Thursday, August 29, 2013

Author Interview: Manish Gupta

In a country where incorrect usage of Hindi is mocked upon, but it is acceptable to speak wrong English, despite it being one of the official languages of the country; Manish Gupta has come up with a book which not only talks about his own experiences of conquering the English language but also, assists anyone willing! When I read the book, I was highly impressed and sincerely feel that this book should be read by any competitive exam aspirant or even if you just want to master the language. Because, as the author says - Learning English is fun!

Here is a bit of a conversation with the author of English Bites! :

Congratulations on such a huge success of the book! Did you expect it to be so well received?

Thanks very much, Samarpita. As a book in the category of non-fiction/self-help and with a novel like storyline; I was expecting the book to be well received. I am sure that with more word-to-mouth publicity, the book will become a bigger success in the times to come.  

Untouched topic, in a way. How high was the anxiety?

Having started reading books outside the curricula only after I joined engineering, I started with a feeling of awe and admiration for the writers of non-academic books, which only grew stronger with time. Hence, it was a dream to see myself published and especially in an area that bridges the gap between academia and fun reads. This made my journey of research and writing very purposeful and focused. The only moments of anxiety came after submitting the manuscript to the literary agent. The publication of this book brought another dimension (after academia, profession, family & friends) to my narrative making me feel more creatively fulfilled and complete. I am at peace with myself having fulfilled a long cherished dream of sharing my ideas, research, and experiences on making English learning FUN with all. 

Tell us something about your struggle with getting published. We have a fair idea that it isn’t a cake walk. But how was the real deal for you?

There has been an explosion of books in the Indian market in the past 3-4 years as new breed of writers have emerged from sectors like banking and finance, software, media and entertainment, etc. and invaded the bastion of litterateurs, political thinkers, economists, civil servants, and Oxbridge scholars. Naturally, the number of submissions has also multiplied. I am not quite sure that the new age writers have given enough time to the publishing industry to get adequately capacitised to handle the volumes of work pouring into their offices. 
Knowing this, I did not directly approach the publishers but went through a literary agent, who critically assessed the quality and marketability of the manuscript before submitting it to the select set of publishers that are interested in publishing this genre of books. It took less than 4 months after submission of the manuscript to the literary agent for me to sign a publishing contract with Penguin Books India. 

Writing English Bites! must have taken a lot of research. To add so much from which readers can learn, and also, to ensure the read doesn't get boring, must have been difficult. Was it a difficult gamble to play?

Samarpita, to answer this question, we need to get a little bit into my background. I grew up in Rohtak, a small and sleepy town in Haryana in the 1970s and 80s. The only English I spoke was in school and that too to respond to questions of my teachers in the class. I looked down at English as an alien tongue merely suited to the narrow field of academia and with no particular use once someone got into the real economy. 
As a result, I was horrible in all aspects of communication. My active vocabulary was extremely limited, pronunciations & spellings were terrible (as I refused to accept English as a non-phonetic language that it largely is), sentence construction was poor, and my fluency was severely compromised. I was shocked by its increasing relevance and necessity in the real economy once I landed-up in at Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh. 
Here, I came face-to-face with far more fluent and erudite specimens from convent schools from metros and towns much bigger than my hometown. I also noticed how I used to get tongue-tied while attempting to make a small conversation in English with or even in front of the convent educated colleagues. 
Having lived all my school life in disdain for this alien tongue, the grossly neglected subject of English made me realize its importance, its vastness, its complexity, and my far less than self proclaimed ‘photographic memory’ all at once. I needed something quick and in large doses to beat the convent educated types in their own game and seal the best job offered in the campus in my name and after gaining some industry experience, successfully compete with them once again for admission into a top-tier MBA program. 
Hence, I set aside the word lists, my failed attempts at mugging, and started creating interesting stories and anecdotes to make indelible imprints of this foreign language in my mind. This was the genesis of the book. It took a lot of research and creativity, but it was a matter of survival. It was the only thing that could have rescued me from definite depression and elevated me to think and talk like an erudite gentleman.     

A lot of people, most I would say, see no reason why grammar is important. They speak whatever they know, this is a country where, "I didn't knew", is allowed to be said. How would you convince them the need to perfect whichever language they are speaking?

On one hand, it is indeed extremely gratifying to see that when someone says “I didn’t knew” or “I am more better”, masters of this craft let it be. Over a period of time, with subtle nudging and their own effort, I have seen a majority of these people correct such errors, and get better in all aspects of verbal communication: fluency, pronunciation, grammar, and use of correct English words. 
On the other hand, it is distressing and a sad reflection of the state of affairs in the vast majority of schools and colleges in our country, and spoken English is only a small exhibit of the massive improvement that is required in teaching methods and in elevating the standard of our teachers. 

How and when did you decide to be a published author? Was it always a plan, or did you start thinking on the lines when you thought you had a plot with you?

Samarpita, you may find it hard to believe but this manuscript has been in the making for over 20 years. It started as an idea in my second year of engineering way back in 1989-1990 when two of my closet friends and I resolved to publish a book each before we turned 21. I thought I had written a masterpiece by the time our final placements ended (spoiling my grades in the process) and was still a few months shy of turning 21. My other friends, who were writing on ‘quizzing’ and ‘poetry’, had pulled out of this pledge while they were still in their teens.
My manuscript then hibernated for 20 years as I got busy with my first job at Tata Motors, an MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur, my banking career at Citibank, and family life. The manuscript was preserved on a 3.5 inch diskette in Microsoft 2000 that refused to open on my old PC, when I thought of reviving my work of art in the year 2008. Fortunately, the handwritten version (‘manuscript’ in the real sense of the word) had survived well on loose sheets of paper, which I promptly transferred on my PC and started editing and expanding it at the same time. By the time I finished in 4 years (working on weekends), I had landed up re-writing the entire book.    

