Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Making Of : People Called Ahmedabad

When you visit a city even with the best intentions of in-depth exploration, you take a map, you mark the important destinations based on extensive web research and you visit them, hoping for the relics to tell you stories of era gone by. The best travel is time travel and we aim to achieve it with whatever efficiency we can. But this is all trying to understand a place via the inanimate. Thinking harder, do you think a place can effectively tell its story? What if I tell you there is a better way to know and understand a city? Via a map that doesn't reveal roads but unravels its lives and the city emerges as a lively being in those stories? Would this not be the portal you want to tumble into?

Dissatisfied with limited things drawings can do on paper a Mumbai based architect Nisha Nair Gupta decided to do things more creatively. When asked about the process, she said “Often in our design process there is a lack of humanities perspective largely in the way practice is conducted. It is largely commerce, statistics and logistics which drive us versus parameters like memories, emotions and many such humane ‘intangible’ parameters.”

Letting her creative juices flow beyond the mundane routine she started an exercise called “The People Place Project” to look at the ‘intangible’ space of existence which is aims to do a narrative mapping of cities i.e. documenting a place through the stories of its people. Their first book or the experiment as Nisha calls it, was on the economic capital of India “Mumbai” which was very well received by the readers motivating her to migrate to the land of vibrant colors “Ahmedabad”.  Since Mumbai was her work place and Ahmedabad the city where she studied(one always have fond memories of where one studies and you are probably thinking of your college days now), these cities with their humble beginnings, now coated in a rich urban fabric made the obvious first choices.

        (Ellis Bridge Ahmedabad-picture courtesy

However thinking and operating here are two different tasks. This beautiful task needed collection of stories from people located in all the corners of a city, coming from all walks of life, written by different writers yet set in a tone that could reveal the transformation the city went through. This mission was therefore undertaken one step at a time. The first one was collecting writers/stories. This was done via an open call for writing with a decision to stick to ‘story telling through the perspective of a person’ format. The team also was open to having writers already operating in the space.

                      (Lithograph by Dutchman Philip Baldeus depicting Ahmedabad and Sabarmati river circa 1752)

The team also conducted events broadly called ‘Discovering Ahmedabad’ to engage with people as a whole and ensure the stories came from every nook and corner of the city. These events included treasure hunt, open mic (story telling) and city scripts (script writing workshop).“All of these workshops helped us engage a lot of people to understand the city better by interacting with others, sharing their own experience about the city. It helped us make the crowd aware of the fact that city is just not a city because of its landmarks, famous buildings, the dressing style or the language we speak but also the small pan shops, tea shops, the gallis, the chowks and the people we pass by in our everyday lives, which essentially makes the city, a city” says Nisha. 

The team thus having collected all possible stories from a city and then started round two which was short listing, refining. Stage three was editing and final touch.

 (The battle between Mughal Imperial Army and Muhhammed Hussain Mirza near Ahmedabad in 1573: Source Akbarnama)

The challenge that emerged with Ahmedabad was an interesting one. It reflected passing of time in one frame, in pieces sown together of the old city and the new. While the 600 year old city had evolved to equip everything 21st century had to offer, at its roots was tradition and community structure. While the new flaunted it’s shine, the old breathed with equal pride. The stories emerging therefore were immensely diverse, a contrast which is also interesting. The book has 55 stories showcasing lives of variety of people who make Ahmedabad what it truly is, like the boatman in the river Sabarmati who saves people who lose hope and jump into the river to die or the man who tries to capture the heritage of the city by weaving them on a piece of cloth or another who sells who tells strangers in Ravi-vari (Sunday flea market) about the importance of reading and owning books for his sheer love for books!

(Rani Rupmati's Mosque (1430-40), Ahmedabad (albumen photograph, c.1880)

The book launch was held in L&P Hutheesing Visual Arts Centre, CEPT, Ahmedabad on the 21st of January 2017 with Mr. Jay Vasavda launching the book for us along with the curator, the writers and the interviewees of the book, People Called Ahmedabad. Side by side, there were two events organised: The Photo Exhibition and the Book Exchange. The Photo Exhibition had lovely photographs of different parts of Ahmedabad in the venue itself, by the entries for the event. In the Book Exchange, anyone could exchange old books to get a copy of People called Ahmedabad at a discounted price. The old book received were sent to AASMAN Foundation for the underprivileged children, who love reading!

