Holidays can be a breeze

Do you break into a sweat at the thought of drawing up travel itineraries? Turn to these vacation-planner apps

It’s always the same story. Holidays should help you relax but sometimes organizing the minutest detail can be a nightmare. Tickets, hotels, what to do once there, what not to do, how to reach from point A to point B without getting lost, how to communicate—all these elements can turn trip planning into a headache. We suggest you outsource your holiday troubles to these helpful assistants and relax.


If you’re heading to the US this summer, don’t forget to pack in Kamino, a nifty app meant for people who love to hike and walk. The crowdsourced app has information on walks and hikes from bloggers, experts and locals of a particular city. Perfect for that authentic local experience in the city. “The idea is for users to discover and truly appreciate the culture and uniqueness of a city whether they are locals or tourists,’” says US-based Louis P. Huynh, co-founder and president, in an email. Each hike comes complete with a GPS-enabled map and includes personalized recommendations. Right now the hikes listed are limited to cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco, but more are getting added as the community increases worldwide—from London, Paris and Florence to Cape Town, Hanoi and Taipei.; free on iTunes. The app is expected to be launched soon on Android.


Hate deciding where to go, what to do there, and how much it will cost you? Let Holidayen do the job for you. Created by three graduates from the Indian Institute of Technology, the app acts like a personal travel agent, lets you choose destinations and then plans what you should do once there, and where you should stay. You can customize the options and even book the things you would like to do from within the app. The database is curated, so you might not get all the choices, but the good thing is that if you have figured out an itinerary you like on the app, you can download it and keep it on your phone to access it offline. “Planning a trip is a cumbersome process, taking up to several days of online research, reading guides and asking several people,” says Utkala Mohanty, co-founder, Holidayen. “This app makes trip planning a breeze, where the user can plan a trip in seconds, while completely customizing it to her preferences.”; $0.99 (around Rs.60) on Google play. The app is expected to be launched soon on iOS.


Primarily meant as a travel assistant for business travellers, Trip38 helps you manage your itinerary. It does this by collating all your travel information and emails in one place, giving you updates through alerts, notifying you of when to check in, doling out details of baggage allowance, flight timings and the terminal….

First published at Read complete article here:

CoC cover - final

Anantya in Tehelka: ‘My Protagonist Is A Fearless Woman’


Many a times, when you write, you don’t really know why you’re writing this particular story and what it is that you want to say or experience through it. It’s instinctive, this desire to write a story. Which is why I was quite surprised to get to know something about me recently.

I’ve been talking to the media and the industry about the upcoming launch of Anantya Tantrist’s first book, Cult of Chaos. So when Tehelka‘s associate editor Sabin, wrote to me to make Anantya part of their cover story on women’s safety in Delhi, I said yes.

Little did I know what I would figure out from that interview. While answering questions, I realised how much I have lived in fear of being molested/raped/kidnapped while growing up in Delhi. I’ve carried this fear on my back, like a corpse, it has slowed me down, stressed me but also given me strength and aggression to live and survive. Which is why I wrote a character like Anantya Tantrist. She’s fearless, she’s aggressive and she can take on anything that comes her way. She chooses to live alone in Delhi and own its nights. In my head, she’s everything I couldn’t be, but would like to be, like Superman is to little boys (and a few big ones).

I wrote Anantya for myself and others like me, to give other women hope and determination. That survival instinct. That you can survive and live #fearless. Thanks Sabin, for helping me realise this.

A few excerpts from the interview:

CoC cover - final

‘My Protagonist Is A Fearless Woman Who Doesn’t Give Two Hoots About What The Society Thinks’

Daring and foul-mouthed Anantya could be anywhere in India but the fact (or, the fiction) that she is roaming around the streets of New Delhi contextualises a conversation with her creator, Shweta Taneja, who grew up in the national capital, when we talk about the broader topic of violence against women.

In the wake of repeated incidents of rape and violence against women, how do you look at women’s safety issues in New Delhi?
I feel two things: a mad sense of anger and a helpless feeling of frustration. Anger because I can’t do anything about the senseless violence I see being perpetrated on women everywhere in the country and not just in New Delhi. On the streets, in offices, in bedrooms, in restaurants, in cars, on public and private transport and at homes — everywhere. Forget Delhi, women don’t feel safe anywhere in this country.