Is it difficult to write with a full time job?

It is indeed extremely tough, especially when the subject is research based and the writer is not a natural story teller. I admire Indian writers like Amish Tripathi, Ashwin Sanghi, Chetan Bhagat and Ravi Subramanian who have done a bulk of their writing while managing full-time careers and an active social and family life.

What do you do apart from writing and cracking us up with your tweets? Give us a sneak peek into the real you!

I, till recently, used to work as a Managing Director and Head of Sales for Treasury and Trade Solutions division of Citibank in India. I have now decided to take a plunge in the field of education, training, consulting, and executive coaching and will shortly start working with an organization that works for the underprivileged children at the school level. 
In my personal life, I now live by the principle of learning one new skill every year (pity, I understood and adopted this only a few years ago) and have dabbled in adventure sports (like skiing, para gliding, bunjee jumping), getting off the beaten track while travelling, and plan to hone my moderate skills in singing, gardening, and cooking next.
I also like to delve into human psychology and waiting for the day when someone will actually pay me for my wise counsel.

What next? New genre; or you would want to stick to comedy, self-help?

I guess when you write a book, you give it your all. My stock of ideas is now empty but it doesn’t mean that I will not write another book. Book sales and readers’ feedback and appreciation are extremely strong motivators in rapidly refilling one’s reservoir and giving new ideas and different perspectives to make more meaningful and interesting books. However, I would like to stick to writing in a similar genre (laugh as you learn). I strongly feel about and need to put in my bit to make sure that that language does not become a handicap for anyone to realize their ambitions and dreams! 

Who do you read, who are your favourites?

I stick mostly to non-fiction, and there are far too many favourite books and authors to mention. In the recent past, I have read and thoroughly enjoyed books on Mind, Passion, and Happiness by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, Dr. Carol S. Dweck, David Rock, and Ken Robinson. 

Book Review: Friends Forever by Danielle Steel

On the jacket: 


Five young children - two girls and three boys - all with strikingly different looks and talents, meet at the elite Atwood school. There is Billy, with a full head of curly red hair, who refuses to go anywhere without his toy football. And Sean, a dark-haired boy with striking blue eyes, who hopes to one day be sheriff. Petite Gabrielle is already a blonde bombshell, while her counterpart Izzie keeps her brown hair pulled back in braids and her outfits neat and business-like. And finally, there's well-mannered, blond Andy, with a serious demeanour beyond his years. Together, these children become an inseparable group - known to outsiders as 'The Big Five'.

They lean on one another through all of the bumps and bends of their childhood years, including parental divorce, drinking, drugs, and even death. But when the tight-knit group parts ways after their graduation, their lives veer off in different directions. Tragedy hits when they are separated, and some of the friends are lost forever...

The ones who remain will have to deal with the fallout, because 'The Big Five' - which they thought would always stay strong - is no longer. While some of the friends are crushed by this Stark new reality, others will be surprised to find love and hope where they least expect it...

Review:

At one point of time, I have adored Danielle Steel. Loved reading her books, devouring them. But of late I find her books falling into the stereotype where perfect people with perfect lives, have a life shattering experience and pick up from there emerging as winners. Friends Forever is on similar lines. What makes it a decent read, however, is it's theme. Friendship. Billy, Sean, Izzie, Gabby and Andy meet in the first day of their school, each different from the other, yet they strike a bond which goes on forever.

The characters are two perfect, so are their lives and families. Even when something is a little less perfect, situations make them seem perfect. The five kids are shown to grow up through school and later. A few go to college and a few don't. The shocker comes when they start dying. First Gabby is killed in a road mishap, then her boyfriend from childhood, Billy. Then Andy commits suicide. The two surviving friends end up sleeping with each other. The entore stream of events seem very bizzare.

Not the usual Danielle Steel book, like the ones I have grown up reading in my late teens, but a quick read.

Rating: ***/5

[This review is for Random House India. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.] 

Book Review: The Race of My Life: An Autobiography by Milkha Singh

On the jacket: 



Milkha Singh has led a life dominated by running, running, running… From a boy who narrowly escaped death during Partition (most of his family was not so lucky), to a juvenile delinquent who stole and outran the police, to a young Army recruit who ran his very first race to win special privileges for himself (a daily glass of milk). After that first race, Milkha Singh became an athlete by default. And what followed was the stuff legends are made of.

In this remarkably candid autobiography, Milkha Singh shares the amazing highs of winning India’s first ever gold in athletics at the Commonwealth Games, the unbridled joy of being hailed as the ‘Flying Sikh’ in Pakistan, as well as the shattering low of failure at the Olympics.
Simple yet ambitious, famous yet grounded, Milkha Singh was a man who defined his own destiny and remained committed to running. And yet, remarkably for a man whose life was dominated by sports, he continues to remain disillusioned with the way sports is run…
Powerful and gripping, The Race of My Life documents the journey of an impoverished refugee who rose to become one of the most towering figures in Indian sports.

Review:

The film Bhaag Milkha Bhaag has recently released and right around it's release, I got to know about this book. I patiently waited for the book, because I am from that group of people who prefer reading the story to watching it. Not that I had soaked in every word in the book, I can go watch the movie as well!

The Race Of My Life starts at the very beginning, in Milkha Singh's childhood, even before partition. It goes on to describe the partition briefly, and you realise what the Bhaag Milkha, Bhaag  actually meant! Simple language, an honest rendition of a humble man, the book is one inspiration I will always keep close to myself. I believe, you have to lose to achieve. By lose, I mean both losing to someone and losing someone, or at times either. Mostly when there is a sense of loss, one yearns to achieve the impossible. That's what Singh's life shows as well.