The book has already been up for sale on the official website: It will hit the book stores and the online portals on the 15th of February, 2017.

       (The Sabarmati river : Courtesy Wikipedia)

Thinking back about the initial days of creation a nostalgic Nisha adds “The most interesting part of this project is the group of writers that come together from different backgrounds, from students to professionals to free lancers. It helps us explore the diverse styles in writing which allows the reader to have their own idea about the book – as a story book or a travel log or coffee table book. The perk of this approach is that it is open to interpretation, to know more about the place or the people, how one may not have perceived on a general day. It’s through the writers and their way of writing that makes it easier for the readers to look into these intimate spaces of the city which eventually makes the read quite interesting! Hoping you will love it as much as we loved creating it!”

Read more about the project, the team and the book in our upcoming sections. Also hoping you have ordered your copy, tell us your opinion in the comments below.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Last Bloom by Poulomi Sengupta

Title:  The Last Bloom
Author:  Poulomi Sengupta
Publisher: Leadstart Publishing Pvt. Ltd.

Genre: Fiction

Date:  2016

Price: INR 281

Pages: 395

The book is about transition to college life and the period, struggles of youth as they do so and the changes in their thoughts, way of perceiving life, goals etc. The leader envisions these phases through the life of the central character Priya, a studious girl with values shifting from central board convent school into a politically charged, local yet reputed university campus. Since the author is a Geology major, undoubtedly the central character also studies the same subject wherein the author utilizes her complete dominance over the subject, which is the bloom of the book to a curious reader.

As a subject it is easy to relate to from page one as everyone has sometimes in their lives been through this phase. Its the been there done that feeling one gets as one reads for there is some character or another that one can relate to. The atmosphere of the campus is heavily politically charged and as is the case with politics its murky, consuming and confusing as to if anybody ever got results. Priya debates with herself, colleagues, friends and parents about the newly changed atmosphere and each situation slowly helps her gain a deeper understanding of human beings, giving the outcome of the book a philosophical learning as one matures through college and life.

The book severely lacked in character development since the beginning as the writer jumps into the plot without spending anytime in character building which makes it confusing until the first few chapters. The story in the later part is laced with events that would pique ones interest and keep one glued to the book but these sub-plots could have been exploited better as the writer was spending a considerable amount of time with them, the book being more than 350 page long. The last few chapters could be shortened and so could be a lot of academic stuff in the book which had no relation to the outcome of the story whatsoever. The editing is seriously weak especially reflected in repetitive use of same words.

Overall a decent first attempt at writing but a lot can be improved.

Rating: 2.5/5

About The Author: 
Poulomi Sengupta is an alumna of IIT Kharagpur and Jadavpur University. Presently residing in Mumbai, a geologist and a social worker. She loves her share of kickboxing and a colourful dose of oil painting to brighten the apparently mundane life.

Grab a copy here:

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Book Review: Bouquet of Emotions, Feelings and Thoughts by Subhrajyoti Parida

Title:  Bouquet of Emotions, Feelings and Thoughts 
Author:  Subhrajyoti Parida
Publisher: Dream House Publications

Genre: Poetry

Date:  2016

Price: INR 150

Pages: 84

This poetry though has four different sections but its centered around love for mother (poets tribute to his mother), mother nature, relationships and emotions. The poet begins with his deepest emotions-a personal tribute to his mother and then moves onto greater concerns of ones duties towards the mother that nurtures us all- mother nature. Various relationships come into being through the book those of love, loss, parenting and even love for food. Emotions and feelings therefore seem to be constituting the bouquet that the writer has tried putting together in this book. 

The poetry is extremely simple, straightforward expression of the poet's emotions sans any modification or layering. Some of them especially towards nature highlight the problems and the plundering human beings have caused. The book does connect well with the reader as a memoir but the amalgamation of topics dilutes its very essence. I believe a poetry book should be centered in this theme. From love of nature to love of food is too big a transition of emotion. Further I believe in poetry not being obvious and direct in expression but tangential.  As a first attempt to writing these might have been overlooked however I hope the poet evolves with this feedback and we have many books coming from his pen in future.

