, Season of Fire and Farewells, which I later reviewed for Singapore Unbound) and his friendship with the Dalai Lama. …

Wisdom is the confluence of thoughts and action.

blue planet
blue planet
Photo by Daniel Olah on Unsplash

In the biopic Shakuntala Devi (on Amazon Prime), the famed mathematician’s teenage daughter is visibly upset. ”Why can’t you be a normal mother?” she says. Devi replies, “When I can be amazing, why should I be normal?”

Born in pre-Independence India, Shakuntala Devi earned worldwide acclaim as a “human computer” and secured a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for her ability to perform complicated calculations at lightning speed. Her achievements were remarkable, not only for her innate gift but also for the era in which she came of age.

As a teenager, I remember seeing Shakuntala Devi’s picture in the Bombay newspapers announcing her credentials as a math genius who was available for astrological consultations. The rectangular black and white photograph showed a bright-eyed, round-faced woman wearing a sari and a big smile. Her short hair was striking because it was uncommon in those days. …

Making peace with a book addiction

Delight book
Delight book
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

I like to think of myself as a prudent person. I weigh my options carefully when it comes to spending; money or time or energy. Except when it comes to books. My good sense deserts me when I come across book recommendations.

Here’s a list of books that are currently piled up by my bedside, ebooks stored on my ipad, and audiobooks downloaded on my phone.

  • Becoming — Michelle Obama
  • Maybe you should talk to someone — Lori Gottlieb
  • What we carry — Maya Shanbag Lang
  • The Thank-You Project — Nancy Davis Kho
  • Butterflies in November — Audur Ava Olafsdottir
  • Flourish — Martin…

Missing the awe and inspiration of international travel

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Fabien Bazanegue on Unsplash

I miss travelling.

I used to travel often, sometimes with family, sometimes with friends. From the brainstorming of possible destinations to the thrill of taking off, I enjoyed the entire process.

Much like the early stages of romantic love, the lure of travel obscures the pain of visa applications, iterative discussions about itineraries and endless scrolling through hotel listings.

Given the bittersweet nature of travel, I have no doubt that the compulsion to remain homebound is making me pine for travel more ardently this year.

When I moved to the United States, I found the wide open spaces disconcerting. In densely populated Mumbai, where I grew up, walking down familiar streets meant running into at least a handful of people I knew. …

Some thoughts on privilege

Count your blessings sign
Count your blessings sign
Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash

The word ‘privilege’ that has become popular in debates and discussions worldwide, reminded me of an old quote.

“The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.”

This quote by Eric Hoffer appears in my autograph book, a relic from my school days in Mumbai. Amidst pages filled with colorful drawings, and silly messages from classmates, these words, neatly copied out by a soft-spoken nun who taught math, looked incongruous, but apt.

Finding blessings in daily life

I grew up in a small apartment in a suburb of Mumbai. Our multifunctional living room, filled with conversations and laughter during the day, would transform into a bedroom at night. The space where my brothers and I watched TV, played and argued, was always noisy. Whenever I whined about the lack of quiet, my father would tell me about how he and his eight siblings studied under a street light. …

Life is a constant negotiation of what is possible

Passport and cocktails
Passport and cocktails
Photo by Gary Butterfield on Unsplash

When it was time to renew my passport, I placed old passports side by side.

Annotated with colourful visa stamps from thirty-odd countries, the panels formed a travel-themed triptych, a working map of the places I have been in the 30 years since my first flight away from India, my first home.

The names of my deceased parents appear in each one. Stamps of some countries appear on multiple pages; others, just once.

Who are the people and what are the places that left more than just an impression on me? What is my legacy from these travels?

My passports provide a clue. They don’t tell the full story. …

The joy of curation across multiple topics

Chocolate cookies and presents
Chocolate cookies and presents
Photo by Bruna Branco on Unsplash

From May — August 2020, I was pleased to see an increase in my writing out put as well as an increase in curation frequency.

Not surprisingly, I find myself writing about the impact of the pandemic on various aspects of life — travel, graduation, festivals, relationships, Netflix and of course, visits to the library.

#1. TOPIC: Self

Date Published: 11 May, 2020

In A Publication: Epilogue

Story Duration: 5 minutes

#2. TOPIC: Self, Relationships, Social Media, Family

Date Published: 17 May, 2020

In A Publication: The Startup

Story Duration: 5 minutes

#3. TOPIC: Parenting, Self, Family

Date Published: 19 May, 2020

In A Publication: Write. Mother. Thrive

Story Duration: 6 minutes

#4. TOPIC: Travel

Date Published: 22 May…

A ritual. A discipline. A lifeline.

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Rahul Setia on Unsplash

Six weeks after my wedding, I landed at the Washington Dulles airport on a wintry December evening. I picked up my luggage and scanned the crowded arrivals hall with a mixture of exhaustion, excitement, and dread. Except for my husband who I had met twice before the ceremony, I did not know anyone in America.

I was optimistically, naively, embarking on my very own Bollywood-tinted version of ‘happily ever after’.

It would be decades before I would understand that happiness does not come from a person or place.

The small apartment felt cold, despite the dull brown carpet that lined every surface. An L-shaped sofa with grey plaid upholstery sat in a corner of the living room with a round glass-topped coffee table at one end. The dining area was strewn with a few empty moving boxes. A new mattress lay on the floor in the bedroom. Why did this apartment seem more spacious than the one-bedroom flat in Mumbai that I had left behind? …


Ranjani Rao

At Home In The World. Scientist. Author. Mother. Co-founder Story Artisan Press. Get free ebook, newsletter

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