The book not only tells us about the life of an achiever we have been hearing about since childhood, someone who has been used as an example to depict exemplary performance; but, it also gives a fine lesson on self-belief and determination. Not very detailed, but I feel the book covers all aspects.

My only qualm is that this book didn't come out earlier. Still, better late than never!

Rating: ****.5/5

[This review is for Rupa Publications. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.] 

Book Review: The Guardians of Karma by Mohan Vizhakat

On the jacket:

INTRIGUING SCIENCE FICTION BASED ON ANCIENT SHIVA PURANA

Prehistoric times beyond the mists of vedic India - the forgotten era of ‘first wave’ civilisations.

Around 10500 BCE, with sea levels much lower than they are today, and mainland continents still largely covered with ice, the primary centres of Indian civilisation were dominated by two highly advanced nation states – Dev Lok and Daityan Empire. Spiritually-inclined Devas lived in harmony with nature, whereas Daityas believed in brute force technologies for rapid prosperity and material gratification. Steady inundation of the tropical islands created a crisis, particularly for Daityas. To fuel their hunger for material resources, the aggressive Daityas proceeded to invade other nations.

Warrior monk Haŕa becomes the sole hope of Dev Lok to prevent defeat and abject subjugation. However, before he can help them, Haŕa must undertake the ultimate journey of spirituality to pass beyond the barrier of death itself and engage with the astral personae of Lord Rudra - one of three extra-terrestrial progenitors of humanity.

This action-packed mythological science fiction takes the readers through the exotic cities of Amaravati, Atalantpuri (Atlantis?), and traces the arduous journey to Mount Kailash through Sarparanya. The story unfolds the philosophy of Karma within the backdrop of love, passion, greed, war, tragedy and spirituality that characterised these ancient times.

Will Haŕa be able to check the Daityan aggression in time to correct the course of Karma? Will he be able to wield the viman ‘Pinaka’ against the central seat of Daityan power – the indestructible citadels of Tripura? Is he the one who will glorify the name of Lord Shiva as Tripurantaka – the mighty destroyer of Tripura?

Are the epics and mythological legacies of India just reconstructions during vedic age, based on fragmented records of real events that happened during prehistoric times? For example is it possible that the destruction of 'Tripura' as described in Indian scriptures and 'Atlantis' of Greek mythology are both reconstructions of the same event that happened before the worldwide deluge or pralay towards the end of ice-age?

Review:

The Guardians of Karma is a mythological novel with string traces of science fiction from an era where erathlings where more advanced in every way compared to what they are now.Two stories are running parallely to each other in this book, spirituality being the focus.

A well-researched, thoroughly thought of script, the author has definitely done a good job, since someone like me who avoid this genre of books, enjoyed reading it. It could have been a few pages shorter, but that doesn't really hamper the reading experience. 

A very unique and new way of presenting Indian mythology, with the underlying comment of questioning, why this cannot be true! Pretty exciting and unputdownable, once you get into the plot. This book is not only a good read, it is also camapble of getting you thinking!

Rating: ****/5

[This review is for Srishti Publishers & Distributors. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.]

Monday, August 26, 2013

Book Review: The Outsider, A Memoir by Jimmy Connors


On the jacket:


Jimmy Connors is a working-man's hero, a people's champion who could tear the cover off a tennis ball, just as he tore the cover off the country-club gentility of his sport. A renegade from the wrong side of the tracks, Connors broke the rules with a radically aggressive style of play and bad-boy antics that turned his matches into prizefights. In 1974 alone, he won 95 out of 99 matches, all of them while wearing the same white shorts he washed in the sink of his hotel bathrooms. Though he lived the rock star life away from tennis, his enduring dedication to his craft earned him eight Grand Slam singles titles and kept him among the top ten best players in the world for sixteen straight years—five at number one.

In The Outsider, Connors tells the complete, uncensored story of his life and career, setting the record straight about his formidable mother, Gloria; his very public romance with America's sweetheart Chris Evert; his famous opponents, including Björn Borg, John McEnroe, Arthur Ashe, Ivan Lendl, and Rod Laver; his irrepressible co-conspirators Ilie Nastase and Vitas Gerulaitis; and his young nemesis Andre Agassi. Connors reveals how his issues with obsessive-compulsive disorder, dyslexia, gambling, and women at various times threatened to derail his career and his long-lasting marriage to Playboy Playmate Patti McGuire.

Presiding over an era that saw tennis attract a new breed of passionate fans—from cops to tycoons—Connors transformed the game forever with his two-handed backhand, his two-fisted lifestyle, and his epic rivalries.

The Outsider is a grand slam of a memoir written by a man once again at the top of his game—as feisty, unvarnished, and defiant as ever.

Review:

I have grown up watching Tennis championships, my oldest memory of any sport is of Tennis. My father was crazy about Tennis, my best friend has been and now, my husband is. So the most important sport in my life in front of the television, is also tennis. My life has been spent watching the biggest players play, hearing about them, reading and listening to discussions. 

Jimmy Connors, in addition of all this, was a childhood crush. So, when his autobiography came up, I grabbed it! If I had to sum the book in one word, it is honest as it seemed to me, considering he is famous for his big ego. Anecdotes and stories about the bigwigs of the tennis world are interesting, funny and at places, revealing. What I know about Connors is that people either adored him or absolutely hated him. If you are the latter, you might take the book as a highlight of all things wrong. Different perspectives, different reading experiences. 

The book is unapologetic. Like Connors. He has portrayed himself, as he is. So is the book. Editing leaves a bit to be desired. This memoir of the bad boy of tennis is definitely a good read!

Rating: ****/5

[This review is for Random House India. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.] 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Book Review: Lady, You're Not a Man! : The Adventures of a Woman at Work by Apurva Purohit

On the jacket:


Today's woman wants to make a success of both family and career and is unwilling to compromise on either. But the burden of coping with deadlines, recalcitrant children, lazy husbands, difficult bosses and equally difficult in-laws can be daunting, even overwhelming. In this book, Apurva Purohit, CEO of Radio City 91.1 FM, shows how women can accept, adapt and achieve their way to the highest rung in every arena. Through real-life stories and funny anecdotes, she provides pithy tips on a multitude of topics: from training husbands to training interns, from the right attitude to getting it right with kids, from dealing with household crises to office emergencies, from building a reputation to paving ones way to the top. Warm, witty and empathetic, Lady, You're Not a Man! is a must-read for every woman on the quest for work-home balance and determined to succeed in her career and live a happy and fulfilling life.

Review:

I wanted to get my hands on this book from the time I had seen it's cover. So when it arrived, I got on to reading it without any delay in time.

When I shared a pic of the cover of this book on instagram and facebook, I got mixed reviews. Most people took it literally. While I knew it attempts to be a handbook for all working women, I realised it was much more. 

Lady, You're Not a Man! is not just a handbook for a woman at work, it is an echo of a working woman's mind. More if the woman is married, and even more if she has children. It's not easy to survive in what is still the man's world - the work area. And for a woman, it's not just about surviving at work, it is also about surviving at home and society.

Purohit heads one of the nation's biggest radio channels and has been juggling work and home since more than two decades now. In the book, she brings in her own perspective as well as anecdotes from her own life; all of which we can relate to. The book begins with a very interesting point - at work, a woman dons either of two roles. She is either Chandni, or she is Chameli. Chandnis of the world are the aggressive, loud mouthed, hard working, whip lashing women with low tolerance. They fight their ways up the ladder. The Chamelis are the delicate ones who bat their eyelashes to get their works done. Thought provoking.

Another interesting point was, with both parents working, kids get neglected. In such a situation, men hardly ever sit and home and tend to the family. Ego. But, if they ever do, the society (women, specially) pose so many questions and doubts, that another man might not want to get into this situation. So what happens? While a handful of men want to help their wives manage home, it's the women who end up doing it all.

Then the author has spoken about the most common topics which working tend to be harassed about - mothers-in-law and husbands, calling it the suffering sita syndrome.

These are just a small fragment of what is discussed in the book. The content is to the point, at places hard hitting and very very precise. Every working woman needs to read this book, not just to get pointers - but to smile, and be amazed when they realise all of us are on the same boat, yet we can achieve it all.

Rating: *****/5

[This review is for Rupa Publications. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.] 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review: English Bites! My Fullproof English Learning Formula by Manish Gupta


On the jacket:


English Bites! My Fullproof English Learning Formula is the story of a man who goes from being tongue-tied in school to becoming a smooth talking banker. Through a series of hilarious personal adventures and misadventures, Manish Gupta provides easy solutions to problems faced by language learners. So, whether you're a vernacular speaker, a GRE/ GMAT/CAT/XAT aspirant or just a language nut, English Bites! will expand your vocabulary and improve your verbal ability. It may even help you love the English language a little more! 

• Add over 1000 new words to your vocabulary and figure out easy and effective ways to expand your word bank.
• Combine etymology, mnemonics, jokes and anecdotes to better your understanding of the English language.
• Differentiate between similar sounding words and learn to use them right.
• Improve your general knowledge with trivia that spans brand names, automobiles, fine dining, love, money, banks, science and B-school jargon.

Review:

In India, while a large number of schools are English medium, hardly a few are equipped with teachers who themselves know the language well, to impart correct knowledge to their students. However, English is one of our official languages. So, forget about wanting to go abroad to study or work, one needs to be conversant in good English to prosper within the country as well, specially if your are a corporate.

Adding to this, very very few families converse in English amongst themselves. So where does the child learn from? He doesn't. Come college and he is left to cope, at a place where others are from different background and end up feeling petty for something as small as a language. But this happens. I have spent my initial schooling years in the smallest of towns, in central India, but I was lucky. I had the best English teachers one could, and to top it, my mother was very particular about grammar and did her share in helping me master it. Not everyone is so lucky. What do they do? Most go on speaking/writing the wrong language. And a handful, like the author, take it upon themselves, to learn and master it, when they are old enough to know it is important.

One thing I totally agree with here is, people needn't be scared of English. Yes, it is very confusing. But it is just a language and it can be easily understood, and mastered.

Upon reading the blurb, I had assumed the book is about someone who came from a vernacular background and his struggle with English. What I read, was so much more! Yes, the author has spoken about it in first person, involving the reader into what he has to say, smoothly. Very well-written, good language and easy to read, English Bites! should be a handbook for anyone who wants to better his/her English.  

I would highly recommend this book. Not only will you learn a lot of grammar rules and words easily, you would also be able to shed your fear of the language.

Rating: ****.5/5

[This is an author request review. However, the opinions are my own and honest views expressed upon reading the book.]

Am I any good?

My basic nature is to undermine myself. As a child, I was taught to be humble. But, I take humility to a different level altogether. To add fuel, of late, some elements in my life have left no stone upturned to point my negatives to my face. Thing is, I know my negatives very well. So, if you need to point it out to me, rest assured, you are fabricating it.

Anyway, the other night, a friend said something which goes on the lines of: I am proud of what I am not; but I am not proud of what I am.

I couldn't agree more. I am not the best person one could be; neither am I the prettiest or the topper or the most talented. But I have laboriously ensured that I am not the worst person ever. This, I was not born with. This, I had to work upon. Consciously and with a lot of help from my mother. She didn't know what I was aiming for, I mean who would have guessed that I was aiming to be not the worst person around!

But here I am, not the best but definitely not the worst there could be. Here is why:


I never forget kindness. Things people do or say, knowingly or unknowingly, are known to leave their marks. Mostly hurt marks. Yes, we remember who was bad to us. But we forget to remember who was kind to us. I try to. Not because I want to be a saint. But, to make my life simpler. (eg) I will always remember the eraser you had lent me in junior school, when today, you are out to steal my boyfriend. If my boyfriend wants to be stolen, no one can stop him. But you, I can forgive (or overlook), if I remember you had been kind to me once.

I love a lot. I never stop loving. If you matter today, you will matter always. On the flipside, I let go of people. If you are someone I have been close to at some point of time but things soured or we just drifted apart - I might not be wishing you on your birthdays any more, but you are still in my thoughts almost everyday. If I have prayed for you once, probability is, I still do.


I have nothing to hide. I embrace the wrongs I have done. I have been a rebel since I was 17. From my grades going down, to being too lazy to grab opportunities, to basically being a disappointment I easily could have avoided being, I am open about it all. I am not proud of myself, but in a way I am - of the fact that I have nothing in my life that I want to hide. Maa had told me once long back - never do anything you cannot discuss with yourself, 'cause we are the most ashamed to admit things to ourselves than to strangers. Or as someone who used to be special once had said - Make sure you can face the (wo)man in the mirror. I have just followed this blindly. 

I will always keep you before me. I give people chances. This is a family thing, this is the only way I know. Nani, Maa ... this is how they are too. Mind it, neither has ever been the submissive bharatiya naari ever. But, they have kept others' needs, even emotional, first. And that's what I do. You do something wrong, I might be seething with anger, but I will cool down and tell myself, "Oh! He must have had a bad day."
Yes, this does involve getting walked all over by just about anyone, but hey, this is how I am.

I read. I keep myself entertained, and I expand the horizons of my own mind. I carry my books everywhere, even if to a super market. All my purses have a book inside. Meet me and you will know, I am anything but a nerd. One doesn't need to think of how to entertain me, if I am visiting them - chances are I would prefer to be left alone.

I am dominant. What I mean is, I am not a submissive personality. Until I want to be dominated. I don't take orders. Except from Maa. And S. And A. I am actually a bit scared of these three. Seriously? Scared? Naa. I submit/listen to them, cause I want to. And I would never want to hurt them.

Why did I put all this in a blogpost? Not to tell you. You are probably reading this, because you saw the link. Well, thank you. I would love to hear from you. But, I put this together, to read on those low days when I have been told how wrong and bad and worthless I am.

'Coz like you all, I am not a very bad person either.

Author Interview: Anuja Chandramouli

As a child, she dreamed of becoming Madhuri Dixit, like most girls our age. Then she wrote a historical novel. Now, she dreams of winning the biggest awards, while she brings up her kids and works on her next book. Her first novel is a historical about Arjuna and goes by the same name. A conversation with Anuja Chandramouli:
Arjuna involved a lot of research, reading it showed how much in-depth knowledge you have acquired. How long did this pre-writing research take?
I have always loved the Mahabharatha and it is a big part of my earliest memories. Even as a little girl, one of my favourite pastimes was to go through Amar Chitra Katha comics and devour every story they carried related to the epic. I particularly enjoyed the tales about Arjuna, who was my favourite character.
Over the year, my tastes have changed a lot but my love for Arjuna and the Mahabharatha has endured. So in a way, I guess the research work for Arjuna has gone on all my life and I will go on with it till the end of my days. For that is the beauty of the world’s greatest epic – one lifetime is insufficient to savour it in its entire magnificent glory and every reading gives you new facts or fresh insights, which is why I will never be done with it.
Why Arjuna? Why a historical novel?
When I sat around thinking about what to base my first novel on, I hit a wall and for the life of me, there was no getting around it. People always tell you to write about the things you know but I did not fancy writing anything about myself or my life. And then I had my epiphany – there are few things I know better or love better than the Mahabharatha and since Arjuna is the great love of my life, it made sense that his was the first story I told the world (or the few wonderful folks who picked up my book anyway.
Besides history is a subject, I am passionate about and it gave me a big kick to consider myself a tiny part of the great story – telling tradition that has kept Veda Vyasa’s epic alive and kicking over the centuries.
As Indians, we have heard (and viewed) the Mahabharata so many times that we believe we know it all. I did too. A few pages into Arjuna and I realised there is so much I didn’t. Was it difficult to get viewership initially?
Yes, it was... and it still is. It is my hope, that people will give Arjuna a chance though, for it is full of delicious nuggets of obscure or intriguing facts from the Mahabharatha. And you can call me biased but I would rank my Arjuna as second to none but Veda Vyasa’s immortal version.
Most of my friends who are regular readers have read and loved Arjuna. How does it feel, to be a successful and appreciated author, with your first book itself?
It feels amazing! The Arjuna experience has given me an immense sense of satisfaction and fulfilment. I will always be proud of it.
What next? Would you stick to this genre or venture out as per the plot that comes up in your mind?
After Arjuna, it had been my intention to branch out. I was planning to venture into the horror genre and had even started work on a tentatively titled short story collection called ‘Tales to Loosen the Bowels By’ but my muse had other plans for me and not the least because a Stephen King I certainly am not. It became apparent that mythology was not done with me and I am certainly not done with it.
My second book is also going to belong to the same genre but I do have other plans for book 3. Perhaps I’ll continue experimenting with horror or even fantasy or how about erotica? Who knows?
What do you do apart from being an author?
Apart from being an author (I love how that sounds!), I raise my kids, read, work out, cook, clean and do a bunch of other mundane stuff. But mostly, I dream – of winning the Booker Prize, then the Noble Prize, perhaps an Academy award or two, earning indecent amounts of money and saving the world among other things.
Where do you derive your inspirations from? Have you always wanted to be a published author?
I have not always wanted to be a published author. As a little girl who loved dancing to ‘Ek Do Teen’ on table tops to spirited applause, I aspired to be Madhuri Dixit, but changed my mind, when I grew up to be self – conscious and developed a slight phobia for cameras. I must have been twelve or thirteen, when I decided to become a writer and hopefully, a published author. At the time, it seemed like an impossible dream, but I told myself to keep writing and working towards making it come true. Thankfully, for me and the glamour world, everything panned out.
How difficult is to get yourself published, in India? Specially, when one doesn’t reside in Delhi or Bombay?
It is not easy to get published in India, or anywhere in the world for that matter. But I would recommend dogged persistence to aspiring authors. Keep knocking on doors and hopefully a few will open for you. All the publishing houses have websites with submission guidelines. I recommend reading it carefully, before making a pitch.
There are hundreds of budding authors, writing their scripts, some sure of themselves and some not. What would you like to tell them?
Nothing comes to mind but hopeless clichés... so here goes nothing. Personally, I have rare days when I feel confident about my abilities but on most days the predominant feeling is one of terror that the words will just dry up and there is nothing left but the sobering thought that I suck. On such days, I rely on hard work to see me past the fear that I may not be good enough. Budding authors may or may not have what it takes to be an Agatha Christie or a Jane Austen but they can and should work hard, because there is simply no losing that way.
And lastly, when can we expect your next book to be released?
I am hoping it will be out in 2014.

Book Review: Second Honeymoon by James Patterson

On the jacket:


When FBI agent John O'Hara receives a call from a man desperate for his help, little does he know his whole life will turn upside down.

The man's son and daughter-in-law have been found murdered on their honeymoon in the Caribbean. He wants justice, and will pay O'Hara handsomely to hunt down the killer.

Federal agents aren't allowed to moonlight, but O'Hara is on suspension. The drunk driver who killed his wife in a car accident two years ago is soon to be released from jail, and O'Hara is battling some serious demons.

He takes on the case, but when another couple are murdered before boarding their honeymoon flight to Rome, it becomes clear that this investigation is far more complicated than it first seemed.

As O'Hara delves deeper, a past he thought was dead and buried soon comes back to haunt him.

Review:

I totally adore thrillers/murder mysteries, have been since I was about 12. They don't scare me, they exercise my mind. But after I finished reading Second Honeymoon last night, I actually got out of bed and checked all the locks, I looked outside to ensure there was no lurking figure behind the trees.

Two mysteries running parallel to each other, the pages turn themselves. The book has short stories, which makes the anticipation even higher. Two serial killings, one of honeymooners and another of men named John O'Hara. Do they coincide? Is the killer the same? How twisted is the killer(s)? Are the clues simple to find or they need to be unearthed.

I am told that the prequel of this book, Honeymoon should be read and I intend to. In Second Honeymoon, one of the protagonists, John O-Hara, a federal agent, is also fighting his own inner demon after his wife's death. The book is written from three perspectives and with every chapter it keeps changing - one from Susan's perspective, one from John's while they both try to unearth the cases and the third as a narrative.

A fast paced thriller, at places, Second Honeymoon gives the chills too.

Rating: ****/5

[This review is for Random House India. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.] 

Book Review: The Guardian Angels by Rohit Gore

On the jacket:


The Guardian Angels is the epic and tumultuous story of two star-crossed lovers who weren’t just soul-mates but were also each other’s protectors.

The fates of Adi Mehta and Radha Deodhar are deeply entwined when within days of their first rendezvous they save each other’s lives.

Despite their vast sociopolitical differences, they are drawn to an uncertain future fraught with contrasting ambitions, personas and ideologies.

. . . he is the son of a billionaire, she is the daughter of a socialist.
. . . he is quiet and unassuming, she is a firebrand and spirited.

However, the unexplained phenomena ties them forever – whenever they are in peril, they are each other’s only saviors.

Over the following two decades Adi and Radha live through hope and despair, joy and sadness, and try to decipher their relationship. As the truth of their bond is revealed, they must confront the true nature of love, and ultimately, their destinies.

Review:

The Guardian Angels is the story about best friends who love each other no end. The met as pre-teens in the oddest of circumstances and have been each others saviours when caught unaware in tight situations. Adi and Radha, one a son of a billionaire, another the daughter of a socialist - there is absolutely nothing common or similar between the two. Still, they click and become friends for life.

While the blurb sounded promising, I started reading The Guardian Angels with zero expectations. New age Indian authors do have the tendency to make love stories cheesy and over the top. But I was pleasantly surprised and left with a feeling of contentment, once I finished reading the book.

Good language, a tight plot and perfect characterisations - Gore has written The Guardian Angels with the ease of a seasoned writer. The only thing I found funny was the way Adi's house was described - a bit on the lines of the Ambani house in Colaba. Situations were not cliched and well thought of, unique in a way. I haven't read his other books as yet, but I think I want to now.

Rating: ****/5

The book was received as part of Reviewers Programme on The Tales Pensieve.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Giveaway: The Other Side Of The Table by Madhumita Mukherjee


Okay!! 

So, Words' Worth by Samarpita finally has an awesome, awesome book giveaway, in association with Fingerprint! publishing

Why a double awesome? Because! 

a) Two things are up for grabs -> awesome + awesome, and, 
b) This contest will bring out a very creative side to you!

So, tell me, who doesn't love receiving letters, eh? Receiving them by post, reading them, keeping them neatly folded and tucked in a small box, taking them out once in a while when the heart is sad and reading them. We all love that, right?

This doesn't really happen much anymore. So, why don't we relive the past? Tell us how you write your letters!