Rating: 2.5/5

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

My Experience at Publishers Training Programme Organized by The German Book Office

On 2nd and 3rd December 2016, The German Book Office conducted a Young Professionals Programme for mid layer of the professionals in the publishing industry. This year YPP primarily focused on new product development strategies for publishing and content industry and saw participation from 30 publishing professionals from the Editorial, Design, Operations and Sales & Marketing streams. It was a two day, hands on workshop where the participants from the publishing houses plugged in their entrepreneurial streak and worked on a business idea generated as part of the new product development process at the programme. The objective was to train them in skills relevant to the changes in the publishing industry and to fill the huge gap of training and development in the publishing world. 

Another purpose of the programme was to bring Indian and German publishing industry together by way of mentorship and idea exchange. Ms. Katja Splichal, an expert of product development was invited from Germany to co-facilitate the programme with Mr. R. Sriram, who is one of the pioneers in setting up the Crossword retail bookstores in India and is currently the trustee of Pratham Books.

                                                               The Participants

The Day 1 was action packed and challenging for both the mentors and the participants. While the participants were grilled and drilled and challenged to come out of their mundane routine and think of problems that exist in the publishing industry.  The mentors on the other hand had a more challenging job with making everyone come together on the same platform, break the ice between participating contestants and let them think about problems that exist in the publishing industry today and find solutions to them which in turn are also profitable businesses.

                                                                   The Mentors 

On Day 2, the teams were given a task to make a business plan around the problems they had identified on day one. The philosophy was to look each lacunae as an opportunity for business. As the teams began working the mentors constantly went to interact with each to help them get over roadblocks if any and to guide them to a right direction as for many this was a first time experience of a full-fledged boot camp. The teams were constantly kept at work by the mentors who would keep rotating between them to check their progress, to ensure they deliver a perfect pitch at 4:00 pm before the shark tank of the publishing industry.

After rushing through lunch and consuming sumptuous amounts of coffee the participants used each minute wisely to improvise their presentations before the first pitch round. The second was the grand finale to be held before their CEO’s. On each presentation the audience and the mentors asked questions and gave feedback to enable polishing of what was the first rough draft. The mentors were constantly engaged in positive critique and suggestions. The session was interactive with participants from other teams bombarding the presenting teams with questions. A lot of alternative thinking, strategizing of business model happened in this session as each team was forced to think closer to real life situations. Each team had a different idea of solving problems of reach, distribution, book reviews and marketing, encourage children and blind people to read via various interesting concepts.
                                                         Pitch till you are perfect!!!

At sharp 4:00 the CEO’s Vivek Mehra and Neeraj Gupta put on the judging caps and heard each team. This session was a true Business Pitch event where the CEO’s heard each team out and were critical to the core. While some got great improvement feedbacks on their plans, a few were discarded outright. An experience that enabled every participant to evaluate their thought process and improvise. This was a session even the organizers agreed was fiery grilling and the best.
Interacting with the mentors I realized that they were as excited and enthusiastic about bringing forth innovation in the publishing industry via such boot camps. While R. Sriram cited the example of Meru cabs going old school with the same service while Ola and Uber coming up with out of the box thought process to manage logistics for the same service differently and providing better solutions believed that it provided a line of thought for participants even in the publishing industry. An entrepreneur looks at the situation through the eye of the problem. Today we have readers more than ever, if you look at the broad spectrum called "reading". With the literacy, consumer power and quality of life going higher, the market is lively more than ever. Moreover there are writers coming up with a spectrum of writing that is available to the reader. Therefore the problem lies not in content but visibility to the reader. The seed of a successful enterprise is a product that people need, a solution. At this workshop we have focused on professionals understanding the problem itself. For every problem again should be looked as an opportunity to cater to. This is the best time ever for a publishing industry, they shod just grab it with new ideas. We don't expect the participants to come up with complete business models in a two day time frame but it's igniting the spark to keep thinking and evolving.

