Wednesday, March 23, 2016

This Festival of Holi... Birth A New YOU!


I survived because the fire inside burned brighter than the fire around me.
~ Joshua Graham.


23rd March 2016:

It’s a beautiful night… when the full moon of the Hindu calendar month Phalgun adorns the dark veil of the sky. It’s a special night too; in my part of the world India where a sacred fire will be ceremoniously ignited illuminating the environs. It is the first day of the Holi festival, the mighty famous festival of colors which is celebrated all across India and abroad in grand style. Called Holika Dahan, I will soon be joining a huge gathering of people in my society, uniting in faith, devotion and merry-making marking the celebrations of this interesting ritual.

I would be happy to have your wonderful company!
So, come along with me, my friend, if you like, let us celebrate this festival together...

Holi celebrations in India

A Photo Essay on the Ritual of Holika Dahan on the Choti Holi day (one day prior to Dhuleti/Dhulendi/Color Day/Dhuli Vandana) [Pictures From International Yoga Festival, Rishikesh, 2015]:

Spring is in the air infused with the unseen spirit of the occasion… of stripping away attachments, of putting a full stop on the pains of the past and on the anxieties concerning the future… of the joy of renewal. A new dawn awaits, piercing through the shafts of darkness that cloud, for all those who come braced with faith, conviction and devotion in healthy measure.

Lord Shiva in Parmarth Niketan Ashram, Rishikesh

When I was younger, Holi used to be quite a family affair… a time when Holika Dahan was celebrated at my grandpa’s place. Traversing the distance between his house and the spot of the bonfire, with a long sieved spoon called jhariya in his hands, my grandpa would give a loud shout, Prahlad Bhagat ki Jai! I followed suit and so did the others in the family. I always did.

Remove your slippers and shoes, and step in the jamboree at this point here. The bonfire will be lit up in a few seconds from now. Let us take these moments to close our eyes and reflect on the significance of the ritual… For, this is not just a ritual, it is a stoic belief that has been held on through ages and passed onto us by our elders, ancestors and forefathers...

… By my grandparents.

Holika Dahan ceremony celebration on the festival of Holi

I saw them gather immense joy as they immersed themselves in the various activities relating to the ritual. Grandma would get busy making cow dung cakes and filled a good stock of new seasonal grains like wheat and barley for offerings to be made to the fire. Grandpa regaled us with yesteryear puranic (Sacred Hindu Text) stories in his own inimitable style that added a unique flavour to the revelry… As I climb the ladder of life today, facing the many questions that life continues to pose time and again, I realize how I can relate to these stories so much more. The echoes of my grandpa’s voice in my heart are truly endless.

The clock strikes 9 and logs of wood and old wooden furniture piled up in a bonfire are struck by flames. The fierce sparks begin emanating from the bonfire as if racing with the galloping time.

Holika Dahan ritual on the eve of Holi in India

Let us close our eyes for a moment here and take some moments to delve deep within. Let the warmth of the bonfire envelop our entire body like a creeper clinging to a vine. Let the heat enter gently deeper, invading the darkest corners in your heart, warming the center of your soul.

Feel the warmth!

Holika Dahan at Parmarth Niketan Ashram Rishikesh

The sparks are flying high, let’s step out of our conditioned zones and spread the light of our awareness out in the Universe. Let’s get to that place where we have never been before!

Meet that one person, which you thought was ME till this date. Can you identify this person that you see? If yes, how? Is it by position, name, degree, fame, body… what among these impermanent and temporal things did you ignorantly attach your self to? Your little inner child to?

The fire of Holika Dahan on the eve of Holi in India

Step back for a moment; and replay your life picture on the screen of the mind…
can you see the events coming on display?

Someone abused you, your precious degree eluded you, your best friend betrayed you, your parents abandoned you, someone did something they should not have done to you? Feel the heat of all those emotions that are passing by you. Tap in those sensations, sensations… that, for long have clanged to your persona causing you great suffering in the heart and conflict in the mind.

Holika Dahan, Festival of Holi in India

The fire invites, seemingly maddening in her embryonic power;
yet deeply hallowed in her actions and intentions.

Holika Dahan celebrated on the eve of Holi in India

Separating the right from the wrong, the evil from the good – she is here to show you The Way. She did that for Prahlad, the staunch devotee of Lord Vishnu leaving the demoness Holika burnt and scarred for death many moons ago. Today, she wants to do the same for you. How would you decide to enter it as? As the brave and courageous Prahlad who chose his belief over ego or as Holika who chose power over righteousness?

Your choice is how she will treat you!

The fire of Holika Dahan on the eve of Holi in Rishikesh, India

Throw your anger, helplessness, fear and hate in the fire of Holika Dahan.
This is the golden time to leave the negative vices for now and ever.

Open your eyes, take a deep breath - do you feel lighter? The fire has consumed all that is impure, all that is negative leaving just the truth, the real and the sacred. The real creative you… a little bright child, shaped by the hands of the Supreme… so perfect, so unique, so full of love and purity as you always were, always meant to be…

The pure fire of Holika Dahan on the eve of Holi in India

Hug that child… Keep Her forever. She is love!

Fewer rituals than Holika Dahan serve as a beautiful reminder to make an effort and renew all that which is old. One of them being our own vehicular self that is inadvertently dented by various challenges in this journey of life. But no matter how dark the night, a new day is eventually born. It's a gradual transformation and after the transformation comes a new birth, a new you.

This Holi, participate in the ritual of Holika Dahan with all of your faith and sincerity, and allow it to be a catalyst for your transformational journey. Drop the guards that hold you and see your spirit unleash a wild dance in the fire of His love. Try it! You might just ignite something inside... that will never go out for life.


Monday, March 21, 2016

Becoming a Travel Photographer and Making Money out of it.

The global travel and tourism industry is huge, contributing almost $10 trillion to the world economy in 2015. Then there is commercial travel photography that provides imagery for this trillion-dollar market, which can be an amazing way to enable you to travel all around the world without worrying about the finances! Of course, don't forget about coupons for such places as hotels.com that can be easily found on, for example, Discountrue, and help you enjoy even more of your journey with the same budget. Travel photographers have unlimited opportunities in photographing a wide variety of different settings such as sceneries or local events just to name a few, so, you will need to employ skills and expertise across all disciplines in the field of photography. However, you can be sure all of that hassle is worth it! 

So, how do I make money in travel photography? 

There are so many opportunities out there for making money in the field of travel photography that can actually sustain your lifestyle comfortably. They include: 

- Stock photography: License your travel photography work to sites like 500px.com, Stocksy.com and Demotix.com and make cash out of it. Good thing about this? It’s fairly residual and passive, meaning you can still get some good income flow even when not actively working at it. 

- Direct client sales: You can get directly contracted by a magazine/newspaper for photography work, or sell your photos, images and prints to companies that, for instance, want to use them for social media marketing. 

- Make money on social media: In today’s world, being able to market yourself as a travel photographer is a huge thing that can bring good bucks. For example, being a big Instagrammer can earn you a living by leveraging your following to big brands, tourism boards or hotel chains. 

- YouTube: We’ve separated YouTube from social media because it’s one thing that is currently growing incredibly fast and becoming a huge source of income for many. You would be surprised at how much you can earn by showing the world your travels and escapades via your YouTube channel!

- Blogging & freelance travel writing: By having your own photography blog or leading your blog’s visitors to affiliate links, you can make money through advertising and leveraging your audience. Also, other people come to get your opinion on photography matters through your blog reviews contributing to your popularity.

- Earn by saving: When you’re out there on one of your many travel escapades, it may happen that you will be able to save some money by exchanging your photography work with free hotel rooms or free tour company rides; a win-win situation for both parties involved!

- Teaching: Lots of travel photographers are supplementing their incomes by selling books, video tutorials and hosting photography workshops. Trust me, there are so many tips and lessons that people can learn from you on how to succeed in this field when you have the necessary skills!

Some 3 more crucial tips... 

- Be flexible: Before embarking on a long and bumpy travel photography career, consider your lifestyle and the amount of time you've to spend away from home. Other times you’ll need to be available for traveling at a moment's notice. You need a lot of flexibility here. 