My frustration comes from the fact that every time an incident happens, a molestation or rape, usually of a ­woman, we try and build walls to protect ­ourselves or if we are men, protect our women. We ask the police to be more vigilant, to patrol, to install cctvs, to put fences, to add more guards, more grills, to track with gps, to have checks and policing in place so that women can feel safe. But the sad truth is that building walls will only make the outdoors wilder, segregating gender will only alienate each gender from the other and increase violence. No government, no men, no police, no institution can make it all go away. What can perhaps make a difference is that if you, me, all of us, in spite of the violence, go outdoors, at all times, at all places, fearlessly own the night. Be there, not in groups, not with men, but alone — until it becomes the norm. We need to own the spaces, only then can we be safe.

What is your experience of growing up in the city? Any lingering memories?
Much to the chagrin of my parents, growing up, I loved to be out on the roads of Delhi rather than stay at home. A love I share with Anantya. There’s a sense of freedom to be able to walk (not ride in closed spaces like cars), take a deep breath, smell the city. But I have always felt a sense of insecurity, a sense of alertness when I walk on the streets. I have grown aggressive because of collated bad experiences for years — creepy touches, bottom pinches, side leers, breast stares and squeezes. I have experienced it all because I refused to get off the road or the public spaces. I refused to huddle within groups. But yes, Delhi has converted me into a hedgehog. When I am walking, I don’t smile at a stranger, I am wary and vigilant. That’s a bit unfortunate.

Why do you write? And why Cult of Chaos?
I write because I itch to tell stories. When I am not writing, I am making up stories and orally telling them to my friends. I want to explore the idea of otherness, of strangeness, of non-humans, paranormals and supernaturals through these stories, which is why I am writing in the fantasy genre. I want to explore ‘us’ versus ‘them’ in all their manifestations.

I wrote Cult of Chaos because I was itching to write a work of detective ­fiction that mixes Indian folklore and supernatural creatures into a mystery. Anantya Tantrist happened because I was so bored of all the action taken up by male superheroes and superstars while women sat on the side, as pretty eye-candy. I wanted a story in which a woman gets her hands dirty, has all the adventures, kicks the villains and goes to a bar later to celebrate. And Cult of Chaos is all that and more!

Can you take us through the experience of writing this book?
Anantya’s story has been an emotional journey for me. I was creating a female character who is fearless, independent, who just doesn’t give two hoots about what the society thinks, who isn’t dependent on a man. I had to change so many scenes constantly because they were written keeping in mind the ‘limitations’ a woman would have in our society. But Anantya doesn’t adhere to those limitations. I wanted to create a character who will step out of all the gender ideas we have as a society, which is why I rewrote and rewrote, overcoming my limitations as a writer and as a product of our society. And I am amazed at who she has turned out to be. I respect her, am in awe of her, and even have a crush on her.

I sit in my study all day and write while she is out on the streets, taking on powerful people, protecting the helpless, solving violent crimes, also having supernatural adventures of all kinds. She is exposed, while I live a protected life. She is all action while I am all thinking. But just the fact that I have been lucky enough to write her story has changed me too, given me wings. I want to be more like her. I want to own the streets too, fearlessly.




Guest blog: The Study of Nirmal Verma

It’s a lucky day for me! Just a few weeks ago, well-known author Zac O’Yeah, who has been kind to me without any reason really, agreed to send me a guest blog for my  Creative chat series.

As a young Swedish writer in the mid-1990s, Zac visited India and met one of the stalwarts of Hindi literature Nirmal Verma at a Sahitya Akademi function. Upon introducing himself as a fan, he got invited by the author to his home, where they conversed for an hour or so. Here he recounts how that meeting left a lasting impression on him.

Zac O’Yeah’s latest novel is Mr. Majestic: The Tout of Bengaluru (Amazon // Flipkart). More on  

‘Write what you see but what you see may not be right,’ it says on the first page of the boy’s diary, words written by his mother who died years ago. Now he is thirteen and ill with a persistent fever, and is sent from Allahabad to Delhi to recover.

He stays with his cousin, Bitty. Some twenty years old, she lives in a barsati in Nizamuddin, on a rooftop behind the dargah, and is busy with daily rehearsals of a Strindberg play. As the boy’s fever recedes, he studies Bitty and her upper middle-class friends: a couple of them foreign-returned, from Oxford, and from London, to an India of the 1970s; another is an idealistic university drop-out who, during a stint in Bihar, has seen genuine poverty and violence but didn’t last it out, and so came back to his parental home, a Lutyens bungalow in central New Delhi, where he directs plays on the sprawling lawns. While out there is a world of real tragedies and deaths, here they are cocooned in their interpretations of foreign playwrights, each with his or her own sadness hidden underneath the everyday mask.

A quiet moment in his study where Zac interacted with him

Despite their pursuit of freedom and creative lifestyles, ostensibly go-getting attitudes and artistic endeavours, they radiate insecurity, self-doubt, angst and despair – perhaps, the reader speculates, over being caught between cultures. The boy, however, can’t always make sense of his observations: he sees everything so acutely that it is often painful to read the descriptions of the theatrewallahs who, while partying on Bitty’s rooftop, exert influences on each other via invisible social and mental laws akin to how gravity determines the mechanical movements of planets. ‘At late night parties there always comes a moment when nobody seems aware of what is happening within or about him: the world at large sinks out of sight in the glittering stream of words. Voices swell through the air but what remains behind is the ubiquitous grey silt.’ Continue reading


Build apps, the budget-friendly way

You don’t need to be a coding champion. With a little perseverance and the right tools, you can create an app sitting at home—these five options will help


If you want great design templates for your app, head to GoodBarber. The platform has a strong focus on app design and offers more than 50 colourful, highly customizable design templates to get you started. Its newer platform, Salvador, gives you six browsing modes to choose from. You can also add new content (articles, videos and photographs) from your GoodBarder app without needing an external source.
Platforms: iPhone, Android, HTML5
Price: Free 30-day trial; starting from €16 (around Rs.1,300) a month

Conduit Mobile (COMO)

To open up a small online shopping app for your business, Conduit Mobile is the best option. The app builder offers business-specific designs and a simple drag-and-drop interface. For example, there are special templates for restaurants through which they can offer discounts, list menus prettily and link up their social networks. The app’s e-commerce partnerships include Shopify, Etsy, eBay, etc.
Platforms: iPhone, Android and HTML5. It is expected soon on Windows Phone.
Price: Starting from $33 (around Rs.1,980) a month


ShoutEm’s interface offers customization options and integration with existing Web sources like WordPress, Facebook, Twitter and SoundCloud. The monetization options include e-commerce, in-app subscriptions, deals and coupons, and support for all major advertisement networks, like Google AdWords, etc.
Platforms: iOS, Android, HTML5
Price: Starting from $19 a month


Features in AppMakr include push notifications, HTML5 functionality, high-resolution photo galleries, navigation control, even monetization. The builder also helps you publish a test app to see how it will look in a user’s phone before publishing it to the app store. And it will give a rating to the app so that you know whether it’s likely to get rejected during Apple’s review process. Platforms: iPhone, Android, HTML5
Price: Free, with advertisements; starting from $1 a month for an advertisement-free version


GameSalad makes it possible to build a game with a simple drag-and-drop interface. It takes a while to understand the software, features and game elements, but once you’ve done that, the tool is quite easy.

First published in Read the complete article, here:


Are stories real?

This story was recently carried in Swarajya magazine and got over 150 shares online. Thrilled! Editing this a bit and resharing.


Of stories, Oh muse speak to me.

Some time ago, I took a friend and her nine-year-old daughter to Bull Temple in Bengaluru. It’s the place with one of the country’s largest monolith bull, in the shape of Nandi, the servant bull of Shiva. The majestic Nandi far surpasses the tiny Shiva here, who you almost miss in a small alcove behind the bull. He is spectacular in size, structure and sheer architecture. To excite her, I promised this little lady, who was still sleepy and not too thrilled with the idea of seeing a temple, with a true story after she had seen the Nandi.

Once she was dragged her feet around the bull inside the temple, we sat outside in the temple courtyard, the black sculpture of Nandi behind us and I began the true story I had heard from someone at the same spot the first time I had come to the Bull temple:

“Hundred of years ago, Nandi, one of Shiva’s bravest warriors, was invited to come to the city of Bangalore to save it from its enemies. With all fanfare, a small statue of Nandi, the bull, was placed on top of a hill so that he could protect the city. But there was something special about this bull. Every morning when the people living around the hill woke up, they would find that the Nandi’s sculpture had grown in size. So it kept on happening again and again. At first the statue became the size of a dog, then a bull, then an elephant, then a dinosaur. This caused fear in the masses. Politicians and the adminsitrators of Bengaluru became afraid that if the bull keeps growing and becoming bigger and bigger, it will destroy their entire city. That was when a poet suggested that they build a temple around Nandi. If he is indoors, the poet predicted, he wouldn’t be able to look at the sky and his desire to grow more and more will stop. That will save their city. And so it was done. A temple was built around this ambitious Nandi, the walls so close that the ceiling touches the Nandi’s golden horns and there’s barely space enough to for the Nandi to stand inside. And as soon as a structure was created around the Nandi, the dinosaur-sized bull stopped growing in size, content to remain at that size forever.”

‘Is the story real?’ asked the nine-year-old wisely. ‘Yes, I think it is,’ I answered, ‘the person who told me, told me it was a true story.’ ‘No, you’re making this up,’ she replied, looking up to her mother for confirmation. Her mother, in an equal mood to make her daughter believe answered, ‘It could be real.’ She looked back at the majestic monolith of Nandi, doubt in her eyes, but also a newfound interest. Her mother looked back at me and smiled, conspiratorially. We had done it. We had plotted magic in a child’s heart.

I came back home and started to wonder why more and more of the children I see are not ready to believe in things beyond their five senses, in anything beyond rationality. I ask this to all children I meet in the various workshops I conduct in schools. They call believing in anything other than what’s been proved by science as superstition.

To a four-year-old who I met at a party one evening, I asked if he knows why we don’t see stars in the morning. When he shook his head, I told him because every morning a monster called the Sun gobbles them up. So when you see Sun, you cannot see the Stars. For a second, I saw doubt in his eyes and then he shook his head. ‘Not possible,’ he answered. When with all the dignity of my adulthood I insisted that that was the truth, he went back to his parents to confirm.

We have become a rational, logical society. So much so that we explain to our children that myths and all stories they hear are not real, not factual, but lies and fiction. In our eagerness to divide and tag everything with ‘facts’ and ‘fiction’, somewhere we lose out on the magic and in many ways the emotional truths that stories carry in themselves. Stories can capture the truths of love, creativity, imagination, dreams, aspirations and emotions, the way facts never really can. They give us a glimpse into another world. A world which is beyond what we know or understand, can touch, see and feel. They bring a sense of wonderment, of mystery, of the unknown, of possibility. Stories make us dream, so that we don’t live by the rules and facts provided to us, but make new rules, new societies, new cultures. Stories make us creative, they make us look at ourselves in a new way and bring about change in our beings.

By telling us tales of other people, other creatures, other cultures, other beings and other societies stories show us a different point of view and make us more accepting of differences. They make troll less online and accept that there can be multiple perspectives to the same thing, with none of them being completely wrong and none of them being completely the truth too. They turn us into mature, accepting beings.

I end this blog with yet another story, which my Nani told me a few months ago, sitting in her bedroom. She’s 75 now. I am, well, have been an adult since quite a while. Still, she sat me down like I was the little kid I used to be, her rheumy eyes watery (she has acute cataract and can barely see) and her voice quavered as she told me this story. A true story, she insisted which she had heard from her brother who had been to Haridwar recently, who had heard it from someone who had in reality experienced this:

‘One day in Haridwar, there was a fat-fat lady. She was so fat, so fat, so fat (Nani’s hands spread wide) that her body could barely fit into a car’s backseat. She stood on a road, asking for a ride from a rickshaw-wallah to Hari-ki-paudi, the popular holy ghat on the banks of Ganga. Since the fat-fat lady was so fat, no rickshaw driver was ready to take her up to the ghat, which is a winding road that goes up and then down and up again. She seemed too heavy! She asked many rickshaw drivers, and all of them refused. Finally a thin, scrawny driver pitied her and agreed to take her. He helped her alight on the rickshaw and started to peddle. Surprisingly, though she was so fat, the driver could peddle the rickshaw as if it was empty. She felt weightless.

‘He kept on turning back to see if the fat-fat lady was still on the rickshaw. God forbid she should fall! It was an easy ride for him and he reached the steps of the ghat, the Hari-ki-paudi. The fat-fat lady stepped down and said, “Please wait and take me back. I will just take 15 minutes for a quick dip in the Ganga and come back. Till then, hold on to this. It’s for you.’ With that she took out a handkerchief which was tied into a small pouch from her fat bosom and gave it to the rickshaw-puller. He nodded and waited. Fifteen minutes passed, then thirty, then an hour and then an hour again. The driver started to worry. Had she drowned? Worried, he went to the ghat and inquired. A lot of bathers saw a fat-fat lady go into the Ganga to take a dip but no one saw her come out. One bather informed him that he saw her clothes, floating in the water, but no woman inside them. ‘Poor lady,’ cried the rickshaw driver, ‘she has drowned in the waters of Ganga! She was so fat!’ He finally remembered the little handkerchief that she had given him and opened it. The kerchief had precious emeralds and rubies and diamonds! He went back to the same road he had picked her up from and inquired about the fat-fat lady. Finally he found out that the fat-fat lady had lived in an ashram in Haridwar. She was a rich lady and had died there with a wish to take a dip in the Ganga on her lips. She had died a year before she had met the rickshaw driver! ‘She was a soul who needed to take a dip in the Ganga to be released,’ he thought, ‘and because I happened to help her that she gave me so much money.’ The precious stones had made him enough money to make sure that he and seven of his generations wouldn’t need to work. ‘This is the biggest tip anyone will ever get,’ he thought before giving his rickshaw away. He wouldn’t need it now. This is a true story. My brother heard it from a guy who had happened to meet the rickshaw driver.’

Thank you, Nani, for making my eyes go round with wonderment, even though I insisted after the story had ended that there was no way it could be a true story. Could it?

PS: I hope instead of facts in comment boxes below, everyone tells stories and tales that they heard in temples, roadsides and from grandparents that made their eyes pop out in wonder.


Putting a stop to mobile addiction

Can’t help pressing the mobile screen button every few seconds? Here are apps that will track your mobile use and help reduce phone dependency


In May, the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (Nimhans) opened a first-of-its-kind clinic in the country—a centre to treat teenagers’ obsession with social networking, instant chatting apps, texting and mobile games. In other words, addiction to mobile phones.

Though there have not been any formal studies on how addicted we are to the little black device in our hands, most of us show symptoms of what some psychologists cautiously call mobile-phone overuse—checking the phone every few minutes, fidgeting with it in public spaces and parties, and becoming impatient or worried if we’ve left it at home. Don’t believe it? These apps will help you understand how addicted you are to your phone.

My Mobile Day

Süleyman Kuzula, a 26-year-old Turkish engineer based in Germany, created My Mobile Day because he felt that people, especially children, were on the way to becoming “mobile phone zombies”. “My app can help people organize their mobile phone and control their own behaviour of mobile use,” says Kuzula.


Created by Mumbai- based app development company Mobifolio in January, BreakFree is the brainchild of Mrigaen Kapadia and his wife Nupur Kapadia. They realized that both of them, as well as their family and friends, were hooked to their smartphones. “We thought it would be nice to have something on the phone which could monitor how addicted you are to your phone and show the facts to you, and so BreakFree was born,” says Kapadia. BreakFree scores you on addiction, letting you track the time you spend on the phone and compete with friends and family to reduce phone dependency.

Read more at:


Shield your Android

Is your ‘droid’ device protected against increasingly devious virus attacks? If not, here are some life-savers



Of all the new threats against mobile operating systems in the second half of 2013, 97% were targeted against Android, according to the “Threat Report” released by security research firm F Secure Labs in March. It doesn’t end there. According to the report, India tops the list in reporting Android malware.

Given that 93% of Indian mobile Internet users are on Android, according to research firm International Data Corp., that’s not surprising. “Android is the most popular and widely used operating system worldwide, with over a million new devices being activated every day,” says Ritesh Chopra, country manager (India) at software security firm Symantec Corp. “When it (Android) gave smartphone users more freedom to install software from outside their official marketplace, it also opened the doors to malware authors, who have spent years honing their techniques,” he adds.

In a February report, Symantec stated that on an average, 272 new malware variants and five new malware families targeting Android were discovered every month in 2013. “These threats can steal your personal and financial information, track you, send premium-rate SMS messages, and display intrusive adware,” says Chopra.

