Friday, December 23, 2011

My Journey with Amit Shankar from ‘Flight of Hilsa’ to ‘Chapter 11’.

It is really strange how some people come into your life, lay dormant for a while and then one fine day they decide to spring back, zoom straight into thick of things and become an active part of your life. Amit and I go back a couple of years. My first book was just released then. So, I guess it was around end of 2009 when he sent me a friend request. I accepted it as we shared few common friends. And as it always happens on FB, promptly forgot all about it. However, he did not. We kept interacting in spurts. He would throw volley of questions about book publishing and the like. I tried to answer him to the best of my knowledge as being a first time author myself, I understood his concerns. His first book was released soon after – Flight of Hilsa. I came to know through our common friends (and him) that the book was doing extremely well. And within few month of its release, it was already in the national best sellers list. To admit frankly, I thought he was boasting. However, slowly I noticed his book was indeed quite visible in all the major stores. People were talking about it. Now, I was curious and wanted to find out for myself. What is in the book that made it a national bestseller within few months of its release? The figures he quoted me were triple of the sales figures for my own book which was doing quite well for itself too. And so as soon as I got an opportunity I bought his book, promptly kept it on my overflowing bookshelf and again forgot all about it.

After few months, Amit again got in touch and this time he sent me an invitation to attend the release of his second book. I was really zapped. Within 9 months or so he was out with his second book. I asked him the title and he said – ‘Chapter 11.’ Strange title, I thought. (Of course, I did not know what Chapter 11 meant or was about. Neither did I inquire).  However, I went for his book release function. Heard him. And somehow found myself believing him and his words. He spoke about importance of Moral values. Importance of being honest, forthright and being humane. The next day I took out ‘Flight of Hilsa’ finished it in few days. Next, it was ‘Chapter 11’ and again I finished it in a couple of days or so.

And friends, I must admit both the books were quite enjoyable and engrossing. Here is why -

Flight of Hilsa –
 I personally feel, is a must read book for all  the women,. It narrates the tale of a young woman, Avantika, a talented artist who has a vision and determination to fulfill her aims. She wants to be a great Painter. She struggles, loses out but does not give up. Her boyfriend is rich and can give her the world. But she refuses his help. She wants to make it on her own. After much struggle and a chance interaction with a boatman she achieves more than she ever wanted. But from here on her attitude towards people and life changes. She sacrifices her beliefs, ethics and even loses her original self in giving interviews, attending parties and interacting with the ‘who’s who’ of the Glitterati circle. But then as fate would have it, she receives a huge blow when her close friend dies followed by another shock when she learns that the man who had awarded her all her prestigious projects had withdrawn the contract just because she was no longer with his son. The son whom she found she did not respect or love. What happens after this is best left unsaid. All you girls out there pick up the book and find out! J

The book touches upon issues like true love, changing beliefs and values, meaning of success and other such relevant topics sensitively. As a woman reader, I enjoyed it completely. Although at places, I found it a tad too long with some quite technical terms that distracted me a bit from the main story line. However, the thing that kept me wondering throughout the novel was, how did Amit manage to project a woman’s character and emotions so well? If I had not known better, I would have thought that the book was written by a woman author. In my opinion, on the whole, he did a fabulous job.

 Chapter 11 –
By now I had warmed up to Amit. and saw him in a new light. In fact, I was in admiration of his writings. A regular reading of his blog made me aware that he had a candid style of writing and wrote on different topics which were interesting and appealing. So when I started Chapter 11, I was already expecting it to be equally good as ‘Flight of Hilsa.’and his blog topics. But he proved me wrong. It turned out to be even better. Except the technical terms that he used throughout (and quite liberally) played spoilt sport for a layman like me. Also there were too many characters so I got mixed up. Those are the only negative remarks as a reader I have for his otherwise quite an appealing and different story line.

This time round the story was about a young handsome man from Udaipur called Virendra Vikram Singh. The thing that I like about Amit’s characterization is that all his characters appear very real. No hero or villain. All have dark shades and are equally vulnerable to temptations. In fact, Virendra Vikram Singh or VVS, though the main protagonist is projected more as a villain in the beginning. He is a Rajput from Udaipur, dreams of working in an MNC, has a simple and beautiful wife but does not mind flirting outrageously with his female colleague in his small town office and later having a steady live- in girlfriend when he shifts to Delhi, he does anything and everything his boss Sandy, who himself has very little values or morals asks him to do, just to stay in his favour and save his own skin. He even hacks another agency’s software in order to extend a favour to a friend. Though for doing this he gets into massive trouble. Other such small and big happening bring out the fact that VVS is not a very refined fellow. He does what he feels like doing. It has nothing to do with the Society’s norm or general sense of right or wrong.He is also very clever.
Anyway, throughout all his misadventures and wrong dealings readers are presented with the base story of a corporate house that has declared bankruptcy and filed for Chapter 11. VVS joins the company the same day it declares bankruptcy. The engrossing story narrates and highlights how the top management tries to fill its own pocket. How each see to their own individual benefits at the cost of the lower level employees and the company. Corruption, Back biting, Scheming, Money laundering, Wasteful expenditures on mindless official parties all are permitted by the so called top bosses with just one aim in mind to ‘make hay while the Sun shines’. Ineffective leadership and irresponsible behavior results in the company making losses after losses. It’s a poignant tale of what people go through when a company is not run efficiently and when it is declared bankrupt. What happens when a Corporate and its top management forget that companies are made up of people.

