1. Attack the media
2. Make brain-free action movie
3. Beat up girlfriends
4. Make sappy romantic movie
5. Hunt endangered species
6. Make saccharine family movie
7. Drunk drive and kill
8. Charge for clothing line called “I’m a good guy”
9.Make fortune off movie that says “Worth my weight in gold”
10.God status achieved.
1. Attack the media
A Week Of Exploitation
A few years ago, a certain Bangalore-based PR company organised a week-long social media conference. My business entered an arrangement with them and we were listed among their partners. After several conversations and some work, we were suddenly dropped from the listing, without even the courtesy of a conversation. When we followed up, one of their people told me that she had checked my blog and that “You don’t have that many followers.” I’m not sure how one checks ‘the followers’ of a blog, especially one that doesn’t list its readership stats publicly. And if that were valid criteria, shouldn’t that have been asked for and assessed before the work began?
This year, I was approached to conduct a workshop for the same event. I found out later that the workshop would be a paid one and that the proceeds would go to the PR company but that they would not pay the speakers/workshop trainers.
This Is Not Getting Paid In Kind
The real problem here is that I know many newer bloggers, tweeters and other people on social media are promised things like ‘visibility’ and ‘opportunities to network’ instead of being paid. For one, social media by its very nature offers visibility and networking opportunities FOR FREE. One doesn’t need to pay someone else, let alone do free work to get this. If your work is good enough to merit a brand or a company riding on it, then it’s good enough to get you visibility and people who want to connect with you.
Blogging Is Work
Secondly, content creation is work. Followership is garnered through steady, quality work (whether you do it for a living or not). None of the other fields that do this operate for free. Ad agencies do not create ads for free. Media houses do not run brand campaigns for free. Event companies do not host their events for free. So there’s no good reason a blogger, tweeter or social influencer should do this work for free.
If you belong in this space, don’t undersell yourself and don’t accept such exploitative behavior. The industry will only give you the respect you deserve if you claim it.
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Image via stockphotos on FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Last year I signed up for Mumbai Secret Santa. I had watched friends participate for years but desisted because it sounded naïve and cheesy to me. I believed that like many other extended campus life ideas, this would fizzle out in a flurry of inefficiency, impracticality and pettiness. But 2014, I decided to give it a shot, just for kicks. I was assigned a Santee and to a Santa.
November was strange. Because I didn’t know my Santee, I had to research her tastes. I had never thought so much about someone that I was not duty-bound to think about. I got her what she had asked for, then wondered if it was too much. I worried she’d think I had put no thought into it and only filled a shopping list. I added some things, then imagined her rolling her eyes. And finally, I wrote her a letter.
It should have been the easiest part but it wasn’t. Writing to a stranger, unsolicited is hard and I felt unwelcome and stupid. My internal boundaries heaved. I rewrote the letter several times before I hit my so-tired- it’ll-be-messy-but-the-truth level. Yes, that is a real thing. The letter rambled, fretted and stammered. I added it to the parcel and sent it off. What allowed me to do that was the thought that if I received something similar, I would be unequivocally touched.
Waiting for Santa
Then I waited. December was a timeline full of gushy messages and photographs of all manner of delightful gifts. Shiny wrapping paper, soft toys, sweets, unexpected actions and gestured abounded. I would have rolled my eyes at the cheesiness of it all. But instead, I felt warm and trembly as I imagined how thrilled the respective Santas would be to see their Santees delight. I hadn’t felt that in a long time.
My own inbox and mailbox were empty. Feeling quite like an excited kid, I burst out of my reserve and asked where Santa was, hello hello can you hear me? Another internal boundary pushing; I hate so much showing vulnerability. No answer.
Christmas morning arrived and I didn’t receive so much as a message wishing me. All day people tweeted about daily gifts, secret notes or apologetic messages from Santas saying sorry for the delay, but don’t worry, I’m on my way. Nothing for me. I felt like that kid in school who no one picks to be on their team. I hated that a complete stranger could make me feel this way. It turned out to be a shitty day and in the evening, I logged in, in that foul mood where you turn to whoever is around even if you know they’re terrible for you. The tweet on top was from my Santee yippeeing over my gift. She mentioned my letter, the messy, stupid one and she said she liked it. It really made my Christmas. :-)
By New Year, I got used to the idea that I had ended up with the dud, an absconding Santa. It didn’t make it easier but I tried not to brood over someone who didn’t care. I muted Secret Santa tweets and ignored conversations. Then suddenly the Mumbai Santa team passed on a message from my Santa. It said
“I’m delayed but you know it’s Andheri.”
