Category Archives: fiction

The Forest of Enchantments – A #Review

Mythology tells timeless tales. Which is perhaps why, we never tire of listening to these stories from our childhood. Or perhaps the charm lies in the voice of the storyteller who brings something new, something unexpected to the tale; a new perspective perhaps or a poetic narration – something that makes the same old story fresh and exciting.

That’s why Chitra Banerjee’s The Forest of Enchantments was a book I was really looking forward to. It made me break my no-book-buying resolve within a few days of making it. Oh well!

The story 

…. of Sita is not new – found as an infant by the king of Mithila she is married off to Ram, the charismatic scion of the Raghu clan. When Ram is banished to fourteen years of exile she decides to accompany him, is abducted by the powerful Asura King Ravan only to be rescued by Ram. Barely has she settled down in the palace when she is banished, once again to the forest, this time by Ram himself for imagined infidelity. Finally, broken and hurt she finds refuge within mother earth.

Divakaruni’s Sita

…is my Sita too. She was closest to the one I’d always imagined and loved.

I loved that Sita chooses to tell her own story. Valmiki’s version wouldn’t do for her. How could he, a mere man, be equipped to understand a woman, divine guidance notwithstanding? So this here is the Sitayan.

Divakaruni crafts Sita’s character with care – her traits and her strengths complement her origin. Daughter of the earth, she understands all things that come from the earth. She has a green thumb, she can heal through herbs, she talks to the trees, she feels their pain, she craves the forest. Divakaruni’s pen brings to life Sita’s love in beautifully flowing prose, making one fall in love with the world as she sees it – free and unrestrained.

Sita is taught to use her body like a weapon, to centre her whole being and withdraw into herself when situations around her became unbearable.

Her natural gifts coupled with learned skills make her, to me, the perfect woman. One with silent strength and quiet courage, in Divakaruni’s words, ‘easy to mistake for meekness’; Sita has the courage of endurance.

On Love

Ramayan, as also Sitayan is definitely Sita and Ram’s love story. However, beyond that, The Forest of Enchantments is a treatise on love. Every action, good or bad, stems from love and its myriad shades – joy, ecstasy, expectation, pain, suffering, even death. Divakaruni gets elegantly lyrical as she enumerates how each action, each emotion finally finds its root in love. And every single quote is worth being read over and over again.

My absolute favourite is the one on Kaikeyi

It’s not enough to merely love someone…. we must want what they want, not what we want for them.

And this one from when she isn’t able to tell Ram how desperately she wants children during the banishment.

That’s how love stops us when it might be healthier to speak out, to not let frustration and rage build up until it explodes.

I know I’m overdoing this but just one more..

How entangled love is with expectation, that poison vine!

The other characters

..are beautifully etched too. Ram, the duty bound Raghuvanshi, Kaikeyi – strong and stubborn, Urmila – happy, effervescent as also Ravan, Shurpanakha, Mandodari, Sarama (Vibhishan’s wife), Ahalya (my favourite) and Shabari – they were all just right.

I would have liked to see a softer side to Lakshman. He seems forever angry and suspicious. Ram is his whole world, to the exclusion of everyone else. I sorely missed the warmth of his relationship with Sita.

But I’ll let that go, there is only so much one can do while cramming an epic into a few hundred pages.

The ending

…needs special mention because it is absolutely magnificent. Sita’s last few lines completely satisfied the feminist in me, without being angry or aggressive or loud. You need to read it to get what I’m saying.

The few bits that missed the mark

I loved Sita, I’ve made that pretty clear. That said, there were parts of her character that didn’t come together. One, she seemed overly empathetic, unnaturally so – even with Ravan and Shurpanakha. She is constantly thinking from multiple points of view even in the most dire circumstance. I get that she’s a divine, evolved soul but in her human form, it didn’t ring true.

Yet at places what she feels and says doesn’t tie in with her divinity. When she thinks of dying in the Ashok Vatika one of her thoughts is,
‘I wouldn’t be able to tell him how I’d suffered and how all through that suffering had remained true to him.’ Only too human!

I’m being too demanding, I know. The balance between the divine and mortal is difficult not to say subjective.

There were also bits of writing that didn’t quite come through. The abduction scene, for instance, didn’t turn out to be as dramatically horrifying as I thought it should have been.
Says Sita ‘My nails raised welts on his dark smooth skin…’. No one would note her captor’s ‘smooth’ skin while being abducted.
Also, when Sita sees the Pushpak Viman, she says, and I quote..
‘I was so amazed, I couldn’t help staring in open-mouthed wonder. For a moment, I even forgot to struggle.
‘You might want to close your lips’, the rakshasa (Ravan) said kindly (?). ‘A bug might wander in.’
The humour detracted from the horror of the situation.

And yet, despite the few hiccups I’ll say this is the best retelling of the Ramayan I’ve read. The one that reminded me of my grandma’s stories only in a more colourful, more fresh, ever more engrossing form.

Last Thought: Buy it.

Click on the image to buy the book.


The Bodyguard – A #Review

Book Title: The Bodyguard
Author: Ruchi Singh

I was eager to pick this one up as I had read Jugnu, by the same author and loved it. The premise was deliciously different and the cover was enticing. What’s not to like with a brave strong heroine and a rich handsome hero in a sort of role-reversal? That’s what caught my interest. I thought this would make for a wonderful romantic read. And I wasn’t disappointed. That there was a mystery element thrown in made it even better.

The Story

Major Esha Sinha, an ex-army officer is hired as an undercover agent for Vikramaditya Seth Jr. Things take a serious turn when repeated attempts are made on his life. Esha struggles to ignore their mutual attraction in order to focus on the killer who is out to get Vikram.

What I loved

I started out thinking it was a romantic novel, however few pages down the line I realised it was more of a suspense thriller and, to me, that was a plus.

The characters come to life early on. I loved Major Esha – strong, silent, somewhat brooding with a bit of a mysterious past – the classic Mills and Boon hero. Flirtatious, egoistic, workaholic Vikram was a delight too. There were a host of other supporting characters, all etched out with care.

The writing was fast paced and there never was a dull moment. The story moved ahead with every page as new bits of information were revealed.

I loved that we got glimpses of the assassin’s life, a little peek into his head, just enough to spike ones interest and keep one guessing.

What could have been better

On the flip side, the suspense could have been tighter. There were a number of suspects, which was good, but they were rejected without really convincing reasons. Also, although I loved Major Esha’s character, she slips in her line of duty – her charge gets hit (twice) in her presence by the same person and she fails to protect him. That didn’t quite fit in with her character as the super-efficient bodyguard that I wanted her to be.

The end seemed rather hurried with Esha figuring things out pretty fast. Also, there were a few lose ends that needed to be tied up but were left dangling.

Oh and there were editing errors, more than a few. Avoiding those could have added quality to the book.

Last thought: A decent travel companion.

I was given a copy of the book by the author through Write Tribe in exchange for an honest review.

How I Became a Farmer’s Wife #Review

Book Title: How I Became a Farmer’s Wife
Author: Yashodhara Lal

Fictionalised memoirs are definitely Yashodhara Lal’s forte. After her debut book Just Married Please Excuse, we meet her again, along with her husband Vijay and the triple bonus of her three kids.

The story

Vijay, an engineer with a full-time job, decides to take up farming. We follow his story as he struggles to set up his farm right from planting vegetables (because he loves the idea of apne khet ki gobhi), to buying cows, and handling the motley crew that makes up the help. The farm hiccups along solely on Vijay’s passion and his determination to realise a dream. It is hard work, full of hreatbreak and yet comes with immeasurable rewards.

What I loved

Lal handles the story with her characteristic humour. It isn’t laugh-out-loud hilarious (like her first) but it still is a fun read. Her writing is realistic, too realistic sometimes. The first few pages that described the chaos with the children, were so close to the truth, like a mirror to my own anarchic home, that I felt my blood pressure rise and almost put away the book in fright.

However, there are plenty of good bits too.

She weaves in a host of characters, good, bad and ugly. The wily Shukla ji, the endearing Mobeen and his family, Akshata the yoga teacher (I want one like her) as also the familiar Kajal didi. The story of the farm is interwoven with her own internal complexes and struggles as well as tales of grappling with a pair of twins and a fast-growing tween.

My biggest takeaway from the book was that it never is easy to step out of one’s comfort zone but that is exactly what one has to do if one wants to follow a dream. I loved Vijay’s doggedness and I have to hand it to him for the ploughing on ahead (pun intended) despite the thousand set-backs.

Also, as a mom, the book reminded me that children are more than willing to give up their gadgets if we show them the fun they can have outdoors. I loved how Peanut, Pickle and Papad connected with the farm and farm animals.

What could have been better

On the flip side the book gets tiresome in parts, the struggles too many and too long and I’m not just talking about the farm. Pickle and Papad seem too hung up on technology and Peanut is in a whole different world – they all are kind of scattered and disconnected. I didn’t get as much of a warm family vibe as I expected from the book. So that was a bit of a disappointment.

A little more humour might have done the trick, or maybe a greater focus on what kept the family together during those crazy days. But then maybe that’s all meant to happen in Madhya Pradesh.

Last thought: Pick it up if you’re looking for a fun slice-of-life read.

Mom’s life #Write Bravely


The Municipality officers had been at work all day pumping the water out of her basement and it was only now that she could go down there. It was a mess, a sad sorry mess. She’d take days to clean this out. She sat down on a stool and pulled the cardboard carton towards her. It came away in a soggy mess. Letters, photographs, slam books  tumbled out.

She picked up a photograph: It was hers, as a teen with her sister, she on her tiptoes because somehow the sister, though, younger had managed to shoot up an inch more than her. Another one at the school Sports Day captured by her dad – she was about 8, a butterfly with blue and pink butter-paper wings. She reached out for another one – she and her best friend at the farewell social at school, barely 15, in their mom’s saris, dressed awkwardly but posing like pros, ‘The world is our runway’, she had captioned it. Those were the days…, she smiled.

Her reverie was broken by a cry of ‘Look what I found!’.

She glanced up reluctantly, unwilling to let go of the memories just yet, to see her six-year-old holding up something dripping wet covered with mud and bits of cardboard. One armed Barbies, half-legged astronauts, cotton oozing teddy bears and assorted crayons and colour pencils lay spilt around.

Her son was holding up something, ‘My favourite dart gun!’ he said wiping it lovingly on his shirt.

Oh Lord no – not that one thought she, putting down her photographs and rushing over to him. That gun had been the cause of a million fights, till one day she had hidden it away among the discarded toys and forgotten about it. And now here it was… again.

Predictably enough his twin jumped at it, ’It’s mine,’
‘No it’s mine, I found it.’
‘But Aunty got it for me.’
‘Yes but then you gave it to me.’
‘So I take it back now.’
‘You cannot take something back once you give it away.’
‘Yes I can,’

She glanced at her photographs then sighed and geared up once again for some serious refreeing. No time for mush in a mom’s life!


Written for the Write Tribe Festival of Words June 2018 for the last day of the Challenge – Day 7. The prompt for the day was:
A dark and heavy storm suddenly takes over your neighbourhood, dropping 6 feet of water so quickly that the storm drains can’t handle it. The water flooded your street and your basement, ruining many of your things. As you rummage through your stuff, you are filled with memories. Think about your…

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Of Men, Loves and Passions #WriteBravely

Men, loves passions

“Hello,” said the voice on the phone. “My name is Shah Rukh Khan. I know you never expected a call from me, as famous as I am, but I’ve been given your name as someone who can help me find something I’m looking for.”

‘Yeah yeah yeah and I’m Anushka Sharma, Virat is right here by me would you like to say hello? YOU STUPID IMBECILE!! It’s 3 am for Godssake and prank calls are so 80s YOU JOBLESS FOOL, You have nothing better to do on a Monday morning?’ Brinda erupted.

Now before you get the wrong impression about Brinda, let me tell you that she’s normally a gentle soul, it’s just that she had been provoked beyond measure over this past weekend.

It all began yesterday morning. She was woken up very very rudely yet again by the incessant roaring of a car and the raucous jubilant laughter of her husband. If there’s one thing Brinda treasured passionately (after her teen crush Shah Rukh), it was her Sunday morning sleep.

Her husband Bikram, on the other hand, loved even more passionately, his 1936 Ruby Austin. ‘It’s much more than a car,’ he would say to anyone who cared to listen. The said car had been in Brinda’s family for decades and had been her father’s gift to Bikram. She sometimes thought her husband had agreed to marry her simply because he had fallen deeply irrevocably in love with her father’s Austin.

Come Sunday, way before the sun rose, he would arm himself with a host of cleaning materials, polish and grease and a bunch of soft muslin cloths and get to work on the Austin. He would polish it till it gleamed, then start it up. It would sputter and stutter as noisily as a kettle drum and then with a huge roar it would come alive. And each time it trumpeted to life Bikram would give out a loud proud cheer. He’d rev it up and drive it up and down the long driveway of their bungalow at a royal speed of 20kms per hour, giving out whoops of childlike joy.

Neither her entreaties nor her threats managed to deter him. After an unusually bad fight he’d stop for a week or two and then he’d be back at it again.

Meanwhile Brinda would twist and turn in her bed, stewing in anger, her sleep quite gone. Yesterday morning when Bikram had returned to their room, pleased as punch, twirling his majestic moustache (another thing he was rather proud of) and reached out to give Brinda an expansive hug all he had received for his troubles was an impatient shove that had sent him sprawling on the ground.

She really hadn’t meant to push him but ‘he deserved it’, she told herself when her conscience had dared to open its mouth.

Bikram had collected himself unhurt, except for his ego – which was worse than any physical injury. Talks since then had been suspended between the two, each swearing he/she would make up over his/her dead body.

It was a bad bad night for Brinda because she could never sleep well after an unresolved fight. Bikram’s snores had only made her angrier and now she had had to get up to take this call!

Oh she was fuming!

‘Errr.. hello, ma’am.’ The caller seemed to be rather taken aback at her tirade. ‘Hello this is Shah Rukh Khan, the actor. I’m terribly sorry I didn’t realise it was so late, or should I say so early?’ he ended with a cheeky-apologetic laugh. Oooooh he was good, this guy. The laugh was exactly like SRK’s and he was persistent, thought she, the last vestiges of sleep leaving her. An old friend perhaps, who knew of her continued crush on the actor.

‘You’re Shah Rukh, eh? How come you’re up so early, I know SRK is a true blue night owl.’ Not for nothing had she read up every available trivia on her heart throb of decades.

‘Early morning for some, late night for some – I haven’t gone to bed yet, ma’am,’ he said and there it was again – his characteristic laugh.

This time her heart flipped. That laugh rung so true she had to catch her breath. Could it  really be Shah Rukh? The man of her dreams?

But never in her dreams had he said he needed her help. He had said everything from ‘I love you’ (when she was a teen) to ‘Let’s have an intellectual conversation about Spirituality and Philosophy,’ (when she had entered her forties) but never this.

‘You need my help?’ she said her heartbeat spiking.

‘Well it’s like this I spent my childhood with my maternal grandfather in Mangalore. I presume your grandfather was from there as well?’

‘That’s right but he moved away eons ago,’ she said.

‘Yeah well I have some very happy memories of those days. My most favourite one is of man-to-man conversations with my grand-dad as we drove through long winding roads. While he is gone, the memory remains. The memory and the car. It used to be a gorgeous 1936 Ruby Austin.  I’ve been looking for it for years and years. A contact told me it had belonged to your father. You see it is much more than a car. I was wondering if…..’

Shah Rukh wanted the Austin! Bikram’s Austin! And he was coming here to get it! The thought brought Brinda to her knees and she sank back into a delicious day-dream.

But Bikram …… he would never part with it. The thought intruded on her dream and she laughed out loud at the irony of it. The only two men who mattered in her life, the only two men who she’d dreamed would fight over her, would now be fighting over another.

Edited to add: This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to anyone dead or alive is purely coincidental.


Written for the Write Tribe Festival of Words June 2018 for the Day 5 prompt:
“Hello,” said the voice on the phone. “My name is __________. I know you never expected a call from me, as famous as I am, but I’ve been given your name as someone who can help me _______.” (Write a story that follows this line.)

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The Bucket List #WriteBravely

The Bucket List

‘Ma,’ where’s my lavender stole? called out Rimjhim.

Rashmi put down the newspaper and looked up. Rimjhim stuck her head out from her room, ‘Ma… please, where is it?’
“In your cupboard, somewhere, I presume,’ said 
Rashmi and picked up the paper again.
‘Really ma this grand ‘Be Independent’ experiment of yours is driving me crazy.’
Rashmi smiled behind the paper and continued to read.

Rimjhim withdrew with an exasperated sigh and rummaged frantically through her cupboard until finally she called out ‘I found it. Thanks for nothing ma.’

Rashmi shook her head and laughed softly at the sarcasm.

‘Ma Vihan and Varun are coming over for dinner tonight,’ said Mohit picking up his bike keys and tiffin box from the table, where the maid, Geeta, had left it for him.
‘You should have told Geeta before she left.’
‘Come on ma, call her please, or tell her when she comes in the evening,’
‘I’m busy today, beta. You have her number. Call her or order in. I will be out all day.’
‘Ma it’ll take two minutes,’
Yup exactly, why don’t you do it rightaway?’
‘Really, ma!! Said Mohit annoyed at her steadfast refusal.

This was unusual!

‘..and here we have a fresh victim of the ‘apna kaam apne aap’ movement. How do you feel Mr Mohit? Empowered, overwhelmed or simply annoyed?’ queried Rimjhim thrusting an imaginary mike at him.
‘This is a mad mad household,’ he muttered brushing her hand away. He looked at his mother again and asked, ‘Are you alright, ma?’ The thought had been plaguing him for some time now. She definitely had not been herself over the last few months. She seemed kind of absent minded, distant, removed from them all.

He put down his bag and sat down beside her.

“Ma, is all well?’

Rimjhim looked up at the serious note that had crept into his voice and edged closer. She had noticed the change in her mom too. It bothered her.
‘Yes ma, what’s up? You’re not helping us these days, you shut yourself in your room for hours and you’ve been going out almost everyday. And who is this Dr Amrita you keep calling up? You’re not going away anywhere, are you?’

Rashmi looked at both of them guilty.

‘Ma,’ Rohit shook her, ‘are you sick?’
‘Are you dying?’ asked Rimjhim. She was close to tears now that the thought had struck her.

‘Oh stop, you two. For goodness sake,’ exclaimed Rashmi and smiled, ‘actually it’s a little bit of both.
‘Stop talking in riddles please ma,’ entreated Rohit.

Rashmi sighed.

‘It’s a bit of a long story and I guess I might as well tell it all. You think you have the patience to hear me out?’ The two nodded mutely, apprehensive of what was about to come.
‘Well, I was always an average girl with average aspirations and I grew up to be an average woman fulfilling each of them in turn.’ She put up her hand when Mohit tried to protest, ‘Let me finish please’, she said, ‘Life has been good. Not remarkable, but good and I’m not complaining.’

‘But then the other day Sunanada passed away. You remember Sunanada Aunty from the 7th floor?, Yeah, so when she passed away I realised how ephemeral life was. I realised that ‘average’ wasn’t good enough, that each of us needs to make his or her life remarkable in whatever way, small or big. I needed to do that for myself.

‘Does it sound silly? I knew it would, which is why I said nothing’, said Rashmi

‘It’s not silly at all’, said Rimjhim, ‘so then…?’

‘So then before I could do any of that I had to make sure you guys would be okay without my continued presence in your lives. So I made out a bucket list that the old me had to complete before I could embark upon my new life.’

‘And look how wonderfully it has turned out. Rohit, you’ve learnt to run the washing machine and figured out how to match your socks, your dad has finally understood that a navy shirt doesn’t go with navy trousers. When he can’t find his glasses he knows now that they’re probably perched on his head, Geeta can cook just the way each of you like your food and even Rimjhim can find clothes from her mess these days,’ she laughed, ‘my bucket list is complete, except for the one last grand finale.’

‘A few weeks back I enrolled in music class. Dr Amrita is my teacher, by the way. She is a doctor, but an academic one not a medical one. She has a doctorate in Music.’

‘I’d thought I’d surprise all of you with my grand performance next week – the last thing on the bucket list – the thing that would finally kick off the old ‘average’ me – and usher in the new me with a whole new bucket list. I want to travel, learn Salsa maybe, take Spanish lessons. I want to make my life remarkable.’ She stopped self-consciously, embarrassed at having got carried away. Darn! It sounded pompous even to her own ears now that she was saying it out loud. She searched for signs of laughter on her children’s faces.

There were none.

Just lots of love for their new remarkable mom. 


Written for the Write Tribe Festival of Words June 2018 for the Day 4 prompt:

Write a story about a character who finds out that he or she is dying and has been knocking things off his/her bucket list and has finally reached the last item.

Daddy’s rules #WriteBravely


My dad gave me three life rules to live by

Reach out and make friends
Never ever desert a friend
Never stab a friend in the back

The first two were easy, but the third one proved difficult all because of a cheeseburger. Let me explain.

Look, I’m a friendly, easy-going sort of person, so that first rule came easily to me. I made friends – on roads, in elevators, at the bus stop, on the bus, on the playground and in school. All it needed was a smile and a hello and our friendship boat was sailing gaily. I had real friends and virtual ones, reading friends and writing ones, walking friends and coffee friends.

So there are friends and there are best friends. And I had one too – the best and closest of them all – Anu, a dear sweet, happy ball of fun, my best buddy, my BFF. We sang Yeh Dosti together and knew every dialogue of every 80s blockbuster. I was her Jai and she was my Veeru. I shared my homework, she lent me her notes. We stood by each other if ever there was a fight. If she forgot her homework I didn’t submit mine so we could be punished together. We were inseparable all through school. Then in college we both moved to a new city, to a shared flat.

Life was good. I thought I had maxed dad’s life lessons because never in my dreams did I think that the last one would be a problem. I was a conscientious girl with a super active conscience that wouldn’t let me stab even a stalk of broccoli on my dinner plate without a pang.

Then one day dashing young Rohan showed up in Anu’s young life. When he walked by with his loping gait, in his white tee and his white trousers with a cricket kit slung casually over his shoulders I had to hold onto Anu as she swooned. She lived and breathed for him. It was an entirely different matter that he had no clue she existed.

Finally she announced, ‘I need to lose weight if I am to have a chance at love. Help me. I’m going on a diet.’

I was struck dumb.

‘What does love have to do with weight?’ I tried to tell her, pushing a plate of fries towards her, ‘There’s just more of you to love.’

‘But don’t you know, fat people are invisible’, she said pushing the fries determinedly back at me.

This was new! And unexpected.

But I was a buddy and I rose to the occasion. Dad said I shouldn’t ever desert my friend. So I put away my doubts and geared up to help her. I threw away the fries and tore up the takeaway menus. I sipped sugarless tea with her in the canteen and shut my eyes (and nose) to plump samosas.

It was day three and the strain was beginning to show. Anu picked listlessly at a bowl of papaya then shoved them aside and stood up. ‘Chuck it’ she said, ‘this’ll never work. I’m going to order out.’

‘No no no no no,’ I said running after her, ‘it takes 20 days for a habit to form, then on it gets easy. I’ve read it all up, just 17 more days to go.’

’17 minutes are one too many,’ said she desperately hunting for a menu.

‘You won’t find any,’ I told her, ‘I threw them all out.’

She glared at me, then began to hunt again as one possessed. All I stood by wringing my hands. And then with a happy whoop she held up a tattered menu from among old discarded newspapers. Before I could stop her she was on the phone ordering the biggest, juiciest, cheesiest burger ever.

The bell rang and she ran to open the door. She took the still hot burger, put it on the table and rushed off to pay the delivery boy.

Meanwhile I stood by watching helpless, frustrated. You cannot desert your friend, my dad’s words echoed in my head. I cannot let her lose the love of her life. The thought spurred me into action. Right before her stunned eyes I grabbed the burger. I watched her coming towards me as if in slow motion but I was a friend on a mission. ‘Noooooo,’ said she. I ignored her and, in one great mega mighty bite, I stuffed the entire burger into my mouth.

Both of us collapsed on the floor in a tangled heap, burger and all, before the shocked eyes of the poor delivery boy.

And just like that, I’d well and truly stabbed my bestest friend in the back! My father’s rule well and truly broken. Beyond repair. All because of a cheeseburger.

Epilogue: It was a few days before we became friends again. And another few before my singed tongue healed. Anu gave up her diet plans and we took to hanging around the cricket field. One fine day as Rohan stood fielding at the boundary, the ball landed right into Anu’s lap. And as he took the ball from her he deposited his heart at her feet. And that was that!


Written for the Write Tribe Festival of Words June 2018 for the Day 3 prompt:

Start your story with: “My dad gave me three life rules to live by: 1. (fill in the blank), 2. (fill in the blank) and 3. (fill in the blank). The first two were easy, but the third one proved difficult all because of a cheeseburger. Let me explain.”