Write the first line or last line of a letter you would want to write to anyone, friend, lover, sister, brother, parents, enemy... in 140 characters. 
Eg :
Dear Pumpkin, I miss you. I miss your sweet, round, plump self and your gorgeous baby elephant walk...

or

Dear X,  I must end my letter by pointing out the horrible truth, that you are wicked, wicked... and I must burn your effigy next Dussehra...

What do you win?

A voucher worth Rs 1000/- which can be redeemed at Uread.com AND a copy of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE TABLE BY MADHUMITA MUKHERJEE, both from Fingerprint! Publishing

Is that cool, or, is that cool!!

Terms and conditions of the giveaway:

 1. Leave your entry in the comments section below.

 2. Stick to word, rather, character limit.

 3. Giveaway is restricted to India only.

 4. Giveaway ends on September 14, 2013 at midnight (IST).  

5. The contest will be judged by author Madhumita Mukherjee. Decision taken by the judge will be final and cannot be disputed. 

6. The contest is open to all residents in India.

7. Only entries in English will be considered eligible for the contest.

8. The winning entry will win a gift voucher worth Rs. 1000/- from Fingerprint! Publishers and a copy of The Other Side Of The Table by Madhumita Mukherjee. The voucher can be redeemed at URead.com within 30 days of receipt.

9. Submitted entries should be your original work; no plagiarism shall be entertained.

10. Only one entry per person is allowed. In case of multiple entries, only the first entry will be considered valid.

About The Other Side of The Table by Madhumita Mukherjee 
Circa 1990.
A world drawn and woven with words.
A bond punctuated by absence and distance . . .
Two continents. Two cities. Two people.
And letters. Hundreds of them.
Over years. Across oceans. Between hearts.

Between Abhi, who is training to be a neurosurgeon in London, and Uma, who is just stepping into the world of medicine in Kolkata.

As they ink their emotions onto paper, their lives get chronicled in this subtly nuanced conversation through letters . . . letters about dreams, desires, heartbreaks, and longings . . . about a proverbial good life falling apart, about a failed marriage, a visceral loss, and about a dream that threatens social expectations . . .

Letters that talk. And don’t. Letters about this and that. Letters about everything . . .
Letters with a story you would never expect.

Highlights

A beautiful novel written in the form of letters, it’s a candid and heart-warming exchange between two friends, both doctors, one in London and the other in Kolkata.
A tale of true friendship and love, the story is simple, yet powerful and appealing. It keeps the reader engaged till the very last word.
A soft, poignant, and subtle romance.


About our contest sponsors

Fingerprint is India’s youngest independent publisher of commercial fiction and non-fiction paperbacks and e-books. It is part of the publishing cell of Prakash Books, which has published some of India’s finest coffee table books over the past few years. Fingerprint drives this cell’s foray into commercial paperbacks and e-books at affordable prices for readers.

For any queries, contact me at @BookLuster on twitter.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Author Interview: Ketan Bhagat

He entered the Indian literary scene amidst a lot of mixed reactions from readers (even mine). Sibling of the most read author of the country, he had a lot to prove. He was trashed before he was heard (read). But Ketan Bhagat very smoothly, walked in and conquered his readers' minds. Simplistic, non-pretentious, identifiable, smooth language, good story-telling skills - these are just a few adjectives that came up in my mind when I read his debut novel Complete/Convenient. What I loved about him, is that he doesn't use the American spelling of words. For the editor in me, this author is a delight!

I have been interviewing celebrities since 2007, mostly professionally and now for my blog. Getting to know Ketan Bhagat through this interview, is easily going into my list of most favourite interviews. Reason being, he is so humble!

Let's get to know him a bit more:

Why writing? Was this a wish since forever, or did the desire grip you one fine day? 

Neither. I never wanted to become a writer and don’t quiet enjoy writing. It is something that involves immense dedication, discipline, thinking, patience, stress and loneliness.  I would rather watch movies, do yoga, and spend time with family and friends. 
Let me just explain you how I became a writer. 
I have always had a creative bent of mine. Dramas in schools, anchoring and script writing for television channels during college days and then humorous presentations at office events. Never thought of becoming a writer. Too hard, lonely and strenuous a task for a foodie Punjabi who loves gupshup, sports, travelling and movies.  
Never the envious sorts, I was happy watching my brother rise and shine in the world of literature, fight with top notch movie stars and introducing me to beautiful Bollywood actresses at his parties. 
Then something happened few years ago. A bindaas NRI, willingly gave up his supremely luxurious life in Sydney for a dustbin called Mumbai. Everyone was surprised. I remember my brother’s comment – you are like cockroach. Always drifting towards the dirtiest corner in the house
Most of all, I was surprised at myself. The surge of emotions within me were so compelling, I needed to channelize them into something. Easiest, cheapest way is write a book. Use office laptop, office time (boss thinks you are working) and at least in my family, they don’t ask questions like, “Do you even know someone who has written a book?”
This must be an oft answered question but stepping into an industry your sibling has already established himself, is a very daring step. Was this ever a concern? 

Never for a moment. I have never aspired to achieve Chetan’s success as a writer. Neither am I a passionate writer nor do I consider myself as gifted as Chetan or for that matter any successful writer. 
I had a story to tell and so I wrote. Nothing more than that. People have written loads of stuff about me on twitter, facebook etc. But seriously it has never bothered me.
We are a country where we expect actors to surpass their actor parents; it is a natural process of thinking for us. A teacher’s child has to be the best in academics. An achiever’s kin has to be an achiever. As a result, a new comer forgets his own goal and is often nervous. What is your view on tackling this?

I agree with you and probably I would have succumbed to this pressure if I was in my early twenties writing to become a celebrity like my brother. 
The fact that I am 35, have already seen ten years of Chetan’s success and was very clear on why I wrote this story helped me a lot. India does have a default culture of comparison. I face it everyday. It is obviously unfair but so are many other things about our country. No point fighting it. Just accept it and move on. 
 Complete/Convenient is a very different title.  Self-explanatory yet curiosity invoking. Did the title lead to the plot or the plot generated the title?