Katja Splichal acknowledged that it was a mammoth task to bring each one on the same page within a single day to making the teams do business plans around them. She acknowledged the participants hard work over the two day period with her words, “you failed miserably yesterday, you succeeded today.”

While most of the participants were delighted at the certificates each one received for the 48 hours work, majority of them were of the opinion that the workshop made them think harder and better and grow their inhibitions to present ideas that they were delighted to understand could be businesses. They further aimed to improve upon them based on the suggestions from mentors and look at future circumstances with the eyes of a problem solver and that precisely meant-mission accomplished! 

Pictures courtesy: The German Book Office

Friday, December 9, 2016

Dont Just Be an Author, Be an Authorpreneur

A lot many people read today. More than ever before. If you see we are all constantly reading something or the other as we spend more time on our gadgets. Right from news to jokes, whatever it is that pleases us, the content is readily available to the reader, thanks to digitization. The literacy rate has increased and so has consumer power. Everybody today wishes to be wiser and smarter. Books are a great way to heal and improve the quality of our personality and lives. If you have a flair for writing, and you wish to be a published writer, now is the time better than ever to realize it! You don't have to even knock a publisher's doors and get approval or convince somebody to publish your work. It is a time, when all these variables are in your  very hands.

In such a world there is also more to be done than just writing or publishing it. As thousands of books come out, it is critical for a writer to also ensure its reach to right kind of audience the one for whom he /she wrote it. Therefore keeping all this in mind and the fact that we live an extremely competitive world, Notion Press - a brain child of Naveen Valasakumar Bhargava A and Jana Pillay, a name well known in the publishing industry since its foundation in 2012, now encourages its writers not to be just writers but also add an entrepreneurial zing to their exercise of writing and publishing a book. They want the entire experience for a writer to be entrepreneurial and successful thereby making one not just an author but an "Author-preneur".

Notion press provides a one step platform that prevents you from wasting all the time waiting for a response from publishers. Even if you do get the response sometimes the dates are more than an year away. As a young writer when the idea is fresh out of your mind this can be boring and even disheartening to some extent. A few middle to bottom range publishers, non- creamy if I may, also provide options that enable one to self-publish but while doing so they charge for it and offer minimum market royalty. While with notion press you publish for free while only paying nominally for the basics such as copy editing, printing, book distribution etc. Best of all, you retain the rights to your book and post its performance in the market pitch it better to traditional publishers, if that is what you desire at a later stage. Your royalty is maximum and best of all you can calculate it all for yourself before jumping into it. To understand the complete process watch this video...

Personally the quality of most books that came to me from Notion press were fine. Some of them also received excellent reviews and have been the best books I have read in 2016 grabbing 4-4.5/5 rating from me, who is in general a difficult to please person. Check the review of Sangeeta Mahapatra's book "Wreath & other Stories" The book has been a huge personal favorite and I have recommended it to everyone who loves reading. The book has grabbed more than 4 stars from every critical reviewer and if you disagree with the rating post reading the book let me know.

Books like these are an example that if you believe in your writing, let not the opinion of others stop you. For even J.K.Rowling, one of the greatest fiction writers of our times would have not been known if it was not the child of an editor that read her manuscript, but those were a different time. I am sure if we had a Notion press like platform back then, she wouldn't have been an unknown for a long, and we would have had Harry much before and many such immortal characters who lie in a comatose state on a publishers desk would be breathing and living a healthy  normal lives in the hearts ad minds of readers they were created for.

To be the master of your own writing career, log on to now!!!

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Crossword Book Awards 2016

On 29th Novemebr 2016 many epic writers waited as it was time for Cross Book Awards 2016. A battle of epic proportions has been underway, over the last month, as authors found themselves part of an electoral process, to  win the coveted trophy of the Raymond Crossword Book Award, India’s oldest and most prestigious award. Over the years, the Award has been equated to the Pulitzer and Booker and is a definitive,veritable platform for Indian Authors. The Raymond Crossword Book Award not only recognizes and rewards Indian literary talent but actively promotes the same to a wider audience.