My Santa reached out late and the first thing they said to me was to make me wrong for living where I did. No apologies, no warmth. If it was a joke, I don’t see the humour. I wish they had just stayed silent. I replied asking them not to bother, that Christmas was over anyway. The team responded that the Santa was going to make it up with a special cupcake delivery. This did not happen. I responded asking them to tell the Santa not to bother and assume the program was over. They insisted that Santa would explain all.
A few days later a gift arrived. It had the first three items picked off my Amazon wishlist (which I had put in my briefing). No note, no further messages. I let the Mumbai Santa folks know that it had arrived. They asked me to tweet and I refused. I would not thank Amazon for delivering a parcel. This was not a gift; it was a transaction. The Santa received a parcel via the program and sent one in turn. They were not thoughtful, not even kind, let alone generous. Everything that had gone on, the delay, lack of communication, even the cold Andheri message I would have forgotten had they just communicated. They didn’t bother which makes me think they didn’t care.
The Truth About Generosity
Earlier this year, I tweeted out an open invitation to anyone, anywhere to ask me for something. If it was something I could do, I would try my best, no strings attached. I assumed that any responses that came, would be commercial. Maybe agencies asking for retweets, someone trying to get me to buy something. I thought there might also be a troll or creep in there. Right after I tweeted, I realised that had someone else posted that invitation, I would not have responded. I don’t like asking for favours or help. I don’t share and I don’t give. I’d rather donate. There is a difference.
Responses came. Every single one was courteous, reasonable and did not ask for even a fraction of what I could give. Three people asked if I would read their blogposts. Two asked if I had any suggestions on how to write better. A friend asked if I’d write her a poem, another a song. One person asked me to create a doodle.
Saying this is what I want and will you give it to me, is a supreme act of courage. It’s the sort of sharing that only small children do, completely free of the thought of what will need to be given back. It’s sharing devoid of transaction. Every person who responded to my tweet was giving me a gift. They were giving me access to a part of themselves, letting themselves be vulnerable enough to ask, something I couldn’t do.
The Purpose of Mumbai Secret Santa
Why does the Secret Santa idea exist? We are all people who can afford to buy for ourselves the things that pass as gifts — books, clothes, toys, gadgets, food etc. What is the difference between a gift and a package in your mail? It’s that someone gave it to you. Somebody took the time and effort to think about who you are, what you think/feel and what you like. Someone, a stranger, cared enough to make you feel good. That vital element is what makes friendships. It is the seed of all human relating. We don’t have enough of it.
My last experience left me feeling so bad that I decided not to participate this year. Then I heard about a few other people’s bad experiences. Many of them had Santees who did not say thank you. I’ve been in a close relationship with someone who was so caught up in his petty, negative, hurt world that every nice gesture sounded like an attack to him. He responded with mistrust, meanness or indifference. A lot of people are alien to the concept of generosity, having never truly experienced it before. Yes, I had a bad experience. In some odd way, it was less bad than the ones I heard. I shared myself in a letter and I was rewarded with warmth and acknowledgement. Most of these other people did not get that. Being forgotten sucks but having a lovely gesture completely ignored eats your soul in a whole different way.
Think about what kind of a person does that to another person? It’s someone who lacks something fundamental in their emotional landscape — the ability to respond to positive action and thought. A person like that deserves much pity, sympathy even if you can muster it. Can you imagine what a pathetic, small life they must live, regardless of how many material things they own?
We seem to be a world of too many people like that. This program is not about the objects being traded as gifts. It’s the emotions, the sharing that carry along with those objects. Generosity is a nuanced thing. It involves plumbing your own depths and putting your rawest, most tender self up for the world to hurt. I think this is really the spirit of Christmas as it was ever meant to be. I signed up for Mumbai Secret Santa, on a whim, never expecting to feel so much or gain any insights. That’s a gift of utterly magnanimous proportions.