In the name of downsizing the company, its senior management gets rid of people at the bottom level. People who would not last if their earnings are taken away, have no options and choices and would feel the impact of job loss 10 times more than the people at the top. As readers we feel disgusted by the unjust behavior of the corporate honchos.And while we are seething with anger at the sad situation and feel bad for the regular employees of CommTech, the bankrupt company, VVS steps in the picture as our hero, openly taking the real villains to task, naming all the top people who were gloating with the fact that they had managed their exit from the scene well and bringing them to book in front of the entire company. 

Of course, his passionate speech and exposing the real culprits does not help the company or its employees in going bankrupt. The story end in a sad note. (I know it sounds very idealistic but I sure do hope that real life stories end in a better way). The strongest message that comes out from the story is that we as a Society must be honest and compassionate towards each other. I will strongly suggest everyone (including of course, those from the corporate world), to read this book. As for Amit Shankar, I look forward to some more interesting tales from you. And this time round I won’t be nonchalant about them. J

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


The heart must be really happy! After all isn’t it the favourite topic amongst the current generation of writers? And aren’t they all selling like hot cakes at the cost of annoying the intellectuals and lovers of high literature? Literature has the responsibility of increasing knowledge. Or so, is the general belief. Now, how is this strange fetish for ‘matters of the heart’ brought out, written and read in such direct and straightforward manner, helping us in gaining any substantial knowledge? What is it that attracts writer and readers to this vital human organ that does more than just pumping blood?  

 I kept mulling over all the above questions for several days but  could not come up with any satisfactory answers. Then one fine morning, a relatively lesser known FB friend, a young  budding writer, Sapatarshi Basu approached me with his second Novel –“Autumn in my heart. ” “Please read it and share your views.” He requested. I promptly agreed.

And so friends, I believe, Nature gave me an opportunity to read one such book and at least try finding out for myself, the answers, to my questions as posed above.  (Incidentally, the subject matter of Saptarshi’s first book was again…no prizes for guessing …. “The heart” The title was “Love, Logic and the God’s Algorithm”). Very unusual title. I know. But I guess it did well. That is why we have another one on the same subject by the very- youthful- looking author. I use the words ‘youthful looking’ coz I am really not sure of his age. Could be mid twenties or early thirties?  But he does look good. J. You do Saptarishi! And that is part of the whole charm of picking up your book. I bet girls (especially in Kolkata), looked at the title, saw your boyish picture smiling back at them and said – “Let’s buy this one… he kind of looks cute!” Oh well….it’s a compliment. Don’t take it otherwise

Let me get down to sharing my thoughts on the book now…before I get you all mixed up as to what exactly I am trying to convey -

“Autumn in my heart” is a simple tale set in contemporary times. Boy meets girl, girl breaks boy’s heart, and promptly moves on. (Girls! it seems like you all are becoming experts in breaking hearts?) Boy stays true to his first girl friend's memories. Decides never to fall in love again, but promises are meant to be broken, and so another girl (this time a no nonsense girl, who is ambitious and has big dreams), comes his way, tugs at his heartstrings till he forgets his promise he made to himself and follows his love stuck heart. But this time round it is true love and is completely reciprocated!  Happy Ending. So, what is so extraordinary about the whole story? You may ask.

Well, there are several things. To begin with - the simple style of narration. Now people may debate this but in my own opinion, nowadays youngsters prefer direct and straight to the point, style of writing. CB started it. Others followed. And why not? Why should flowery, difficult to understand, long winding sentences become a hindrance for readers in reading or connecting with an otherwise great story.

I also found that Saptarshi picked up and tried exploring two important and relevant topics in his story. One, can internet love blossom into true love and a lifelong relationship? Many love stories are blossoming on the net. Young hearts get attracted to each other virtually first before physically meeting each other. So, what is the fate of such love stories? Are they for real? The second issue his story highlighted and dealt with was that of Gay or Homo sexuals and their feelings, desires and frustrations for being ostracized and ignored by the Society at large.

Also, the story kept moving between past and present, and attempted to keep the readers intrigued and guessing. To an extent he did succeed in achieving the necessary result through his writing style. However, as a reader my only observation not in his favour is that he needs to brush up his grammar. J Also, work on the language a bit more. And I am sure with the right attitude, hard work and lots of good reads he will soon be coming out with some more extremely interesting and heart rendering work in future. My best wishes to him.

As far as the questions that I posed to myself in the beginning of this write up are concerned, let me share...they still remain un answered? Why….the obsession with the Heart? Anyone out there who can answer my question? May be people are tired of staying mechanically occupied with worldly matters. Maybe they look for something that would make them smile, feel happy, touched or rejuvenated. Maybe they feel they will get answers to their own problems related to matters of the heart by reading such stories. (After all even fiction is partially based on or inspired by reality), Or maybe they just want to read a good love story and keep their own hopes alive for a real - life love story. Whatever it might be….one thing is for sure that  the human heart will continue to dominate the human mind….at least in the stories.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

To censor or not to

This whole business of the Union telecom minister Mr Kapil Sibal, restricting Social media networks from posting freely expressed Individual views on their websites, has managed to catch my “generally politically aloof” and wandering mind pause and wonder as to what exactly constitutes “freedom of expression”
In this article, I try to understand, analyze and come to a logical conclusion for my own sake and for the sake of all those who care to express their views frankly and clearly even at the cost of appearing unappealing by certain sections/individuals or groups.

Let’s see what the constitution says -
The Constitution of India contains the right to freedom, given in articles 19, 20, 21 and 22, with the view of guaranteeing individual rights that were considered vital by the framers of the constitution. Right to freedom in article 19 thus also guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression. It has been also held by the supreme court in one of its landmark judgment that freedom of speech and expression has no geographical limitations and carries with it the right of a citizen to gather information and to exchange thought with others not only in India but abroad also. (This clearly points out that a well heeled and traveled Indian can hold and express a completely different world view then a regular Indian. And also he/she has a complete right to do so. Even at the cost of appearing westernized).

What are the Restrictions -
With the same token Clause (2) of Article 19 of the Indian constitution enables the legislature to impose reasonable restrictions on free speech under following heads:
  • I. security of the State,
  • II. friendly relations with foreign States,
  • III. public order,
  • IV. decency and morality,
  • V. contempt of court,
  • VI. defamation,
  • VII. incitement to an offence, and
  • VIII. Sovereignty and integrity of India.
However, the important thing to note is that reasonable restrictions on the above grounds can be imposed only by a duly enacted law and not by executive action.

My take -
In my humble opinion (and knowledge),what Mr. Sibal is worried about lies mostly under the purview of point vi and vii, not exactly the high priority areas as far as the welfare of the nation is concerned. So, are we more worried about the ill -kept skeletons that are displayed in the open without mercy? Is it because we are tired of being called names every day? Have we lost our patience? Are we anxious about keeping faces then taking corrective measures to improve the lot of the country? If the answer to any one of the above is a “Yes” then instead of curbing the social media networks we first need to curb certain freedoms that many of our esteemed ministers in the Government take too much for granted like – “The freedom to misuse public money openly,” “The freedom to nonsensical actions,” “The freedom to say one thing and do another”, “The freedom to misuse power and curb others’ freedom in the name of welfare of nation” “the freedom to only keep one’s own benefit in mind,” et al. all such freedoms must be curbed and minimized.
What Mr. Sibal is trying to say or do is best known to him and his team. His guided “code of conduct” seems to certainly rub the wrong way with the masses especially the Indian youth who are more aware, connected with world happenings and vocal with their thoughts. However, I would still give him the benefit of doubt and agree that Indian sensibilities must be kept in mind to an extent while posting thoughts and views. At the same time it is also equally important that under the garb of protecting Indian sensibilities, freedom of speech and expression must not be trampled upon just to protect the interests of a few. After all, we carry the responsibility of being the world’s largest democracy with a growing population of young and well informed minds who will find means to express their thoughts in their own ways come what may.

(Constitutional references from Wikipedia)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Tell the truth

Truth’s bitterness
Better then lies!
Lies need mulling,
in genuine planning,
complicated explanations,
of distorted facts into believable fiction.
The inventive mind needs,
sharpening of memories,
of hard to remember ,
 cock and bull stories.
A single word from here to there
requires another set of lies.
Unhappiness and worries,
gives dark ringed eyes,
lest the lies are discovered,
is the constant fear.
 The Pinocchio’s nose
is too much too bear.

Truth on the other hand,
simple and straight,
Cuts through like knife,
Facts that may pain,
yet simple and plain.
conscience clean,
shoulders heave a sigh of
relief.  Mind does not 
overwork for an explanation.
Thoughts need no
fake recommendation,
calling an axe a spade.
 Guaranteed, a guilt free
night’s sleep and a healthy life.
To avoid unnecessary complications,
broken promises and shattered faith,
 the wise said -
“Honesty is the best policy.”

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Ugly

The baser instincts are sure curbed,
till the resting devil  decides to rise itself,
and issue fresh orders to remove the gentle humour,
 -a thin sheet of fake emotion that helps keep,
up the pretence of being called Human.

What each see are false curved mouths,
somehow disguising the  smirky ghoul .
After all, we are all humans, the highest of the species.
Cannot be crude and openly bring forth,
our tightly controlled  feelings. 

With a clever mind, we have learnt to cover it well,
wearing the shield of sophistication.  
Those who cannot manage are called the weaklings.
Though, as human and given a chance, maybe just as the rest.
You know! If not, study the popular, Charles Darwin.

It’s question of Survival …only of the fittest.
The conclusions he drew, we already knew,
 though we feigned then, just as we do every time
 some other terrible secret  is, by mistake, let out.
Man is man’s own enemy.

A Hitler, Mussolini, another, Fidel Castro and Joseph Stalin are but a few,
who let the cat out of their bags and openly their horrors, displayed,
Inflicting pain on the same they called brothers.
Many may argue we have a Martin Luther King and a Gandhi too,
Yes we do. The so called exceptions!
Rest, I presume, lie in between these two extremes.
Between the Good and the Bad called “The Ugly”

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ram Ram Shaab!


(A real life story, loosely based on a true incident that my Father, an ex infantry man, narrated to me many years ago. Despite what he shared, I believe, spirits never harm humans).

Read on ….

The storm was coming. I could make out. It was hardly 7:00pm. But the dark thick clouds had already wrapped themselves around the snow peaked mountains surrounding the scenic Tukla valley in East Sikkim. The dark, cold night was deadly quiet. Not a soul was outside except those on duty. They too were stuck to their respective posts.

Our pickets were all in different directions and the closest of them was a little more than a kilometers walk. Owing to the difficult terrain and snow covered path, even on good days, it used to take us almost an hour to reach the Officer’s Mess which was the largest bunker in the area and the most comfortable of all.

The others had already started having their dinner. After all, they had to return to their respective pickets before they got caught in the storm. The Jawans had been ordered to be ready with their powerful torches and accompany each officer. Orders had been directly passed by the CO (commanding officer), to not venture out alone during the night. Especially during stormy weathers. One could easily get lost.

Why isn’t Qureshi here as yet? I thought impatiently.

‘Hey PP, why haven’t you finished your drink yet?’ Major Pratap Singh enquired. He had already finished his soup. I noticed.

‘‘Sir, just coming…, waiting for Captain Qureshi.’ He must be already on his way,’ I replied with a tentative smile.

‘Hmm… Do hurry up. Yours is the furthest,’ he said referring to my picket. He did not seem very pleased.

After all, being the second – in - command, he was responsible for our safety and well being. While I was mulling whether to ditch Qureshi or not and absently sipping my glass of whisky, I saw him walk in.

‘Good evening, sir,’ the booming voice announced Qureshi's arrival to one and all.

‘How are you old chap? And why so late? All OK?’ Major Pratap Singh asked somewhat tersely.

‘Sir, the visibility is extremely low. And the route er…you know is extremely slippery. That slowed me down,’ he responded tentatively. After all, the others had also walked and yet managed to reach on time.

‘Okay, finish your drink fast. And join us,’ Major Singh ordered not wanting to get into an argument with Qureshi.

‘Sure, sir. In a minute,’ Visibly relaxed, he walked towards the small bar where I was waiting for him.

‘Hi PP! Thanks for waiting.’ He almost sounded jovial. I marveled how he managed to keep himself so guilt free.  

‘Hell of a day man..! Nothing seems to be going right for me,’  he said softly without a hint of regret in his voice.

‘Hmm, I know. Let’s finish up fast. I don’t want to be on the wrong side with him,’  I said quietly pointing towards Major Pratap Singh who seemed to be already engrossed in his food.  

Major Singh did not like his officers to report in late for meals.  And Qureshi was invariably the last one to arrive. He had been pointed out the same on several occasions. But to the extreme displeasure of his seniors, had not shown any interest in improving himself. We all knew the matter would go to the CO, Colonel Aman Bajaj, sooner or later. But Qureshi on his part remained unmoved.

‘Oh! You worry too much,’ Qureshi responded with a wave of his hand.

‘You are gone for sure boss! You are in over your head.’ I said trying to instill some fear in him.

Qureshi just shrugged as he ordered his drink. ‘Give me a large one,’ he directed the bar man before turning towards me.

Que sera sera...’  He said with a wink as a wicked smile played on his lips.

We quickly finished our dinner. Most of the other Officers had already left. I could see Qureshi was slightly drunk. The old monk, for once, had hit him.

‘Do you want me to come with you tonight?’ I asked him.

'What rubbish! I will be fine. Good night PP. Sweet dreams,’ he smiled looking foolishly at me.  I knew it was no use arguing with him in that state. Besides he was in good hands. We parted ways.

The walk back to my bunker would be tough, I knew. The wind was extremely strong and visibility absolutely nil by now. I could not even see my own hands clearly. Not a soul was outside except the sentries in their respective guard points. The whole atmosphere had an eerie feeling.

I wish I could be near the sigri and my warm quilt as soon as possible. I thought to myself as I slowly followed my Sahayek who was leading the way.

The shrill sound of the sentry whistles followed by the sudden switching on of the powerful searchlights piercing through the dense night sky rudely pulled me back to reality.

'Sikander, just see what is the matter?' I asked my Sahayak immediately.  He came back in matter of minutes. 

'Sir, lagta hai mine field ke paas kuch hua haiAwaaz wahin se aa rahee hain.' (Sir, it seems like something has happened near the mine field. The voices seem to be coming from that direction). He responded excitedly.

‘What?’ I was alert. This was not at all good news.

‘Let’s go and check,’ I told Sikandar. We hurried as fast as we could towards the area we all knew, was covered with mines. It was a cordoned off area. All the Jawans and Officers were well informed about it.  No one was allowed near it at any cost.

 I could see the crowd, once I neared the spot. Half of the night sentries on duty were there.

To my surprise I heard Qureshi’s loud voice blasting the night Havaldar on duty.

‘What happened?’ I asked him without preamble, as soon as I reached him.

‘Oh. I am trying to understand that myself,’ he replied looking pale and extremely vexed.

‘I was walking through the mine field! Can you believe that?  I was having a nice little bloody walk … towards my death!’ he said excitedly.

‘...I don’t know who was detailed for me today? My own Sahayak was nowhere in sight. And suddenly that weird looking chap appeared…’  Qureshi took a pause here as if trying to recollect the exact chain of events.

‘…he just said, Ram Ram Shaab! Chaliye..., (Salutations Sir, please follow me). I never checked, thinking he must have come for me. The others had left already.’  This was the first time that I saw Qureshi looking so disturbed. It did not suit his personality. He was a fearless man and nothing could destroy his jovial mood. But today it had, I could see.  

‘….His torch was quite weak,’ he continued, ‘but I did not pay much heed then and followed him, till I noticed we were not walking on our regular path. And the bloody idiot was walking so fast. Soon the torch light grew faint. Within minutes he just vanished,' Qureshi paused again.

I could make out he was still shaken. But like all the others I did not want him to stop now. All of us needed some answers. We waited for him to finish.

 ‘It was only,’ he continued quietly, ‘when I heard the whistles and saw the flash lights that I realized; I was in the midst of the bloody mine field. He was planning to get us both killed. Thank God, I heard the whistles and stopped on my track.’ Qureshi ended looking a little less distressed.

The night Havaldar was the first one to break the silence.
‘Saheb but your regular Sahayak is waiting for you at the Mess.’ He informed us that you had left on your own.  That is why we switched on the searchlights and spotted you so soon. There was no one else detailed for you,’ he said with a solemn face.

‘Then who was he?’ I asked him looking as baffled as Qureshi.

The Havaldar cleared his throat as if trying to decide whether to go on or not.

You know something Havaldar Sharma? I probed gently.

That was all he needed.

‘…Err…sir, there is a story in these parts that a Gorkha Jawan used to live in a village, not so far from this place. He was killed in a mine blast during the war. From then on, it is rumored that his restless soul guides people into to the mine field and then disappears, leaving them stranded inside it in the dark.’ He ended quietly.

A chill ran down my spine. ‘Hmm.’ I barely managed to nod my head and gave Qureshi a sideway glance who also seemed to have turned into stone.

Qureshi and I decided to go to my bunker for the night after all.

(Even after several attempts, the man who took Captain Qureshi inside the mine field could never be traced).