The awardees have always had, or risen to stature in the world of literature. And it was a star-studded shortlist this year. Kinjal Shah, CEO Crossword Bookstores says, “It’s that time of the year when the whole publishing industry in India comes forward as one family to recognize its own stars. It’s exciting that the voting numbers have been heartwarming this year.”

                                              Kinjal Shah: CEO Crossword Bookstores

A bevy of glittering stars were present at the Award, including Shekhar Gupta, Mynoo Maryel, Anupama Chopra , Twinkle Khanna, Piyush Pandey, Roopa Pai, Amish Tripathi, Ashwin Sanghi, Durjoy Dutta, Radhakrishnan Pillai, Hrishi. K,  Subashree Krishnaswamy, Annie Zaidi, Mohd. Asaduddin, Naresh Fernandes, Kalpana Sharma, Harsh Sethi, Ira Pande, Prof M S Sriram, Prof Sukanta Chaudhuri, Aravinda Anantharaman, Sujata Noronha, Siddhartha Sarma, B S Nagesh and many more authors and guests.

Social media maven Miss Malini was the host of the evening. Major publishers present at the Award included Penguin Random House India, Harper Collins India, Hachette India, Scholastic India, Niyogi Books, and Westland Books. This year, the Award has gone through a makeover, with ten categories and a lifetime achievement award. A total of 11 awards were given away, in the following three categories.



Scion of Ikshvaku by Amish wins the Raymond Crossword Book Award – popular - fiction category 


Mrs. Funnybones by Twinkle Khanna wins the Raymond Crossword Book Award - popular award – nonfiction category


Playing It My Way by Sachin Tendulkar (co-author Boria Majumdar) wins the Raymond Crossword Book Award - popular award for best biography

Business and management

Chanakya in You by Radhakrishnan Pillai wins the Raymond Crossword Book Award - popular award in Business and Management category

Health and fitness

Body Goddess by Payal Gidwani wins the Raymond Crossword Book Award - popular award in health and wellness category


Gita: For Children by Roopa Pai wins the Raymond Crossword Book Award - popular award for Children’s writing



Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh wins the Raymond Crossword Book Award - jury award for fiction


Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India by Akshaya Mukul wins the Raymond Crossword Book Award - jury award for best non-fiction


The Sun That Rose From the Earth by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi is the Raymond Crossword Book Award - jury winner for the best translated book


Our Nana was a Nutcase by Ranjit Lal wins the Raymond Crossword Book Award - jury award for the best book for children’s writing.

     Awardees of The Crossword Book Awards 2016


India’s finest lyricist and poet, Gulzar Sahab bestowed the Lifetime achievement award to beloved author Ruskin Bond. Speaking on the occasion, Gulzar Sahab said, " Bond sir and I share a deep friendship that goes a long way back. I would like to say, "Cheers" to Bond sir, for winning this award."

About Crossword Bookstores....

With the tagline ‘educate, entertain, enlighten’, Crossword Bookstores is India’s largest retailer of books that endeavors to spread knowledge & inculcate the habit of reading.

Crossword Bookstores stands by the objective to promote 'Reading and Writing' through 95 stores across 33 cities in India. The Book Award is a mega event, organized every year, to award Indian Authors to promote readership and recognize the best of literature.   

Crossword Bookstores also launched a short film, “A Book Never Runs Out of Battery” to mark the 14th anniversary of  the award.

The event was attended by over 100 authors, prestigious guests and customers,all at the Tata Theatre – NCPA.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Unique Publishers Training Programme Now in Delhi!

Since digital media is proving to be a disruptive technology, the one that has changed everything from knowing the happenings of the world to buying your toothpaste, it has also become the most effective marketing and publishing medium. In India though majority of readers still prefer reading the old school way.i.e. a hard copy, the merits of reading on a single tablet like device which fits into your bag and can carry hundreds of books on a single device is not lost on the younger generation. You cannot create a bookstore in every village but with a mobile phone you can access every reader, no matter which corner. The importance of evolving isn't lost on the publishing industry and many have started developing their soft media content greatly.