- Remain tolerant & resilient: Amidst the occasional travel delays and jet-lag, traffic and crowds, language and cultural barriers, you can easily lose your head. That is why you need to remain resilient and sane to make it here. 

- Quality is key: With millions of photographers from all over the world, how do you make yourself stand out? Out of the thousands of near-perfect shots of the Eiffel Tower or Taj Mahal out there, what makes yours stand out? Be original. Find a speciality. Remain committed!


About the Author: Christine's biggest dream has always been to travel the world, and that's exactly what she has been doing for the past couple of years. She loves visiting new places, discovering new cultures, meeting new people and sharing those experiences. She has also taken an interest in photography some time ago and hopes it will help her connect with others even better.



Friday, March 11, 2016

Of Contests, Creativity, and Fulfilling Dreams!

Occasionally in life, there are those moments of unutterable fulfilment
which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words.
Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart.
~ Martin Luther King Jr

The other day, someone forwarded me this winning video of one of its kind global contest held by Lufthansa Passenger Airlines for kids worldwide. The contest named ‘Kids on Board’ involved the kids uploading videos featuring them as in-flight attendants making flight announcements to their fellow passengers.

Have a look at it here:

'Your announcement contest',
The winning video of an eight year old boy from Mumbai’s G. D. Somani Memorial School.


Yashas, a young spectacled boy with starry eyes, aged just 8 years and from my city, Mumbai, aced it, outpacing scores of other enthusiastic children from world over. Guess what? He will soon be flying to one of his chosen European destinations as the prize!

This video-story reminded me of my own tryst with travel contests and how much they have meant to me in my elfin blogging journey…


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Papa, when will we go here?

I clearly remember posing this question to my father as we sat watching TV one fine day, many eons ago. I think it was a news broadcast from some international location, I don’t exactly remember which; not that it mattered anyway. The prospect of going to a foreign destination, any foreign destination was a dream I had harboured ever since I had gathered a vague sense of borders, India and others.

My father assured me with 'one day we will dear' with a striking twinkle in his solemn voice. I was old enough to understand that patience was the undertone here as we couldn't really afford it right now but Papa’s assurance was all I needed to bring a wide smile on my face.

I might have been around 12 or 13 at this time. I was already fascinated with aeroplanes, more so the ones that flew in the night. Papa, what are those colourful lights in the sky? I had asked him one day pointing to two twinkling lights that kept moving forward like a shooting star. That is an aeroplane dear, they have a long way to cover; they have to reach international lands.

The on-off moving lights against the canvas of a dark night sky looked magical to my curious little eyes. I was totally fascinated! Oh, how much I wished to be in them.

Sometimes I waved at them, other times I just blankly stared at them. No one waved back at me of course. But I very well knew, people were in there – flying… going somewhere, coming from somewhere even as I kept my little eyes peered at it from thousands of feet below till the glow of lights was finally lost in sight.

What a wonderful experience it must be … to fly international! A voice resonated deep within… Would I get in there someday?
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Who knew? A hope, a dream cherished faintly in my heart would bloom to fruition one day…


It was a dream… a dream to fly international someday… a dream that I once nurtured along with my father… and a dream that I finally realized along with him.


Life has a way of coming full circle in its own unique ways we can hardly fathom, isn't it?


My Yatra Diary… didn't just go international - to Japan that day and again to Melbourne after that, but she went deeper… unearthing precious little things from somewhere within that I can only try and make an effort to appreciate in hindsight today. The thrill of creating the contest posts, the satisfaction of giving my best, the heart-warming appreciation of friends and family and most importantly learning to give my wishes and dreams wings, learning to believe that, YES, with heartfelt determination and hard work, honesty, and good wishes and blessings from friends and family – your dreams can and do come true.



With making what once seemed impractical, real… this little diary of mine funnelled my heart with so many, so many precious experiences gifted through so many beautiful people from all walks of life that whenever I look back at those times, my cup of heart feels eternally richer for life, overflowing with an abundant feeling of gratitude and blessedness that is really very difficult for me to describe or explain in mere symbols called words.


As I sit back and reminisce my own wonderful winning moments coloured in happiness and fulfilment, I wonder if Yashas will have something similar to say one day, a few years down the road. I wonder what feelings he is experiencing right now. Whatever they may be, I wish him the most amazing experience that is to come; one that I hope shall leave him forever richer in experience, and memorable for life.


9 Places to Visit in Chennai.

Chennai is a formidable tourist destination in the country. A city known for its rich cultural heritage and pastis visited by thousands of tourists from all over the country and world. The city is particularly enjoyed by foreign tourist and in 2014 Chennai became the third city in the country to issue most number of visas on arrival. Chennai is a place for some serious sight-seeing. However, sometimes due to a packed schedule or paucity of time going to all the places that this cultural & historical city is famous for may be difficult. So for the convenience of those who are visiting Chennai and want to make the most of their limited time, here is the list of top 9 places in the city which you cannot absolutely miss.

1. Marina Beach.

(Image Source: https://afreentravelbug.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/marina-beachchennai.jpg)

Marina Beach is longest, natural urban beach in the city of Chennai. It is the longest beach in India and the second longest beach in the world stretching over 13 kms long. It is perfect place for Chennaites to visit during evenings or weekend. It is estimated that nearly 15,000 to 20,000 people visit the Marina beach daily, making it one of the busiest spots in Chennai.  There was a time when Marina beach was known for a rich eco-system and pristine beauty. However, in the recent past due to large scale urbanization and commercialization of the area, the beach and the sea water is somewhat polluted.  Despite all the maddening stuff, you cannot miss Marina beach if you are in Chennai. There are a number of fun activities and interesting food available right on the beach that will want you to come back to the place again. 

2. Ripon Building.

(Image Source: http://www.chennai-in-focus.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/slider-show/photos/Ripon%20Building%204.jpg)

Ripon Building houses the entire workforce of the Chennai Corporation. Although a government building with a very tight security set-up, you should absolutely visit the premises if you have love for architecture. Built in the neoclassical style representing Gothic, Iconic, Corinthian architectural elements, the building is right next to the Chennai Central railway station.

3. VivekanandarIllam.

(Image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org)

VivekanandarIllam is a building of great historical significance. Previously known as the ice house, the building was used as a store house by the British to keep ice which they brought from North America. Today, the place is remembered that housed Swami Vivekananda, the torchbearer of Ramakrishna Movement in India.  This semicircular structure hosts a number of activities and exhibition for people of all age group.

4. Kapaleeshwarar Temple.

(Image source :https://photos.travelblog.org/Photos/1498/4226/f/14728-Kapaleeshwarar-Temple-Entrance-1.jpg)

Kapaleeshwarar Temple is one the most ancient temples in the city. Built during the 7th century by the Pallavas dynasty, the temple is located in the Mylapore region of Chennai. The temple is known for its historical significance, religious rituals and architecture. If you are want to experience the spiritual side of Chennai firsthand, we highly recommend you to visit Kapaleeshwarar Temple during your stay in the city.

5. Government Museum.

(Image Source: http://www.indianholiday.com/photo-gallery/tamil-nadu/tourist-attraction/museum/government-museum-chennai/Government-Museum-Chennai-2-5250.jpg)

Also known as Madras Museum, the Government museum has the “largest collection of Roman antiques outside of Europe.” Amongst many other things related to human history and numismatic collections, the museum is home to a colossal Museum Theater which truly stands out.  The museum also houses some of the famous paintings of the legendry painter Raja Ravi Varma. Attracting close to 10000 visitors daily, the museum is underway for some serious modernization with the existing 3D theater is being upgraded to 5D.  

6. Elliot’s Beach.

(Image Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/13/Schmidt_memorial.jpg)

Located near Besant Nagar, an affluent neighborhood where people prefer to buy or get a house for rent in Chennai, Elliot’s Beach is one of the best beaches in the city. Unlike Marina beach Elliot’s beach is quitter and cleaner. The beach is well known for historical structures such as the Karl Schmidt’s Memorial. The best time to visit Elliot’s beach is the evenings when the breeze is cool and the view is amazing.

