“As I heard my name being called on stage again for the Lifetime Achievement Award, my mind returned to the present and I slowly climbed the steps leading up to the stage. Each step was a reminder of the journey that has lasted over forty years. It was a journey filled with rejections, negative comments and disapprovals, along with appreciation, a lot of love and affection. I hope that I have somehow been the voice for people who remain shy, hidden and unknown and yearn for an outlet of expression,” writes Sudha Murty, in her latest book, Here, There and Everywhere. This also happens to be her 200th title. Murty has authored a plethora of books- fiction and non-fiction, for adults and children, as well as travelogues and technical books.
Here, There and Everywhere contains Murty’s experiences that have been published earlier on and handpicked for this edition. It also contains two new stories that illuminate two different areas that have been an interesting part of her life: her literary journey and her views on philanthropic activities.
I particularly enjoyed the chapter on her literary journey, and the role played by her mother in encouraging these literary pursuits. Having studied in Kannada and only written in that language to becoming one of the popular authors in the country today, has been a long and eventful journey. From her early days of struggle to purchase books due to lack of money, to her gradual success as a writer, this chapter covers it all with candid humour. What remains poignant in the story is the fact that Murty realised early on that her writings touched people and made a difference to their lives. Armed with this knowledge she has used her tool- that of the pen, to continue making a difference to people’s lives.
The works of Sudha Murty have a very inspirational quality about them. In addition, the sheer simplicity of language and ideas make it accessible to all readers. She writes about this book: “I wanted to keep my style distinctive and portray it exactly the way I am,” Hence, the book is devoid of any flowery or ‘elitist’ language. It is more of a conversation that Murty wants to have with her readers.
Each short story in this book is actually a real life experience that Sudha Murty has woven into the narrative. Each instance is heartwarming and exemplifies how people can touch each other’s lives in a deep and meaningful manner.
The story, “May you be the mother of a hundred children” describes a sweet and subtle twist to this old blessing! “How to beat the boys” chronicles her experience of being the only girl along with 149 boys in an engineering college. She handled the ragging with gusto, facing mental trauma in a sense, but never gave up her academic goals. Inconveniences like absence of toilets for girls led her to later take up the task of construction of toilets for women. She broke gender barriers by always topping the classes and passing with flying colours. This story is inspirational for all and just shows what grit and determination can do. Her account of her work with devadasis is also heart wrenching! “The meaning of philanthropy” contains her views on philanthropy. One associates the name of Sudha Murty with some of the best philanthropic activities in the country.
Despite all the wealth and high social status that Sudha Murty is associated with, this is a book that shows how one person can change many lives. The stories show the true meaning of philanthropy, and an example of a life well lived.
Not all stories in this book are about her philanthropic activities. In her numerous travels she has encountered interesting personalities and somewhere or the other all these find a way into the stories.
Perhaps the best summary of the book is outlined in Murty’s own words, “this book contains some of my most cherished experiences that are like beautiful flowers to me and have been put together here as if to complete a garland.” Here, There and Everywhere by Sudha Murty is a timeless book that infuses the reader with a spirit of warmth and humanity!
OTHER BOOKS BY SUDHA MURTY
Author: Sudha Murty
The Kama Sutra is an ancient collection of erotic texts by Vatsyayana, a sage from the third century who compiled one of the best known texts on sexuality. Today, various scholars have interpreted the Kama Sutra and it makes a mark on the rich heritage of ancient texts of India.
However, while the Kama Sutra itself has elicited great interest worldwide, how many people have ever wondered about Vatsyayana himself? Who was he? What compelled him to write this treatise?
Jaya Misra, Writer, Director and Producer, takes us into the life and times of Vatsyayana, in her debut novel Kama. This is a fictionalized account of the tale of Vatsyayana.
It is the year 273 AD. There is trouble and unrest as the grip of the ancient Vedic texts loosens. An uncontrolled sense of freedom has led to chaos in a society that seems to be spiralling to moral destruction. It is against this backdrop, that the writer imagines Vatsyayana writing the great treatise.
Kama explores the motivation behind Vatsyayana’s task of compiling the Kama Sutra. Not much is known about this scholar which makes it possible to imagine the trajectory of his life. This is exactly what Misra does, building a background to the story behind the Kama Sutra. As she wittingly puts it, “like everything in our lives, this story too could be a version of the truth’
Bookedforlife chats with the author to unveil the story behind the Kama Sutra.
At first, it was curiosity, about the mind that wrote this book. When I first read the English translation, I was stunned to find out that Vatsyayana had compiled seven erotic books into one! Being a fiction writer, I began to wonder what his life must have been like. I was sure he was no celibate. For even though Kama Sutra is written rather pedantically, there is underlying wit, there is a deep insight. So, a picture of this intriguing deep philosophical sexy man began to form. I was sure from the moment I wrote the first word, that underneath the 2000-year-old Kamasutra, was the real story of the writer, that we will never know! That thought consumed me and I decided to write my version of what his life could have been like!
There is not much known about Vatsyayana historically, except that he wrote this book and at one point lived in Varanasi. He pays no homage to any King, therefore it’s even more difficult to pin him down. He reveals nothing of himself in the Kama Sutra. His date of birth is also under a 300-year discrepancy! To create a believable story, I decided to place him in an era that is hardly written about by historians, between the Mauryas and the Guptas. So, my book is entirely fiction. Each character, event and journey is fictional. The date is fictitious, as are his life and times. Only Kamasutra or any reference to it is real.
I read a lot about the Guptas and I took a lot of inspiration from Kalidasa’s plays, I travelled to ancient heritage sights, temples, spoke to a lot of professors of ancient history, to imagine a background. But then once I began to write all research sort of melted into one pot and a story rolled out! Professor Agarwal’s The Unknown Kama Sutra and A.N.D Haksar’s Kama Sutra were my favourite go-to research books. Haksar has possibly written the finest translation of the Kama Sutra. The Unknown Kama Sutra by Professor Agarwal is an undiscovered GEM! It is an anthology of ancient love aphorisms.
In my preface, I have stated that this was a time where learned men refused to believe that women could even orgasm. What could not be ejaculated did not exist. Therefore, in those days, women were not even allowed to study scriptures. Vatsyayana, in his initial chapters of the Kama Sutra, has very politically correctly and diplomatically, dealt with this, stating that women too are affected by Kama. Its only when they get to study it, they can learn how to practice it. Then, he goes ahead to write an entire book for men, about how to pleasure women! For me this was a bold stand taken by a man 2000 years ago for women to have equal rights in pleasure! Book 7 in Kamasutra is entirely about the rights of courtesans!
I am overwhelmed with the feedback flowing in from the readers. I feared that the erotica would be labelled porn. But most readers, old women, young men, middle aged readers, have written back that the sexual descriptions are very natural and sensual. I wrote this book with all my heart and soul! I’m just happy it has made an impact and people have related to the characters. All readers are hankering for a sequel. That’s a good sign, I suppose!
Honestly, being a screenwriter, I see things very visually in my head. Television writing has taught me the science of keeping the viewer gripped. The narrative was not something I had decided on, it just flowed out as I wrote the story. It was very natural for me to play with the past and present up to a point and then jump into the future. I think engaging tales come from the universe, with their own energy, to the story teller.
Author: Jaya Misra
Publisher: Om Books International
On 1 January 1818, Frankenstein, a novel that gained phenomenal success was published. The thrilling page turner was written by Mary Shelley. The book caught on immediately. It was so successful that people thought a man had written it…outrageous as this may sound right now! The appeal of Frankenstein still continues 200 years after its publication. Why is that so?
Let’s rewind back into the year 1816, the year when this classic was first conceptualized. It was on a night in 1816 that a group of young Romantic poets gathered together and read ghost stories. One can well imagine the scenario that took place by the shores of Lake Geneva on this dark stormy night. The setting was the salon of Lord Byron. Lord Byron, the famed poet, Byron’s doctor John William Polidori, poet Percy Shelley and his wife Mary Shelley sat talking about philosophy and life. Byron suggested that each of them write a ghost story. The rest, as they say is history.
The story is about Victor Frankenstein, a scientist who is determined to defy nature. He takes the process of creation into his own hands and creates a living being from dead tissue. This nameless being is called ‘The Creature’ in the novel. What ensues is a saga that is as relevant to humanity today as it was 200 years back. What happens to the creature? What is his relationship with his creator? Does this feat turn into a great scientific contribution or does it spiral into something else? The exciting storyline keeps the reader enthralled till the very end.
Even 200 years after the book was published, readers are enthralled by this novel. What is the reason for this timeless appeal of Frankenstein? I believe that humans are constantly at odds with nature. As science seeks to unravel the mysteries of nature and take things in its own hands, nature springs new surprises. We human beings have always used science as a tool to further our progress. We use science to understand natural phenomenon and to control things that were originally beyond our control. Though the world has seen much scientific progress, and though we have spiraled to great heights in terms of scientific advancement, we have still not been able to master death. This conflict of control between science and nature- the control that we seek over nature, will always remain. Till then, any body of work that addresses this conflict will never lose its charm!