The title came much later. In fact it came months after I had finished the manuscript. I wanted a title which could capture the essence of the story and yet be different. There were many suggestions like Mothers or Dollars, Lonely NRI etc but somehow this one seemed most apt and artistic. Though I must confess it took sometime for people to get it. 

Do you plan to write about different genres or stick to one and make it your USP? 

I plan to write whatever comes to my heart. There are two kinds of artists: 1) who write keeping in mind what would become popular and they put their heart into it, and, 2) who write what comes from their heart and hope it would become popular. As of now I belong to the second category.  Writing is not my bread & butter. So I can afford to follow my heart.

When the first news about your book being launched came up, there were lots of mixed reactions. Some curious to know how you would be as an author, and some trashed it without a thought. From the day I’d heard about your debut launch, I have wondered how you dealt with being written off even before the launch. Opinions changed drastically, once people started reading you. But, how did you deal with the initial reactions?

I loved them. Seriously I am unaffected by criticism. I have been a salesman at work and a husband at home for many years. Both these roles make you capable of handling any sort of criticism.
Here are some of my favorite tweets:
Lopamudra Ghatak ‏@cyclopsee 9 May : Oh, dear! Misery certainly loves company. #ChetanBhagat has a 'literary' bro called #KetanBhagat whose book is called #CompleteConvenient
ZRonnieG ‏@ZRonnieG As if #ChetanBhagat was not enough to pollute the literary world, now we have his bro #KetanBhagat jumping to the fray..
Rituparna Chatterjee ‏@MasalaBai 21 Mar "IT'S TRUE!! Ketan Bhagat, Chetan Bhagat's brother, debuts as writer. Too late for me. You people save yourselves."
samit basu ‏@samitbasu 21 Mar "Ketan Bhagat? The Sohail Khan of Indian lit."
Arunava Sinha ‏@arunava 20 Mar "Please welcome writer Ketan Bhagat, brother of Chetan Bhagat. With a book titled Complete/Convenient. It's too bad to be true."
PS पी ऐस ‏@rimeswithcya 12 May #KBag “@epicvictory: @rimeswithcya hahahah he should know amir khan's brother also tried acting.”
Diptakirti Chaudhuri ‏@diptakirti 19 Mar "Houston, we have another problem. http://www.ketanbhagat.com/about.html  (via @greatbong)"

Who are your favourite authors? Who are you reading now?
I must confess I don’t read much and am very particular on what I read. So this list is very small. However, I did enjoy and learnt a lot from Salman Rushdie’s Midnight's children. Recently, Narcopolis from Jeet Thayil was also nice. 
My favourites keep changing. Last month, it was Paulo Coelho. Currently reading ‘God of small things’ by Arundhati Roy. She is my flavour of the month.
How difficult is it to be a published author? Not just published, but to be an author people take an attempt to read. 

Easier than what it was a decade ago as many new publishers have cropped up. Plus, there are platforms like Amazon.com where you can self publish within hours.
However, it is very difficult to become a popular author whose works people read.  A reader has to voluntarily give both his time and money for your work. This is the same money and time that he can give to Bollywood, cricket or his loved ones. Imagine how compelling your work has to be. Therein lies the genius of people like Chetan Bhagat, Amish Tripathi etc. I would also like to add that it is also very difficult to write something that people respect. I don’t think people like Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy etc are any less than geniuses. 
How happy or unhappy are with you with your first book? It must be your special child, but is there something about this whole baby-making process that you would want to undo/redo or change?
For someone who wasn't expecting to survive a week, the very fact that I am giving this interview is an achievement. All because of my baby – Complete/Convenient. I am overwhelmed with the response. I wouldn’t like to change anything about it except for wanting to get more involved in the final proof reading as there are many typos in the first edition. 
At the same time, there are many areas that readers and reviewers have pointed out wherein I have room for improvement. All that is going into my second novel. 

Any words for the hundreds who have a long-cherished dream of being a published author but are scared to take the plunge?
I have learnt one thing in the past 3 years. Apprehensions and humiliations are part of becoming a debut writer. Both have been my companions throughout this journey. Some examples:
When I was writing then I was scared if I would ever be able to write something sensible. Later on, when Rupa publications rejected the manuscript, I was worried if someone will ever publish this.
Later on, there were concerns about being compared to not just Chetan Bhagat’s work but Chetan Bhagat’s best work. Then, of course the reactions from PR agencies, bookstores and even readers when they were told that I would promote the book without the support of my brother and with miniscule budget.
Finally when it was released in May, I was told that it was a suicidal launch as that very month Dan Brown and Khaled Hosseni released their books; that my book won’t survive more than 10 days. 
Today, even though the first edition is almost sold out and I have received hundreds of emails and calls praising my writing, my struggle continues. Just recently, the marketing team of Crossword behaved unethically and rudely with me. They want money for things they have not done and when I pointed it out, instead of correcting themselves they are refusing to keep my books. All this because I am a new author who can be easily bulldozed. 
Having said all this, even a simple sms from someone saying they really liked my book makes the entire struggle more than worthwhile. I am extremely happy with the response I am getting from the readers. It is a unique high. 
So my message to all aspiring authors is that this isn’t easy at any stage. But it is also an extremely satisfying experience. 

Also, what next? When do we get to read you next, and what would you be about?

I have just started making notes on my next novel. Don’t want to talk much about it. It is not a love story, murder mystery or mythological epic. Given my slow speed of writing, I hope to complete it by 2015. 

#BookBlast: Lean Into Relationships by Rishabh Jhol

About the Book: Doubt has pivoted many a relationship across the centuries. Whether it is Othello suspicious of Desdemona or through...