However, the world of digital content creation is a complicated one with so many different platforms and consumption patterns. In India, there is currently another shortfall in the area of short term hands-on training modules. Understanding the lacunae in mentoring needed at this stage to come up with this mega-revolution and utilize it to create more business in 2014, The German Book Office (GBO) launched a training programme called Young Professionals Program to impart skills needed for the same. This year the third event of this initiative,  a two day workshop is scheduled for training on content/product development for professionals from the publishing, media and content industry, on from 2nd-3rd December 20-16, India International Centre, New DelhiThis program is aimed at young professionals who are already working in the industry and wish to acquire expertise in new techniques in publishing and allied sector. The two YPP training workshops that have been organized in the last two years have catered to the learning needs of 136 participants from more than 30 publishing houses.  
Need for a training event for young professionals in Product Development
By virtue of the fact that professionals in the content/publishing industry are engaged with certain specific aspects of the industry, it is not uncommon for them to lose sight of a bird’s eye view of their respective organisations. At the heart of this year’s YPP training programme on product development is the belief that developing a new product/service is similar to developing a new enterprise. The programme, therefore, aims to inspire the participants to cultivate an entrepreneurial approach, enable them to execute an idea and refining it continuously.

Focus of Young Professionals Programme 2016
With new product/service development strategies for publishing and content industry as the theme, the two-day workshop addresses a major need felt by the young professionals by offering a platform for generating and cultivating ideas as well as by providing access to networking opportunities, new methods as well as inputs and mentoring support from the most renowned industry specialists.

The two-day workshop is based on a hands-on exercise format led by experts intimately involved in the development of new products and services in the content sector. The participants will work in cross-functional teams to work through the stages of product development and present the product pitch at the closure of the programme. The teams will engage with their ideas using the design thinking method that is relevant for customer-related creative projects. Issues of licensing will also be touched upon.

Publishing/ content professionals from the Editorial, Design, Operations and Sales & Marketing domains.
·         In order to witness the outcome of the workshop, the CEOs/MDs of the participating publishing companies will be present during the idea-pitching session that is scheduled towards the end of the second day of the programme.
·         Input on Consumer data by Mr. Vikrant Mathur, Nielsen India
Participating CompaniesBajaj & Co. Oxford University Press, MBD Group, Agamee Prakashan, Scholastic India, Harpercollins India and others.
Young Professionals Programme-Mentors/Speakers

R. Sriram co-founded “Next Practice Retail” in 2006 and is an advisor to Seedfund. He is an Independent Director on the Boards of Kokuyo Camlin Ltd and Kokuyo Camlin Alphakids Ltd. He served as President of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) Mumbai (2010-12). He serves on the board of advisors of the non-profits Pratham Books, Junoon Theatre and Toybank.  He established the Crossword Book Awards (now Vodafone Crossword Book Awards) to annually recognize & reward the best of Indian writers & books that he continues to oversee. He has curated the Kala Ghoda Literature Festival from 2005 to 2010. He’s a visiting faculty at IIM A & a guest lecturer at IIM L & other business schools. He is particularly interested in entrepreneurship, innovation, business strategy & incubation, purpose & culture, leadership & next practices.

Katja Splichal(Germany)
, is head of online, software and new product development at Stuttgart based publisher Eugen Ulmer since 2013. Since April 2014, she is also heading the online publishing department and is member of the Executive Committee. Her main fields of work include the development of the CMS, the development of digital business models, the implementation of solutions for digital publishing in e-books, apps, e-papers and databases, as well as support for the e-learning business segment. Prior to that, she was the Head of Media Relations & Product Development at PaperC from 2011 to 2013.

Consumer Insights by Nielsen India, Vikrant Mathur: Vikrant Mathur was appointed as Associate Director of Nielsen BookScan in 2010 and currently heads the India operations of Nielsen Book. He and his team are also responsible for the development and sales of Nielsen BookData information services and instrumental in educating the book industry about the importance of metadata to both publishers and booksellers and the benefit and value to their businesses. With more than 13 years of experience in the Market Research Industry, Mathur has worked across verticals including information, technology and consumer markets.
Check the pictures from the previous sessions and see the intense discussions:

I am sure by now you truly wish to be a part of this! So hurry there are only a few seats left! Click on the link below for registration and other details: