Sunday, August 28, 2016

Author Interview: Rajesh M.Iyer

Retelling Mahabharata or even its part requires a great story teller. It is a greater epic than any ever written in Human history. Therefore when Rajesh M. Iyer took a bold step into writing about the year in hiding, of the exile phase of Pandavas, post the game of dice I was intrigued about the whole process he went through for very little is written about this. I wanted to know the person and his thoughts behind selecting a challenging yet interesting chapter and successfully completing it. Here is the conversation that took place.
  
 1. Describe your journey into writing.

A: It’s a pretty long one. Started twenty five years ago when I was in college and stood at a crossroad. When everyone was choosing to take up management roles, I decided I needed to write and tell stories.

2. What does writing mean to you?
A: Different meanings at different times. From escapism during distress (yes, most writers might not concede but it’s a fact) to catharsis while on a spiritual journey, writing dons many hats: friend, philosopher and guide. In short, it is life in itself. In one of the forthcoming books I’ve posed this Zen-like kuan: do stories imitate life or is it the other way round?

3. Why did you choose to write about a very challenging Mahabharata story?
A: Fascination for what is undoubtedly ‘the greatest story ever told’. I have been researching the Mahabharata and reading many retelling for many years. When I joined Amar Chitra Katha as Creative Head, the thirst to knowintensified. Secondly, every time you read the Mahabharata, you find something new. That fascinated me more. Wondered if I can find something hidden which others hadn’t. That’s when I stumbled upon the story of Pandavs’ exile and it got me thinking.

4. How much of the story is fact and how much fiction did you add to it?
A: The backdrop is real; taken from the original narrative by Veda Vyasa. Most of the characters are real. The back stories are real; either taken from the source or from regional retelling. Some new characters have been added to fictionalize the spy thriller part.

5. What is the research you undertook for this book?
A: Read multiple retelling as also scholarly interpretations of the original by Veda Vyasa. Since I read them more out of love than as part of a research process, the many years just dissolved. Technically speaking, it’s many years of research, but frankly it doesn’t matter.

6. What was the most challenging part of writing?
A: Maintaining the sanctity of the set-up and the characters. That’s a huge challenge since I consider it to be the greatest story ever told. So, when you are overawed by something as great as The Mahabharata, you tread carefully, full of trepidation at every step.

7. Have you ever experienced a writer’s block?
A: Happens many times. But, if you’ve been in the media for two decades, you learn to overcome them, because writer’s block is an indulgence no company can afford. So you learn from it.Youeventually adapt when it comes to your personal writing.

8. Are you a methodical or a moody writer?
A: A mix of both, though I must concede a certain amount of discipline is important to churn out anything of importance.

9. Describe your dual role as writer and publisher and how do you manage them both? 
A: The core of both is the book you love. But, the second role is more than just a publisher since Kriscendo Media LLP, which published this book, is a storytelling hub, wherein we take a story and using it as a hub, create multiple spokes like novel, TV series, film, web series, game, etc. It’s mind-numbing at times with multiple negotiations, but then at the end of it all, all the exhaustion is worth it. While on the subject, readers might soon see a TV or web series based on the book.

10. Your favourite writers?
A: Harper Lee and R K Narayanan for being so profound despite simple language.Gabriel Garcia Marquez for sucking you into a new world, despite his complex storytelling.Saadat Hasan Manto for his stark portrayals.Shivaji Sawant for his deep insight into characters.

11. Your favourite books?
A: To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez), Mrityunjay (Shivaji Sawant), Tintin comics, Amar Chitra Katha comics.

12. Your favourite lines from a book of all times?
A: The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
(Stopping by Woods on a Lonely Evening byRobert Frost)

Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.
(To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee)

13. How do you describe yourself as a person?
A: Affable yet moody, friendly yet a loner.In short, I am a bundle of paradox.

14. Your hobbies include?
A: Reading books (all kinds) and listening to music (eclectic taste ranging from rock to Hindustani classical).

15. Your idea of leisure is?
A: Sleeping.Period.

16. What do you do when you are sad?
A: Write. Great antidote.

17. Your favorite place on earth?
A: Mumbai.

18. One thing you would like to change about yourself. 
A: Habit of procrastination. Though must accept that I have made some progress over the years.

19. Wise advice for budding writers…
A: Keep writing. Keep dreaming. It might be a long winding road (mine definitely is one) yet it leads to what you aspire.

20.  A few words for The Readers Cosmos
A: A wonderful platform for both writers and readers.It’s great to connect them. Keep up the good work.

Thank you for your time Rajesh and wish you good luck. 


Book Review: Breath Go Away and Other Stories by Sriman Narayanan

Title: Breath Go Away and Other Stories
Author: Sriman Narayanan
Publisher: Rupa Publications

Genre: Fiction (short stories)

Date:  2015

Price: INR 162 (paperback)/free on Kindle Unlimited

Pages: 152

This book is a collection of mostly short stories and some not so short stories ( in the strictest sense). The genre though may seem like love or loss from a title like "Breath Go Away" but that is just the first story. The rest of the book is majorly based on the same theme but has sprinkles of variety of emotions and a little seasoning of philosophy. Each story has a different theme and they broadly speak about human emotions. The book begins with a story from which the book derives its title, that many can relate to. It pierce's through your heart for you totally feel you are the central character and the author captures a reader really well there. Tears in Bathroom talks about some everyday common emotions which we all face and yet they remain unwritten. My favorite story is the one around little children and their growing emotions called Priceless Conversations. The rest of the stories are around finding the one soul mate and accidents during the course. 

The writer has chosen simple stories to write about mostly emanating from experiences of his own or people around him. Some stories are hard, some realistic, some mundane and some beautiful in their simplicity. He has also fused story with poetry at many places. The writing is simple and well suited for an Indian audience. The stories being more closer to regular life seem usual and a novelty factor is lacking which is very critical to any story, no matter the length. Where the novelty factor appears its essence is bland. Overall in a story where one takes the creativity on the path to fusion of prose and poetry a great quality is expected, something that the book doesn't really meet. 

The stories on their own make up for a simple light read like when travelling. Overall a good debut attempt with a lot of scope for improvement to be the best. Hoping for that in the writer's next books.

Rating: 2.5/5 

About the author: Sriman Narayanan works for a leading credit-card-issuing company in a senior leadership position in credit risk management. He has primarily worked in the financial services industry throughout his long career-at HSBC (USA), GE Capital (India) and Standard Chartered Bank (India).

He writes about anything that tugs at his heart, mostly about life, love and relationships. His writings have a philosophical tinge.He lives at Bentonville, Arkansas with his wife and son.
You can write to him at srimanpj@gmail.com to get to know him better, or share your thoughts on this book.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Book Review: Wreath And Other Stories by Sangeeta Mahapatra

Title: Wreath And Other Stories (Tales Of Horror and Suspense)
Author: Sangeeta Mahapatra

Publisher: Notion Press
Genre: Fiction (horror/suspense)

Date:  2016

Price: Rs. 250 (paperback)/66 (kindle)


Pages: 228







As the book’s title tells you these stories though short are meant to scare you and not be subtle at doing that. The aesthetic cover page though will calm your senses and tell you that it won’t be that bad, but that is just the beginning. As you read the first story Red Moon is your tester. It being a story of two friends starts gently and then slowly tightens its grip around the reader making them not leave until they finish it, leaving one aghast to say the least, setting a perfect tone for what follows next. Yet you have just had starters here! The main course is still getting laid and if you are anything like an experimental like me waiting for things to scare you, well you have met your match and you will appreciate it in ways you never thought would be creepy.

As Red Moon grows on youwhat next follows is a science fiction, into the future story, a completely different setting from the last one and a different madness therein. The story staged as play was the one I read and re read and is one of the best written short stories I came across in a long time. The last story in this collection Deja Vu deals with past life and associations. This being the note where the book ended was certainly the most emphatic one, especially the writing style which brought a complete essence of the concoction of suspense, confusion and terror therein.

Each story is different in every possible manner, the plot, the subject and most of all the justice to the writing style that required madness and that of a different sense while writing about friends to robots to past-present alterations. The stories are not in the strictest sense a horror that would make you jump for once but that mild creepy thing that just gets under your skin and makes you uncomfortable enough to check under your bed each time you think you are sure. 

A major mistake most short story writers make in India is that they write their collection at one go and in one tone. While writing a softer genre like love, romance, life etc. it still retains an excitement but writing something in a horror genre is an entirely different piece of cake, one difficult to master. Any repetition and a reader will understand the pattern, leave the book half way and make your efforts go in vain. To keep a reader hooked, for a collection  of short stories therefore presents a challenge of changing settings, plot, era, subject matter and most difficult of all the writing style. Experimenting with this I believe could be done if you bake one separately over months of incubation on each and then at the end of it all compiling what you think is your best creation over time. The last shock for me after the book was that this came from a very young writer for she made this huge feat seemingly look like cake work.

The book is one of those things you will miss out on in life if you didn't read. I am a fan of Sangeeta Mahapatra and would love to read each word that comes from her pen. Waiting for more.

Personal note: I am a person who constantly looks for thongs that can scare me. So I picked this book at 2:00am, post the first story I knew this was beyond my perception of what could scare me. 

Rating: 5/5 

About the Author: Sangeeta Mahapatra is the executive editor of a national business magazine. She has a doctoral degree in International Relations and has previously worked as a research fellow, specializing in Terrorism Studies. She is currently based in Kolkata, India, working on a book on the counter-terrorism strategies of India, Israel, and the United States of America. In 1999, her first book of short stories, Miasma, was published by Chowringhee Prakashini Press, Kolkata. Wreath and Other Stories is her second collection of short stories.












Friday, August 19, 2016

Author Interview: Bhaavna Arora


I love outliers who over comfort choose to use the power of their pen to challenge everything that is wrong with the society. When Bhaavna Arora's new book tried to answer the burning question of sexuality, I was intrigued beyond measure to understand the person and the inspiration behind choosing a challenging and controversial topic. So I decided to hear it from the lady herself and have compiled here the conversation that took place. 

Q. Describe your journey into writing.
A: I always wanted to write but didn't know when. The safest thing to do at that point of time was to accumulate degrees. It goes without saying that I loved studying and was a good academic record holder. I worked as an Assistant Professor and later Director of a B School before I got into full time writing. One of those days I just quit everything to follow my passion for writing.

Q. What does writing mean to you?
A:
It's like breathing, living and loving.

Q. Tell us a little bit about your current book and how is it similar and different from your previous books?
A:
All my books are different from each other. Very different. I can't be generalized or categorized as an author. I love writing on different genres. Versatility is in my blood. Where The Deliberate Sinner talked about women orgasms and sexual satisfaction, Mistress of Honour dealt with intense love where an unwed mother wants to give birth to a child in a Defence backdrop. Love Bi The Way deals with choices of loving without any barriers. It's a romantic-comedy.

Q. Why did you decide to write on “bisexuality?”
A:
I personally feel that love is one thing that should be allowed to exist freely without any barriers like religion, caste, nationalities, color or even sex. Freedom of choice is very important for the existence of a being whose existence depends on love. Let's not cease that existence 377 times.

Q. How did the characters and the story of take form?
A:
The protagonist of my books is always Rihana who is a strong, independent and talented girl. In all my books she constantly keeps challenging the stereotypes just like me. The other characters just shaped up around her.

Q. What was the most challenging part of writing this one?
A:
To be honest, Love Bi The Way has been a self discovery. While interviewing many bisexual and lesbian women I came to know about the societal challenges they face and I also discovered that I'm so bloody straight. Hahaha! Writing of a love-making scene between two women was the most challenging part of writing the book.

Q. Have you ever experienced a writer’s block or difficulty in writing a plot or a character or an inevitable end? How did you overcome it?
A:
It’s common to face a writer’s block during the process of writing. Making a routine out of writing is one way of how I face such a block. But then again, when there is question you can't answer, have wine!

Q. Are you a methodical or a moody writer?
A:
I'm both. Sometimes when I catch the momentum, I don't stop even if I'm not in a mood and there are times where it takes months for inspiration to strike and get in a mood.

Q. Are you a full time writer? If not, how do you manage your day job and writing?
A:
Yes! I'm a full time writer. Some things I do in my free time are riding bikes, horses, driving my sports car and occasionally training students and professionals on Leadership.

Q. Your favorite writers?
A:
Paulo Cohelo & Sidney Sheldon. I have grown up reading them.

Q. Your favourite books?
A:
Eleven Minutes & Veronica Decides To Die.

Q. Your favourite lines from a book of all times?
A:
It's actually from my own book, Mistress of Honour, "Love flows naturally in a human; Lust only makes it profane."

Q. How do you describe yourself as a person?
A:
I'm quite versatile. I'm very adaptable too, since intelligence is not about having a big IQ but about how easily you can adapt to different situations. I have varied interests like swimming, playing sports, horse riding, and car racing. Given the society standards, sometimes I think I'm a man in a woman's body. Haha!

Q. Your hobbies include?
A:
All mentioned above along with sleeping and eating. I also cook occasionally.

Q. Your idea of leisure is?
A:
Anything that gives you relaxation. For me it would be exercising, writing, playing with my dogs or just sleeping. I also quite enjoy travelling.

Q. What do you do when you are sad?
A:
I talk and if I don't have anyone to talk to, I write or read or watch a good movie.

Q. Your favorite place on earth?
A:
Wherever I can find like-minded people for a good conversation. I'm sucker for a good conversation.

Q. One thing you would like to change about yourself.
A:
My eating habits. I constantly work on them but I love eating junk food and that makes me put on weight. I love eating JUNK.

Q. Wise advice for budding writers…
A:
Believe in your story because if you don't no one else will.


Q. A few words for The Readers Cosmos
A:
I think you guys are doing a great job putting forth some high quality writing. Keep it up! May you grow leaps and bounds!

NV: Thank You Bhaavna for your time and answering each question in detail. Hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.
Bhaavna: My pleasure.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Book Review : Evading the Shadows by Rajesh M. Iyer


Title: Evading The Shadows 

Author: Rajesh M. Iyer

Publisher: Kriscendo Media LLP

Genre: Fiction

Date:  2016

Price: Rs. 192 / Free on Kindle Unlimited

Pages: 342

The Mahabharata is the greatest epic of all times, in terms of magnanimity of characters, story, twists and dharma so much so that the holy of the Hindu's, Gita is just one part of it. The author begins brilliantly giving this essence in beautifully chosen words imbibing the reader immediately though the story is about just one year, minuscule in comparison but the most interesting one. After loosing the game of dice the Pandavs were sent into thirteen year exile with the condition being that the last year will be a phase where they have to remain hidden or in disguise from the Kauravas. If found, the price was heavy - repetition of the thirteen year exile phase again. 

Having always faced hardship throughout their lives, courtesy their parents and later themselves each one now wanted it a to end for once! More so of for Draupadi, the queen with five husbands and yet helpless and humiliated the most. In her simmered the vengeance to make people who insulted her pay with their blood. Therefore this phase was the key to salvation from sufferings for them and they had to ensure they dont get caught. Meanwhile Duryodhan's job powered by Shakuni was to ensure they get caught and no matter what he doesn't have to do away with the smallest part of his kingdom to his step brothers. He therefore does his best in catching them. The greatest challenge for them was to hide their peculiarities and qualities which would easily give them away which was a huge scoring point for the Kauravas. 

To begin with the book cover should have been better. It does not give one the essence of the era it is set in or the plot. The author does a convincing job in making you time travel into the story.  Each character is etched like you know it, like a carving that you understand it's moves, sentiments and thoughts intuitively. The writer also beautifully merges spirits, nature and signs to create a complete canvas of unfolding events. The book especially Draupadi's character and thoughts seemed inspired by The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and pleasantly so for nobody has described the queen's sentiments better. 

Above all the plot which is a close chase keeping a reader on toes as to what next. Best part not always the best man wins and an extremely close chase and run that keeps the story alive. I loved that the story had flashbacks into the past which made it so real for a reader to feel the vivid picture of the emotions each of them went through during this phase for one cannot live in the present of a horrendous past.  

All in all the story is a good, light, entertaining read.

Rating : 3/5


About the Author:
   

Rajesh M. Iyer is a media professional for over two decades. He has been an editor of magazines and books. He has been writer, creative director an creative producer for many TV serials and films, prominent among them being ‘Colgate Top Ten’ (Zee TV), ‘O’Maria’ (Sony TV), ‘Mujhe Chand Chahiye’ (Zee TV) and ‘KhabdooBigdoo’ (Hungama TV). He has also been with many media companies like Magna (Head of Books Division), Macmillan (Creative Head of Corporate Division) and Amar Chitra Katha (Vice President - Creative). He is also the author of 'NanhaNatkhat: Tales of Little Krishna' and 'Valiant Warriors', books for children. Evading the Shadows is his debut novel. He lives in Mumbai with his wife, son and father.


Monday, August 8, 2016

Author Interview - Amit Sharma


After reading False Ceilings by Amit Sharma, I was overwhelmed with the story, the bizarre nature of the plot and the psyche of characters that he deeply dwells into. Supplemented with a "slowly reveal the puzzle pieces writing style" if one may simply describe it, the story is one not to leave you anytime and knock upon your thoughts many times, catch you unawares keep you wondering time and again. So I decided to pick his brain for he is certainly one of India's youngest and best writers to look upto. He was gracious enough to take out time for us and have this conversation:

Q.   Describe your journey into writing.
A: During the initial years of my job, a friend introduced me to blogs. I was initially terrified of the world as it allowed strangers to judge your work. I wrote short stories on my blog that were well received but I knew writing a book was a different ball game. The readers of the blog were very encouraging. Then I went to Manchester for two years and had enough time on my hand to try writing the book. I started writing believing that the book will never get published.

      Q. What does writing mean to you?
A: For me, it is a way to unwind. I believe that all of us should do at least one thing in our life that we really love. Some people like to listen to music, some paint, some go for long treks in the mountain and some play a musical instrument to unwind. I write.

      
      Q.  How did the characters and the story of False Ceilings take form? 
A: The story is based on true events. The setting of the pre-independence era story of Shakuntala and her marriage to Manu is largely based on the stories my grandma told me of her life in Dalhousie. I have taken snippets from her life, like when she saw an owl just before her father’s death.

Most of what happened in Delhi from 1950 till 2002 is based on true facts and incidents. The affection, friction, distrust and malevolence that bind the six protagonists are real. That is one reason the readers found the characters very believable because they were not a mere figment of my imagination. They displayed shades just like a real flesh and blood human, like they did in real life. The story is much more about the revelation of the secret in the end. For me it was about getting under the skin of this dysfunctional family, to present them as I saw them in real life, to make their actions and thoughts believable and human.

     Q. Your writing style is unique that of just randomly throwing the pieces of          puzzle and then putting the together. How did you arrive at it?
A: Before I started writing False Ceilings, I toyed with the options of writing it in a linear or non-linear fashion. I concluded that the story would be more interesting if written non-linearly. Also, I have a bit of a weak spot for the technique. I think readers are going to see it in all my books (although not in the complicated format I used in False Ceilings). I am going to use the technique in my second and third book as well.

      Q. Have you ever experienced a writer’s block or difficulty in writing a plot           or a character or an inevitable end? How did you overcome it? 
A: I haven’t experienced writers block till now. It is probably because I do not write every day. Writing over the weekend gives me enough time to ponder over my characters and plots and given me enough fodder to work seamlessly over the weekend. Secondly, I do not start writing unless I know the end. The storyline has to be chalked out on paper before I start writing a book.

     Q.  How was the journey into publishing?
A: I had my share of rejections (around fifteen) before the book was picked by Lifi. Even after that, it wasn’t a very smooth journey. A writer needs to be very patient. The whole process is painstakingly slow but the trick is to start thinking about your next and work on it. There isn’t much an author can do once the book is out of his hands.

      Q. Are you a methodical or a moody writer? 
A: Methodical. I plan and prep for a book before I start writing. There will be a few months of research depending on the theme of the book and the era. Then I would work more on the characters and chapter outlines. I refine the story till I am satisfied with the final outcome. It is only after this that I start writing the book.

      Q. How do you manage your day job       and writing?
A: I write over the weekends. I usually wake up early in the morning and write for 4-5 hours. I think it is good to have a day job with your writing career as it allows you to be more creative and not succumb to the demands of the market. Although it does get unbearable at times to wait for the whole week to put the ideas rotating in my head to paper.

            Q. Your favourite writers?
A: I have enjoyed works of Margeret Atwood, Haruki Murakami, Geroge R.R. Martin, Jeffery Eugenides, Robert Jordan, Toni Morrison – to name a few. I would like to believe that I do not have favorite authors. There are too many good books out there to try to find favorites.

      Q. Your favourite books? 
A: Here is a list of few of the books I have enjoyed reading -
Everything is illuminated by Jonathan SafranFoer
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Roots by Alex Hailey
The Brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides
Kafka on the shore by Haruki Murakami
Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier
Night Film by MarishaPessl

      Q.  Your favourite lines from a book of all times?
      A: “With writing, we have second chances.”
      ― Jonathan SafranFoerEverything Is Illuminated

      Q.  How do you describe yourself as a person?
A: I believe in the theory of Live and let live. I think an adult should be allowed to make his or her decisions unless they are hurting someone physically. I find this world a place that has been unnecessarily complicated by humans and do not understand what the fuss is all about. Can’t we just sit under a tree beside a river and read a book and be happy?I do not like manmade complications in life – based on religions, gender, pieces of lands, skin color, love on any other variety.

      Q.  Your hobbies include?
A: I am a voracious reader. I love watching world cinema (I am a huge fan of South Korean movies). I like to cook and bake at times (when the weather permits) and treat my family with cakes and muffins. I love to travel preferably to places where there is bearable quantity of human population. Sometimes, I play Asphalt 8 like a maniac till my wife threatens to delete the game from my laptop. I also like to listen to the incessant blabber of my three-year-old daughter.

      Q.  Your idea of leisure is?
A:  It keeps changing. Currently, it is to sit on a comfortable sofa and read a book with a view of mountains from the window. Sometimes it is to walk to the top of a cliff and watch the expanse of Earth from there. Sometimes, it is to watch the sunset on a beach.

      Q.  What do you do when you are sad?
A:  Sleep. That is the best medicine. It is a time machine that takes you away from the miseries of the present.

      Q.  Your favorite place on earth?
A:  I do not have a single favorite place. The world is too beautiful to number the places. I like England. It has a beauty that is unmatched. There are beautiful places like the Lake District and Isle of Wight that will take your breath away. I like the madness of Paris and the rich experience it offers.


Q. One thing you would like to change about yourself?
A: I love running and would like to maintain a fitness routine. Unfortunately, my work hours and commute does not allow me the luxury. So, I would like to change my lifestyle a bit to include these elements that I have always enjoyed.

Q.  Wise advice for budding writers…
A:  Research, polish and market well. I am learning the ropes too but these three aspects of writing are very important. Once you are done with your initial draft, keep polishing it till you are satisfied with it. Don’t rush it. Give it to your friends who are avid readers and ask for opinions. Give it to a beta reader. Keep aside money for marketing. You have no idea how difficult is that going to be. 
     
      Q.   A few words for The Readers Cosmos
A: I really hope that I will find a market for my books and the readers will enjoy them. I enjoy writing and would continue to write books that are different. I am very thankful for all the love and appreciation that has come my way for False Ceilings and I would be eternally thankful for it. Thank you for taking out time and reading the interview. 

NV: Thank You Amit for this amazing Q&A session. Hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.
Amit: The pleasure is all mine.