Android has been designed with multilayered security to anticipate and tackle malware attacks on it as well as attacks on third-party apps in its official marketplace. But what Google didn’t anticipate was the illegitimate marketplaces on the Internet.

“Today, it’s Android’s compromised versions of legitimate apps that have become a problem,” says Sriram Raghavan, security and forensics consultant, Secure Cyber Space, a firm that helps businesses secure their Web presence. These versions are available on unregulated third-party Android marketplaces, or free versions of paid apps that can be downloaded from anywhere and installed. They work exactly like the paid app but with a slight difference; they have an innocuous additional code inserted in them, a malware. Raghavan believes security apps might offer at best limited protection.

Once the malware is inside your system, it can do anything, from getting access to voicemail, call logs, notifications, user passwords for apps, or even sending SMSes. “You can update your software but some malwares are smart and update with the operating system,” says New Delhi-based cyber security expert Dominic K. The best protection against malware is to disable apps downloaded from unknown or unauthenticated sources.

“Trust only the Google play app store or the device manufacturer’s online store,” says Raghavan. Also, never connect to open or unknown Wi-Fi networks and remember to install an authenticated remote wipe or lock app in the unlikely event that the device is stolen or lost. Plus, always lock your screen when the device is inactive. And of course, choose one of the apps we list here to better protect your device.

McAfee Antivirus and Security

Other than scanning the apps you install and checking your phone constantly for malware, the 4.0 version of McAfee updated in March, can wipe off your data and restore it from a backup if the phone is stolen.

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7 silly things we do with smartphones

Among them, using abbreviations to send text messages, shooting videos incorrectly, and letting apps eat into battery life

Ever run around like a headless chicken in search of a socket, to plug in your dying smartphone? Or been told off for talking too loudly on the phone in a public place? The first brands you as someone who can’t stay away from those shiny little touch screens, even momentarily. The second is a dead giveaway that you are a recent digital immigrant. Here are seven ways to avoid being seen as a smartphone addict and being exposed as a smartphone newbie.

phonemain--621x414Keeping all the notifications on, always

There was a time when a ping meant only SMS. Now pings and push notifications can mean anything from a friend liking something on your social network, or an app pushing in weather information to you, an email, a new music update or a WhatsApp ping. That’s a lot of notifications, and checking and replying to them means that you actually are more glued to your phone’s screen than to life. Scientists at the University of Bonn in Germany recently developed an app to track the usage of smartphones among students. They found that on an average the students activated the phone more than 80 times a day, every 12 minutes. About 15% of this time was spent on WhatsApp, while Facebook took 9% and games 13%.

DO: Find out how addicted you are to your smartphone with Menthal (, free on Google play), an app developed by the University of Bonn scientists to measure cellphone use. The app runs in the background and records every time you unlock your phone, start an app, or receive a call—and tells you how much of your time is consumed by your phone. Oh, and switch off, or at least silence, all those annoying notifications.

Taking videos in the portrait mode

Unless you plan to play the video only on your phone or mean to share it on the app Vine (the only place where it might be acceptable), or share it with a person who has a head attached perpendicularly to her body, may we suggest you keep your phone in a landscape position every time you take a video? That is the long way instead of the tall way in phones. Most smartphones still don’t have the post-edit ability to rotate a video like a photograph. And most video browsers don’t come with the ability to play the video in its portrait mode. The ones which do, show thick black bars on both sides of a video, which can get slightly irritating. There’s an additional reason that all videos are wide rather than tall. We as humans are meant to see the world left to right rather than top to bottom.

DO: Want to correct something you have already shot in the portrait position? Download Video Swivel (iTunes, free) or the VLC media player on the desktop (, free) and straighten it up before you share.

Thinking it is clean

Touching your phone just before you eat might not be such a great idea. ‘Which?’, a technology daily magazine based in the UK, did a study in September and found that smartphones had a whopping 140 ‘Staphylococcus aureaus’, a bacteria that causes severe stomach pain, while the toilet seats they tested had less than 20 of the creatures. And did we add that tablets had a whopping 600 of them? DO: Unplug your devices, switch them off and wipe them clean with a damp, lint-free cloth.

Read the complete article at:

Fantasy writer. Author. Daydreamer