7. Fort St. George.

(Image source : https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b0/Fort_St._George%2C_Chennai_2.jpg/800px-Fort_St._George%2C_Chennai_2.jpg)

The first Fort to be built by the English, Fort St. George is the living testimony of the colonial past.Known for its architecture, the edifice is maintained and administrated by ASI or archeological survey of India as a ticketed monument.  The fort has a number of attractions inside (St. Mary’s Church, Museum, Wellesley House) so it’s important to read up about the place before visiting.  Interesting fact: Fort St. George also has a 150 feet long flag post made of teakwood.

8. Guindy National Park.

(Image Source: en.wikipedia.org)

Guindy National Park is one of the few national parks in India which is situation in the heart of a bustling city like Chennai. Covering an area of just 2.7 kms, the park is home to wide range of fauna and flora.  More than 70 thousand visitors, visit the park each year. On any given day you can spot animals like the blackbucks, spotted deer’s and more than 100 species of birds and insects. It is a very well maintained park and if you want to take out time from the otherwise maddening city of Chennai, a visit to the Guindy National Park is worth the effort.

9. St. Andrews Church.

(Image Source :https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/04/St_Andrews_Church_-_The_Kirk.jpg)

St, Andrews Church is a Scottish church modelled on the St. Martins-in-the-fields and built during the early 1800s. The church exhibits neo-classical architectural style with elaborate dome structures, and intricate stained class work. The church still follows a Scottish- Presbyterian tradition which is unique and interesting.

In recent past an overwhelming number of tourists and expats have been visiting Chennai for tourism and work respectively.  Foreign visitors and residents love the city because of its vibrancy, beauty and sight-seeing options. The city has all the modern amenities. It is also one of the cleanliest cities in India with prime property options. Getting a house for rent in Chennai is also not very difficult and people are quite friendly. 

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About the Author:

Meera Dewaan is an aspiring writer, literature geek and author. She has several journals, articles and papers to her name. Writing is her passion. She writes about mostly all genres.


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Fuelled By Love: The Other Side of Flying.

My maiden voyage to the exotic country of Japan had been long, one half day stretching well into the night before finally landing early hours in the morning coupled with one stopover in between. I was too excited to sleep that night and woke up as early as around 4 AM the next morning. Peeping out of my aeroplane window through half sleepy eyes, I was amazed at the brilliant light that splashed across the horizon.


Sunrise from my flight to Japan

No wonder they call this land ‘The Land of the Rising Sun’!

My flight of joy was soon stimulated by the airhostess zeroing in with a plateful of morning breakfast. Dead hungry as I was, disappointment soon set in; as soon as I realized that the meal being served was non vegetarian.

I tried explaining the air hostess that we (I had my father for an amazing company!) were pure vegetarians and inquired if there was a vegetarian option onboard. The airhostess stared at me blankly for a few seconds and shrugged her shoulders. We were flying Japanese Airlines. And, it was at that moment that I got my first taste to what is popularly known as culture shock: She did not comprehend the language of English. I took resort to sign language and this time, she nodded her head eagerly, rushing out of our sight in a jiffy. I and my father exchanged a few glances hoping that she would soon return with something for us to eat.

She did. With two packets of “vegetarian” rice and curry. Unfortunately it still contained egg and we passed it for our own good thanking her generously for her enthusiastic efforts.


A Japanese showpiece showcasing their impeccable customs.

She smiled warmly with the most compassionate eyes
conveying a ‘Sorry’ simultaneously evaluating other eating alternatives
that could be OK with us.

Our flight landed in a couple of hours from then...

How evanescent that incident in this distance of time… an incident that I never mentioned anywhere in my Japan diary back when I took the trip in 2012. Until today that is, when I saw this new video by British Airways speaking showcasing a loving bond between a British Airways crew member and an Indian elderly lady which inspired me to pick this thread again.


This video reminded me of her, and of the innumerable deep loving bonds, attachments and friendships that we form while traversing on our respective ways in life and how deeply achingly beautiful some of these really are. The video reminded me of the power of love!

A big container vessel – this life, it holds within itself a gamut of people, fuelled with a wide variety of emotions, experiences and stories. We all fly individually, in different dimensions, draped in varied costumes of nationality, colours, races, religions, et al but when fuelled by love – we bind in humanity. The differences no longer make any difference. Instead, we find joy in our similarities. We transform. We heal. We open. We are vulnerable. We connect.

We become family.
Don't we?