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sweet Caroline

They were playing my favourite number: “Sweet Caroline.” The mellifluous song however did little to pep me up.
‘So where do we go from here?’ Shekhar asked, trying to meet me in the eye.
The same smiling brown eyes, I had come to love so much were listless today. The Song was his favourite too but he was oblivious to it.
 ‘We…good question. I really have no clue. I guess we will find out..,’ I left it at that, not meeting him in the eye. Instead focused my eyes on the buttons of his stiffened – with – starch, formal shirt and tried to concentrate on the song which was about to end.
 For once his blackberry was out of sight and so was his iPad. How nice it felt to see him without his irritating gadgets. He must have left them in the car. I thought distractedly.
‘You are late again!’ I complained mildly as he kept looking at me.
Even after so long when he looked at me with those intense eyes, I felt butterflies in my stomach. The lines he had scribbled long ago, on a paper napkin for a jingle I was working on, in this very place and had made me read aloud suddenly flashed in front of my eyes:
I see you even in - between my sleep states when I am not dreaming about you..., said the misty eyed lover boy.
He took my cold hands into his large warm ones, breaking my reverie and said, ‘well, not that I wanted to. The parking lot was full. I had to park the car outside the market and walk back,’ he ended giving me one of his dimpled smiles. One of those melancholic ones that tugs at your heart. Or maybe I was being over -sensitive.
Despite myself I smiled at him. He was the best thing to have ever happened to me.
Cuppucino and some Cheese – on - toast, Shruti?’ He asked breaking the magical moment.  
I nodded.
My eyes followed his tall and handsome frame as he went and stood in the queue to place our orders.
 Our favourite place was cheerfully noisy as usual. It was a Friday evening after all.  The most sought hour of the day to catch up with one’s friends or colleagues over a mug of hot steaming coffee and an array of delectable snacks. The uppity market place was a little far off from our respective offices. But both of us preferred to meet here. The reason was purely a sentimental one.
This was the place where we had met first. Three years ago. This was the place where we always met after that first meeting.
How vividly I remember that foggy winter evening. Just like today the temperature outside was freezing cold. But despite the chilly weather, the entire city was either out shopping or taking a coffee break. I belonged to the later group. I had stopped by after work to have my regular – cappuccino, brewed extra strong.
It was while I was waiting for my order; I had caught sight of him sitting on a sofa opposite me. Frankly, I had not been too excited to see him for the second time that day. After all, he was a stranger. A client whom I had met only that morning at my office for work. A demanding client who was bringing in good business. We needed him as much he needed us. So we went out of our way to woo him. At least my boss had. I had kept my formal stance. Polite and distant.
On recognizing me at the Cafe, he had waved. Actually, he had been trying to catch my attention for a while. I had been lost: busy scribbling some jingles for the new advertising campaign while my coffee lay untouched. Finally unable to catch my eye he had decided to walk up to my table.  
‘You look even nicer without your glasses,’ the opening lines of his conversation had left me bemused.
But I had been too flustered to respond immediately. Why is he carrying out a conversation with me? I had asked myself as he continued making small talk about the traffic and the weather.
He was so drop - dead good looking. I was sure he had better things to do. Why is he bothering himself with a non glamorous woman like me? I felt stupefied and had reacted in the same manner. The evening had been a disaster for me. Of course, he gave me his undivided attention while I rambled on about work and this and that. How I had wanted him to leave but I could hardly snub him. After all, he was our client and an important one at that. I had sworn to myself, next time client or no client, I would not let him entertain himself at my expense.
But some things are meant to be repeated. The same week we met again. At the office. He was there with my boss, Meeta. Both were discussing his project. As soon as he saw me he smiled, and asked if I could also join them in the discussion. I had no option but to join the meeting. Again, I had behaved like a blockhead. Thankfully, Meeta, the angel she is, had read the distress signals and had come to my rescue.
‘Would you both like to discuss the next step over coffee…,’ Shekhar had asked towards the end of the meeting looking at us with a funny expression. I had a strong feeling that he was thoroughly enjoying himself. I also suspected it was all at my expense, again. Meeta readily agreed and I had to tag along. It had turned out to be another one of those I- really - don’t – like - it days for me.
‘Hey…lost one! Here’s your cappuccino, just the way you like it!’ The man of my thoughts offered me the steaming mug and brought me back to the cold present.
‘So…what have you decided?’ He asked tentatively.
‘There isn’t much to decide,’ I said quietly.
The freshness of our relationship had never faded instead there was always something more to look forward to. Moreover, we felt so comfortable with each other. In fact, I still felt the same way about him as I had the day when he had revealed and I had accepted the fact that what we shared was indeed love.  That was one of the best moments of my life. Never before I had been so happy. Never before I had believed that love existed. But now I do. With all my heart. He taught me to live and not merely exist. He taught me to love myself for what I am. And the more I loved myself the more I fell in love with him. I never knew that I had so much love inside me. It was he who made me aware of it.
I looked at him now. We were both trying to appear normal. Like nothing had changed. But I knew each one of us was struggling. The stream in my eyes was filling up fast threatening to overflow any moment.  
The silence between us grew.  For once, I wanted to let our silences speak for us. I hoped they would come to our rescue. But of course, they didn’t. They never do.  
I was the chatty one. Always. Shekhar liked to listen. Or so he made me believe. During our initial days it was so awkward. He would just keep quiet while I went on with my ramblings. Just to save us from facing some awkward moments I talked about everything from my favourite plants to why don’t people mind their steps while walking. He patiently listened.
This went on till we opened up and became comfortable with each other. Shekhar decided to take the initiative. Hesitantly, he invited me over to his house for coffee instead of our usual haunt. That was the first time I saw his sensitive side. The side he hid so well from the world. It was as if I was his alter ego ad he was determined to make friends with me. What a wonderful night that was. He made me feel like a queen.  We made love and then we talked. Or rather he talked and I listened.
The silence between us lengthened now as each of us looked for excuses to avoid facing our destiny.  We, the two of us, who had fallen so deeply in love with each other, despite knowing that one day we would have to part ways, never once voiced it to the other, secretly keeping our hopes and dreams alive. But reality knocked. It knocked sooner than I thought. And to my dismay it knocked at my door.  After all, I was the one who was married.
Actually, an unhappily married woman. Not that there was much to complain about. Life was good to me. Only, I wanted more than the quota allotted to me. My husband and I were like good acquaintances who lived under the same roof. He was perpetually busy. Of course, he loved me in his own way. Like a child loves his favourite toy. I, on my part, felt no particular sentiments towards him. Over the years I had come to accept his unusual love for me and reciprocated in equal measures. But Shekhar showed me another kind of love; that which gives and gives blindly.
‘Can we meet once in a while?’ Shekhar asked tentatively. You know just to...,’ he left his words hanging.
There was a time when I used to believe that things work themselves out. But that was a wrong belief. Things don’t move by themselves. And one can’t live a suspended life.  One has to decide and then more importantly, act.  
 ‘I don’t think that would be a good idea. We…oh…it would not be right,’ I said gently.
‘But why?’ he exploded suddenly, ‘why can’t we meet?’
‘Because it would not lead us anywhere. And you know that,’ I kept the gentleness in my voice. There was no other balm I could offer except a few sane words….of advise.
‘I…won’t be able to live again,’ he whispered, a lone tear streaming down his left eye. The right one was still holding its ground, I observed.
‘You are my life,’ he whispered, not really wanting me to hear those words. But I caught them anyway. The painful lump in my throat refused to ease.
‘Sir, may I get you something else?’ Interposed the polite waiter breaking into our muted conversation.
‘Oh no, thank you. We are enjoying ourselves,’ I jumped in as always, giving the kind waiter a wry smile.
Shekhar was grateful. I read it in his eyes. In the past he had always teased me, calling me ‘the man’ in our relationship. Even today though my heart was shattered into pieces, I was behaving like the man alright.
I could see it clearly now. I would die a proud and wise woman. But also a sad one. A woman, who would never be able to bring out her honest emotions, her true feelings about her deeper wishes. One who would remain in her own self-imposed chains of righteousness.  But was it of any use? Would I gain anything out of it?  All I needed to do was break these invisible shackles and move on in life. I could….maybe one day I would do just that. I promised myself.
 It was time to leave.
 I smiled at him. He did not.
I held out my hands and said, ‘come let’s take a walk, then you can leave,’ he kept quiet and stared blankly at me.
 ‘…if you feel like… give me a call tomorrow,’ I added.  It was then his eyes lit up again.  
I smiled back as they re - played Sweet Caroline.



Thursday, September 15, 2011

What are the Publishers looking for?

As a mainstream fiction writer, I would be glad to share my own experiences with other prospective writers on the subject. (Though my views on it are completely subjective).

My first fiction ‘In pursuit of Infidelity’ was published in 2009 by Rupa and co.  
After my MSS was ready, like any other writer, I also approached almost all the known and established national and International publishers having their offices in N. Delhi. Two of them responded back positively. Rest all politely, exited. All my observations are based on my interactions with these two publishers. Of course finally, as you all know by now, I decided to go with Rupa and Co. as they were not only the best among the two but also offered me a fair deal.
  1. Every publisher looks for a unique idea, concept or story that will appeal to a large readership group. It also works if a completely new side or perspective is brought out of a widely covered, read and thrashed out issue.
  2. The idea or story must be clearly reflected in the synopsis. Most of the big publishers get close to about 1000 manuscripts in a month (that includes fiction and nonfiction, both). So, the first selection is mostly made on the basis of the synopsis. If one wants to be noticed, the synopsis has to be powerful and succinct.
  3. Another good way to attract attention to your MSS is to have an attractive title – Easy to remember and appealing. The title also needs to convey the exact idea and yet be catchy, especially in case of a fiction.
  4. A brief yet well written ‘Author profile’ (that includes the author’s qualifications, profession, and writing experiences), also plays an equally important role.
  5. The most important thing about the MSS is to convey one’s main idea/story in an engaging and clear style.
Also, I believe, that publishers are our first readers. And an experienced lot at that. They are also there to do business and would only take up a project if they are convinced that the book they take up will generate decent revenue for their agency. Thus, even if one’s MSS is rejected by the first set of publishers, it is important to take their suggestions & feedback before submitting the same to the others.

Keep writing, keep smiling. 

The view from our living room window

The view from our living room window
You and I,
Beautiful people!
We once lived in a lovely cottage.
Our tiny living room window,
overlooked the thick pine forest.
How we both loved to stand by it,
while sipping our evening tea,
glad and at peace in each other’s company.
You loved to narrate the day’s happenings,
I loved to listen to your excited prattling.
You also used to write a lot then,
they were make - believe folklores,
written to amuse me, while I did my evening chores.
You made me laugh,
with the silly stories you had written.
Not one of them made sense,
yet I listened to them again and again.
Then there came a time,
when your writings grew scanty,
and our lovely cottage took the shape of a shanty.
Even the Nature around us looked bleak, just like you,
I noticed the change but remained aloof.
It will pass when the spring approaches,
I'd thought,
so I continued making tea on time,
waiting for the spring to bring some sunshine,
and hoping it would get you back beside
the tiny living room window and me.
But the spring never came;
the winters were full of blames.
I was bewildered,
did not understand how it was my fault.
The view from the tiny window was the still the same,
The pine forest still held its ground,
of course the trees - they were slowly turning brown!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I too tried to understand ‘What the Raags told me’ – And all because of Prof. Vasudev Murthy

Before I talk about this lovely book that I amazingly read, finished, and even understood to an extent, I must frankly admit that I have, whatsoever no understanding about Indian classical music or the various ragas’ that are used to compose them. Neither did I have too much of an inclination, until just a few days back when I found myself thinking about ‘What the Raags told me’.

Though, I must admit that as a youngster, my parents did try making me learn Hindustani classical music. But their efforts were in vain. Not that I did not have an aptitude for it but I refused to learn. The reason - My teacher an elderly gentleman was more intent on scaring his students, with his impatient gestures and negative stance then really making them see and understand the beauty of Indian classic music. We found it boring and incomprehensible. I, (together with few others), rebelled. My parents might have tried convincing me but to my great relief my father got transferred to another station. That was the end of the matter. And I never felt like going back to it again. Until I came in connection with Prof. Murthy.

Strangely, I connected with the extremely wise and talented author of this beautiful book on Face book, through another friend, who informed me that Prof. Murthy and I shared the same publisher. But even after connecting and few ‘formal’ chat sessions later, we had not moved much. One day however, he sent me a link of a recorded Oudh play. It was him playing the Oudh. (Incidentally, he is a great violin player too and has been playing the violin since the age of 7), Out of curiosity, I clicked on the link and to my surprise thoroughly enjoyed what I listened to.  The piece was refreshing, soothing and non intrusive. I loved it. I must share with my readers that while writing my books, I like to listen to soft music. But the Oudh play he sent me surpassed all the songs and musical pieces I have heard thus far. They all have their benefits and are nice in their own way. But I found the Oudh play better only because of its pleasing effect it had on my senses, while I worked on my writings. I found, I could concentrate better. The thought clarity was greater. Also, one of my best poems of which I am really proud of - ‘Boat without oars’ (which you can look up on this blog itself), was written while listening to the Oudh play. The poem titled – Boat without oars, itself was taken from a conversation with the author in which he advised me to think as if ‘I am on the sea in a boat without oars.’

Now I was so charged up with my above experiences, that I became quite curious to read his book. (I already knew, his book was on one of the melodic modes used in Indian classical music – The Raags). And so I bought it. Still, at the back of my mind there was this apprehension of whether I would be able to grasp anything from it. So very hesitantly, I randomly scanned the pages.

The first thing that caught my unsure eyes was the vibrant hues sprinkled throughout the book. The beautiful illustrations. The imaginary pictures of the different Raags were fascinating and gently egged me to learn about them. So I began. And once I did, there was no looking back. I was drawn into this story of a person, a gentle soul, who after many sessions of playing his tanpura every morning finally decided to release his spirit in order to seek and learn about the music of the land and then return back to enlighten him about them.

His spirit (which was etched by the author quite adorably), traveled wherever it pleased. No specific plans. It traveled according to its own wishes. But the aim was clear. To understand, learn and report back to its master all that it has learnt. Often, the spirit brought back the essence of one or the other Raag with it. The lovely Raag then slowly revealed its own secrets to the seeker.

I found myself completely enjoying this journey in understanding all there is to know about music of my land and expressed in simplest and most engaging manner. I loved Raag Kamod’s cheerful nature. And how it loves to spread joy and laughter. I was deeply moved by Raag Chandrakauns and how it reminded the narrator of his own adolescent daughter. And then the Raags Gaur Sarang and Raag Bageshree, both meant for lovers to take inspiration from. They can make even the non believers fall in love with their romantic and erotic melodies.  There were some extremely powerful and deeply introspective Raags that were also covered by the author that impacted me – Raag Bhairav, serious, serene, destroyer of the ego, Raag Jogiya, all powerful and which only aims to merge with the Absolute at any cost and then Raag Jhinjhoti and Raag Bhairavi – the former being the raag of experiences and memories and the later mother of all the Raags.

By the time I was done with the book, I had got an inkling as to what the raags were trying to tell me – They were gently asking me to appreciate the music that plays in our land. They were also asking me to live life humbly, compassionately, lovingly, wisely, peacefully and joyfully. And for this great understanding, I thank the author deeply.