So I’m signing up for the Mumbai Secret Santa again. The new year will bring me new gifts. Maybe it’ll be something nice to eat or wear. Maybe it’ll be a new friend. Or at very least (or best), a new lesson.
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*Also published on The Idea-smithy.
“Goddess” — A Navratri poem opening at Poetry Couture’s Poetic Adda Poetry Couture invited me to a feature performer at their Poetic Adda event yesterday. I’d been working on a special piece around Navratri so I chose to open it here.
I had originally planned for this to be accompanied by music but my collaborator changed his plans at the last minute. I didn’t really have much time to change the piece but I decided to go with it to see how it fared. Here it is, ‘Goddess‘ in it’s first ever telling. The lyrics are given below.
Rush hour horns honking
The pounding is getting louder, louder, louder
An artist brushes his last stroke of charred black across her eyes
While living red starts to seep down my insides
She is coming home tonight
I fidget uneasily in my chair
Fighting the battle of the sore back
I remember too late, I’m wearing white
I will stay in late so no one sees the stains
Red must only appear on her clothes tonight
I burst forth into a night of burning light and colour
While inside me is an implosion of almost, not quite life
I carry it all within, walking tender, concentrated steps
My stomach clenches harder than my heart
Then I’m swept into a crowd that makes way
for a plaster and plastic Goddess
A hand drunk on religion and womanpower and bhakti, touches my breast
And all across my skin, are fire-tipped arrows
Shooting pain, warmth, shame, fear, chills and anger
A rollercoaster mix of chemical feeling
I’m recognized as WOMAN
The female form is in celebration this week
I soothe my panicked breaths under hot water
And silence my inner screams with chocolate
Outside the drums are beating out an ode to womanhood
No room for me in the Goddess’ procession tonight
Because my sweat and my tears are but salt and water
But nobody wants to know that a Goddess bleeds too
— Goddess by Ramya Pandyan
I started my performance with ‘Paper Plane’, for a change making it the first and not the last piece in my set. It was an interesting experience staying on, on the stage after sending a paper plane into the audience. I added some things to my original piece too. Take a look.
The organisers offered me a chance to do one more piece. I had originally thought I’d bring out ‘The Dating Thing’, being that it has been awhile since I did that. But the mood felt like the right one for a love story to Mumbai. So I let ‘Flamingos’ fly.
Earlier this month, I conducted a workshop on Erotica Writing. I’ve explained how and why I decided that I wanted to write more naturally and with less abashment about sex and sexuality. But my journey with ‘real’ erotica reading probably began with 50 Shades of Grey, a story that I had a vein-bursting reaction to. When a friend suggested that I was probably responding to the bad writing rather than the genre itself, I decided to explore the theory. And sure enough, I ran right into Anais Nin and fell in love with her writing, her mischief and her spirit.
I’ve read other stories since then, picking them along the way along with my usual diverse fare of children’s fiction, chicklit, literary fiction, nonfiction, personal blogs, graphic novels, bestsellers and classics. But since the workshop, I decided that I wanted to be more up-to-date on the Erotica genre. And I set out to build myself a collection of excellent works in the field.
I ordered a whole bunch of books which included classics, once banned books and a single one from a recent Top Erotica Reads list. This is the one I started with, first, figuring I needed to get with it as soon as possible. In Too Deep by Portia Da Costa turned out to be such a disappointment that I gave it up midway, disgusted.
I was so disheartened I might have given up the genre and indeed, whatever I had started with the first workshop too. What good luck that I had bought other books too, which I felt compelled to finish. And I picked the next one up with a heavy heart. Once again, to my great fortune, it turned out to be this one.
For one, I’ve been very taken in by this look — the finger curls, the asymmetric, tight bob and the red lipstick. It can’t have escaped your notice, my look in the past few months. Then I opened the book and began reading. And within a few words, I was transported into that world of marvelling at how a phrase could be turned. I’ve been reading so much garbage lately that I keep forgetting how a book can be — should be — art.
And as for erotica? That really is the difference between erotica and porn, isn’t it? Erotica, like good sex, makes you fall a little in love. With yourself, with an idea, with the universe that makes it all possible. Bear witness to these lines:
“The two girls, therefore were from an early age not the least daunted by either art or ideal politics. It was their natural atmosphere. They were at once cosmopolitan and provincial, with the cosmopolitan provincialism of art that goes with pure social ideals.”
True, a passage like this makes me go tingly because I have to ponder each word and not everyone gets off on that. But listen to this:
“The arguments, the discussions were the great thing: the love-making and connexion were only a sort of primitive reversion and a bit of an anti-climax. One was less in love with the boy afterwards, and a little inclined to hate him, as if he had trespassed on one’s privacy and inner freedom.”
OH MY GOD, I thought, that is what I was trying to say, so very inarticulately in my spoken word performance titled Baby Invisible.
And that’s when it struck me. Sex is at once a basal and a higher order experience. It is spirituality and divine graces available to every single life form on Earth. It changes or should change something inside you, not just in muscles and blood vessels, but in the way you feel and think. Things should go bump and creak inside you when you experience sex, either in action or in thought, via fantasy or reading. Good sex and good writing should both leave you moved and forever changed in ways that you spend the rest of your life, learning to be at peace with. That is what life is about it, isn’t it? Constant change and our trying to find our balance with every new shift and turn. Shake my mind, my ideologies with even a tenth of the force with which you can jar my body and I promise you the body and everything that’s in it, will follow.
We seem to be in an era of terrible writing and godawful things being done in the name of sex. That a book like 50 Shades of Grey attained the status it did, is testimony to the fact that most of our world has lost access to the true magic of sex.
But I take heart in the thought that this world, a vast, big library also contains works such as these whose words seduce me (rather than throw me over their shoulder and drag me into the woods, in the style of In Too Deep or 50 Shades) and grow my senses.
My Prince Charming truly, is a book.
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I find myself inside a different personhood. I’m not talking about the natural evolution that happens to any human being with age and experience. I believed that at the core, we stay the same basic people and that life just adds nuance to our individual motivations, desires and inclinations. But that core in me seems to have changed.
I lived a great part of my life valuing certain kinds of people and doing whatever it took to keep them in my world. This meant making all manner of compromises, that felt like the natural price to pay for relationship. Lately, I’ve been feeling like none of them are worth it. Like the ideas that instinctively feel right to me are worth more than the people I have to compromise them for.
On a page of text such as this one, that seems like the correct way to be for any principled person. But in reality, we are all constantly telling each other that it’s unrealistic, selfish, wrong even.
For instance, lies have always felt strange and alien to me. I am not a good liar and all my instincts go on high alert when I find that someone lies. This covers all manner of lies — white lies, omissions, ‘small’ lies. A lie is a lie is a lie is my unyielding belief. Yet, I’ve spent years tolerating lies from a best friend, from boyfriends, from close relatives and from trusted colleagues. Each time I encountered one and was upset, I was told by the people around me (and the person themselves) that I was overreacting.
Last year, I finally just let one of those people go. On the face of it, it was a minor lie, not one that would change anything for anybody. But it really was the last straw on my back. It made me realise that if she lied for something so small, what was to keep her from lying about the bigger, harder stuff? In a flash, I saw her and the relationship as a poisonous growth in my life that I needed to let go of, as soon as I could. So I cut her out.
It is now close to a year since that happened. I’ve examined myself often for traces of regret over the action and I find I have none. Have I become so cold that I’ve been able to let go of a twenty year old relationship and not feel a thing? This question might not have come up if it had only been her, in isolation. But I find I’m moving through life with a certain sharp precision, cutting out people the minute they do or say things that feel wrong — standing me up, blaming me for their problems, getting clingy, being disrespectful of my work.
Again, each of these seems like sane, logical choices when you read them in text. But in reality, this means never again meeting a friend who cancelled on coffee and didn’t let me know for 45 minutes. It means ignoring calls from a person who reconnected after 5 years and expected me to drop my entire schedule without notice to come meet them. It includes blocking messages from a former classmate who badgered me to meet him every weekend and suggested that I do my work sitting in a pub with him. It is erasing from the Favorites list on my phone, a friend who threw a tantrum and blamed me for something that had nothing to do with me, on Whatsapp.
The world is full of people, each one with a thousand flaws that will damage me if I let them and I have let enough of people do that to me already. No more, I want to say. But this is really not even about sulking and running away from the world saying, “You don’t deserve the goodness of me.” It’s not about being revengeful. I really don’t find that I feel anything anymore for most people. The empathy and affection that drove me to submit to all of these behaviours in the past years seems to have gone missing and I don’t exactly miss it.