Happy Joyful family

... FAMILY ...
Where hearts are warmed by the smiles that they give and the thank you’s that we say.
Where respect is earned by the service that they give and the gratitude that we feel.


British Airways couldn't have chosen a more apt title for their video – Fuelled by Love. Only when love is the source of our actions, do touching experiences gain wings in the temple of our spirits. Experiences so powerful... they transcend us into a heart-warming land that is created by love. That land where ways of love and loving back can never be taught or learnt or borrowed from one generation to the next. For they are felt by the heart to be shared munificently between one individual and the other. Like the lady and the crew member in the British Airways video. Like the airhostess and me in my flight from India to Japan.


Beauty and Serenity Abound: Ooty!

Udhagamandalam, or Ooty, is the perfect amalgam of serenity and the never ending hustle bustle of an Indian town. While the town may be a little too overwhelming for certain vacationers, it also has pockets that exude the charm of tranquillity and peacefulness. The lovely scenery, quaint and welcoming environment and a blend of modernisation and tradition, Ooty – rightly labelled as the “Queen of Hill Stations” – has charmed local and foreign travellers alike.

Principally established in the 19th century by the British as the headquarters of the Madras government, as Lonely Planet notes, Ooty has undergone significant development in the decades since. Nevertheless, with its miles and miles of natural beauty spread out like a magnificent carpet doesn’t fail to impress its tourists. Be it the high and lofty mountains, sweeping grasslands or exquisite tea plantations stretching till the eyes can see, Ooty is a favourite hill station for all kinds of vacationers – nature lovers looking to explore, honeymooners seeking private and alone time and photography enthusiasts on the lookout for picturesque scenery.

WHERE TO GO:

There are a plethora of places one can visit in the beautiful town that is Ooty, a few of which have been listed on TourMyIndia.com.

Not far from Ooty – 10 kilometres to be precise – is the mighty Doddabetta Peak. Known to be one of the best and most visited tourist attractions, it offers a breathtaking view of the valleys below; serving as an ideal spot for nature lovers. A trek along the lofty mountain on a clear day also offers a view of Mysore and Coimbatore. The Government Botanical Garden, located on the lower slopes of Doddabetta Peak, is another spot that has over the years become a favourite among vacationers. With its founding dating back to 1848, it houses a wide collection of floral species. Rose Garden, boasting a wide array of kinds of roses, is located around 3 to 4 kilometres from Doddabetta Peak and offers a chance to view a variety of colours of the flowers that TourMyIndia.com notes can’t be seen in other parts of the country. The Ooty Lake rounds up the majestic scenic delight of Ooty. Vacationers can either take a boat ride in the serene water, or take a walk along the lakeside. Next to the lake is the amusement park, where kids can indulge in activities like mini train rides.

WHERE TO STAY:

Spending a holiday in the mesmerising mountainside, nestled in a beautiful envelope with a spectacular view of the Nilgiri Hills, is everything that a holiday in Ooty warrants. Keeping this in mind, Sterling Holidays Fern Hill has been built to incorporate a perfect blend of sophistication and serenity. As the best resort in Ooty, it offers a range of activities guests and members can indulge in, including a play area, clubhouse, and opportunities to engage in adventure activities.

WEATHER:

The best time to visit Ooty is during the winter season, when the temperature ranges from 5 degrees to 23 degrees Celsius. This season, which starts from November and lasts till January, is an ideal time for nature lovers to revel in the scenic beauty the town has to offer. Summers begin from the month of March, and the change in temperature is only slight; the temperature hovers in the range of 12 degrees and 30 degrees Celsius. Monsoons witness heavy rainfall.

HOW TO REACH:

Ooty can be reached by air, bus or rail. The closest airport is the Coimbatore International Airport, beyond which one can take a roughly two and a half hour drive by hiring a cab. Private and state transportation services offer buses and cabs from several nearby towns and cities like Coonoor, Coimbatore, Palakkad, and Udumalaipettai. Ooty has its own railway station, the Ooty railway station, which is well connected to major cities in Tamil Nadu.

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About the Author:

Meera Dewaan is an aspiring writer, literature geek and author. She has several journals, articles and papers to her name. Writing is her passion. She writes about mostly all genres.


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