I’m haven’t had a best friend in over a year now. I haven’t been in a relationship or even in love for awhile. I feel warmth for a number of people but I don’t see anyone as my personal rock. In my difficult times in this while, there is no one that it has occurred to me to turn to, and I haven’t entirely missed having someone. Most of the times, I get a call or a message from one of these warm-feeling people and I tell them I’ve just been wrapped up in some stuff of my own. When they say, “Why didn’t you tell me? I could have helped.”, I can only say, “Sorry, I didn’t think of it.”
It doesn’t mean that I’ve gone antisocial, though. I find my life fuller with more people, richer in conversations and experiences than I have ever had. There are a lot of lives passing through mine and I’m one passing through theirs. We’re all just passing and I don’t feel the desire to stop and plant my flag in any of them.
This is a very different personhood I find myself in, than the one I was born into. It’s strange when I stop and let myself think about it.
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The Poetry Club, Airplane Poetry Movement and The Hive came together to pull off an event on #UndoingGender. They had asked for submissions and this piece was one that they picked for a feature performance. I performed it last evening with Karthik Rao on the guitar. I’ll post a video shot from a better angle shortly.
My Feminism Is Someone You Haven’t Met BeforeWhen I tell people“Don’t call me chick”,they say,“You’re not, like, one of those feminist types, are you?”No. I’m not.I’m not any kind of feminist that you’ve ever metAnd chick? That’s a yellow baby birdI’m not yellow
I’m the colour of Fair & Lovely ads
Before the girl gets the boy, the job, the life
My Feminism knows appearance mattersBut that’s because she looks fabulous in every colourMy Feminism is a flirt
She doesn’t have ‘angry tearful breasts’But a pair that go in opposite directionsSo she uses a bra to hold them togetherand calls them ‘Bait’My Feminism says, “Hello, boys”My Feminism loves menOf course, they are often useless
But that’s not their fault – they think with the wrong head
My Feminism has boyfriends and best friendsand a Best Man at her weddingShe changes her mindNo you stupid boy, it’s not always PMSI would die if bled every time I felt something
Yes, bleeding has something to do with periods
And no, women aren’t really scared of blood
We just pretend so we can laugh behind your backMy Feminism will not make you feel like a manßIf your body plumbing is my responsibilityI’m going to flush it down the drainBut my Feminism is not hardShe cries when rape happensShe aches in a world that values control over consentGender, sexuality, relationship status regardlessMy Feminism weeps the unshed tears of all the men she has knownShe bleeds when she sees broken childrenUnderage is a sin, whether it owns a penis or a vaginaMy Feminism loves childrenIt’s an affection that wears innocence and magicNot a maternity gownMy Feminism owns her body and her choicesMy Feminism won’t condemn you for sexualising women
This body was designed for sex
Good sex. Lots of sex.And when you’re done gaping over thatShe’ll explain the difference between ’sexual being’ and ’sex object’So don’t chick me, youShe wears red lipstick and combat bootsKanjeevaram sarees, backless cholisButterfly clips and leather jacketsShe’s siren, babydoll, bitch, child-woman, earth motherShe knows even labels come offEven ink washes offMy Feminism doesn’t believe in
Any kind of shaming
But not nameless
She believes with real responsibility, comes real power
So if you’re getting friendly with a lot of crotches,
Girl, you better learn where to hit if the shit hits the fan
And stop moping about your weight and calling it cute things like plus size
And “Real women have curves”
My Feminism gets a workout because
She knows adrenalin and endorphins make up for absent male attention
My Feminism reads
Shakespeare, Sophie Kinsella, Terry Prachett, Milan Kundera
and Nancy Friday
She gets together with Hermione Granger and Katniss Everdeen
to laugh, laugh, laugh at Bella and her stupid vampire
Hell, my Feminism plays poker with Frankenstein
Like every other monster, he’s just a little boy who was created by a woman
My Feminism is a cat
Well, cats have nine lives
And guess how often my pretty, funny feminism lands on its feet?
I am an individual
And my Feminism is someone you haven’t met before.
My dear readers,
How have you been? It feels like it’s been a long, long while since we spoke. For one, this medium has changed so much that many of you don’t post comments or write emails to me anymore. To be quite certain, I’m even surprised at the daily graph of visits and readers. It seems like some of you are interested in what I am saying. Why and what things, I still don’t know. But I will not ask for you to speak up. Some of you have probably been with me on this journey for years and respected my decisions to be anonymous, hidden, coy and then open. So I must respect your choices.
I went through a rough patch earlier this year. It wasn’t the heartbreak of a failed relationship or the pressure of a job I hated. It was the feeling of not being able to write. I had never experienced it before and it made me question my identity, my very existence.
One of you, a stranger I had never met before, spoke to me after my birthday post and asked,
“How are you now?”
It was so unaccountably touching and kind, I felt I had to respond. It has been months since that day and I’m afraid I haven’t till now. But I feel like you’ll forgive me for that. You and I, have come a long way and I believe you may have learnt to forgive me for my moodiness, my desperate flakiness and my unpredictability. The truth is I was not ready to answer. I had the answer, I just didn’t have the words or the voice for it.
I still don’t know exactly what was or is happening inside of me. But I feel a little less anxious, a wee bit less suffocated these days. Allowing myself the leeway of not writing did that. I guess I must allow myself to let the identity of writer fall away sometimes, to remind myself that I am more than that.
I’ve gone a long way into Spoken Word performance, far longer than I ever imagined. The format gave me a chance to explore stories and feelings that got caught in the mesh of my head and didn’t make it out in writing. And today, I did something new. I tried performing with musical accompaniment.
This post here will tell you about my troubled relationship with music. Add to it the anecdote of the ex-fiance, a rapper with obsessive ideas about his chosen genre to the point of squelching any musical inclination at all in me. So I count today as a milestone in trying to reverse that painful journey so far.
It’s a story I’ve performed a few times before. But just like my confidence grows with each performance, the story seeps better into my being with each telling. So here it is, the result of several months of working and several years of feeling.
Home. City. Identity. Nostalgia. Memory. Melancholy.
This Sunday I introduce a workshop on Erotica Writing at The Hive. My interest in sexual and sensual writing was probably sparked off when I first read The Vagina Monologues. That book is a more clinical look at women’s relationship with their gender and sexuality but it was a door. A little later, I met Chuck Palahniuk’s visceral writing, first with Fight Club and then with Snuff (both of which I enjoyed tremendously). Fight Club twisted you inside out as a reader and brought you face to face with your mental and physical demons. Snuff took that to another level and met the fears and shame we all place deep within our cells, with dark humour.
Then 50 Shades of Grey burst on the world. I’ve written about what I thought of the books. But it did more than tell a particular story. It forced readers and writers to think about sexuality in stories. And after that, I think, how can you not? Sex, sensuality and gender are such integral parts of the living experience, how can a writer whose job it is to hold up a mirror to our humanity, ignore it?
I’ve explored the genre in a more focussed way after that, with famous works like those of Anais Nin, less popular ones like L Marie Adeline and a lot of amateur writing. And more and more I became convinced that it would be impossible for me as a writer to proceed, unless I faced upto and overcame my inhibitions and shame about writing about sex and sensuality. It continues to be a journey but I feel certain that I wouldn’t struggle as much with writing a first kiss scene as I did, in my first book back in 2009.
This workshop is an attempt to bring other writers to tap into that vital source of inspiration and material — their own senses. I think it’s also important to open up a conversation about what erotica is. As reactions, I’ve received some versions of “Hahahaha, are you going to teach people sex positions?” But there has been a lot more cautious interest than I had thought. People are curious, watchful. And that makes it possible for me to see the first kind of reaction for what it is — fear/discomfort disguised as humour.
This Sunday ought to be interesting. Here’s what I have planned for the workshop:
- Tapping into sensation for inspiration
- Imagining characters as feeling, sensual beings
- Describing physical impressions in a vibrant manner
I will be doing this via a series of writing and visualisation exercises. The goal for my workshop is that participants find it easier to write about physicality, sensuality and even (but not limited to) sex in their future work.
The workshop is open to people above 18 only. The event details are here.
Erotica Writing with Ramya Pandyan
On: October 11, 3pm to 5pm
At: 50-A, Huma Mansion, Chuim Village Road, Khar (W).
Cost: Rs 1000
You can also email email@example.com for details.
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