Mary Shelley: How Frankenstein is linked to her life
It is very tempting to seek parallels between the life of an author and her work. More often than not, one does find that there are some surprising similarities. Mary Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, a writer and feminist in her own right, died giving birth to her. The separation of the creator and the created echoes in the book as well. Victor Frankenstein’s mother also dies early. Moreover, after giving life to “the creature” Frankenstein is repulsed by it- maybe echoing the feelings that Mary Shelley’s father had when he lost his wife and was left to care for little Mary. The feelings of anger and loss so prevalent in her tumultuous life also find expression in Frankenstein.
Have you read Frankenstein?
Coming back to the novel in question, we can safely say that Frankenstein remains a timeless work. It is so popular and has pervaded our collective consciousness so much, that the dictionary actually has a meaning for the word “Frankenstein”! It means (and you guessed right) a thing that destroys its creator.
The Frankenstein magic continues 200 years on. This is probably a great time to read or reread the classic. The appeal of Frankenstein will not diminish!
V. Raghunathan’s first novel, Return to Jammu, is the story of Balan- the son of a junior army officer. In a friendly conversational tone, the author takes us through Balan’s life, weaving in a nostalgic story of love and loss.
Return to Jammu starts off, almost chronologically, with Balan’s background and childhood days. As one reads through the minutiae one gets a glimpse of the India of the 1950s. The plot is not entirely evident in the first few chapters. But, before the reader dismisses this building up as trivial, he or she is completely taken in by V. Raghunathan’s great sense of humour. The author’s trademark sarcasm laces the entire story. Each page brings a smile to the face…or a hearty chuckle!
Consider the following lines where he talks about birthday celebrations:
Besides, not having celebrated Urmila’s first birthday with any fanfare, my mother was loathe to make any song and dance about my first birthday just because I was an only boy. She had, after all, made no song and dance for Urmila, the only girl. But try telling that to good Punjabis; they may make the warmest of friends and neighbours but do not easily take no for an answer, especially in matters of sons and feasts.
Off to Jammu…
Balan arrives at Pathankot, and the family travels to Jammu where his father is to be based. The ensuing descriptions of seven years in the area throw up many interesting themes. One gets an idea of the landscape of Jammu in the 1950s-the brown canals with iced water, the local flora and fauna that were an integral part of the childhood described by the author.
The author’s descriptions also evoke the feel of an era past, where people lived so differently. For instance, simple things like the use of aluminum casted heating coil to heat bathing water in a tub, and how sub canals doubled up as refrigerators is quite far from the scenario today. The simple childhood he evokes, the schooling of those years, unrestricted time with siblings and the close knit neighborhood will surely take the reader down the memory lane.
Interspersed with the relatively isolated life in Jammu, he talks about world events that also occurred during that time, such as the launch of Sputnik by Russia and so on. Indian political events such as the leadership of Nehru and wars with China and Pakistan form a part of the narrative. But, these major events do not change life drastically for the young Balan.
In a sense it paints a vivid picture of India of that time through the eyes of a child- the humdrum of daily life, a father who’d rather avoid the responsibility of a good husband and dad, growing up with two sisters in an India vastly different from today, a mother who managed the house with strain and dedication…..these are all elements that form the early part of the narration.
However, as Balan grows he turns out to be dedicated, hardworking and confident. Life takes him to the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad. He meets a girl named Jasmine who he recounts as a childhood friend, Jeevan Asha. They had spent many memorable years in Jammu. However, she does not acknowledge this. This is when the reader’s curiosity peaks.
The book then moves fast, amidst this heightened ‘suspense’. Balan makes a trip to Jammu to find out the truth about Jeevan Asha. Will the journey reveal if the girl he has met is indeed his childhood friend? Will the visit reveal a changed city torn from the idyllic Jammu of his past?
Jammu has changed indeed. When Balan returns he sees a different land from the one he grew up in. This comes across poignantly in the descriptions of the canals of his childhood:
If my first sight of the same canal has astonished me in 1959 for the beautiful view it held, now, in 1983, it’s condition shocked me. What had been a beautiful, flowing and clean canal was now a shallow slush, full of garbage, with an abundance of polythene bags, a couple of street curs and a few crows, one of them even pecking at a dead frog.
The end is touching and equally poignant. It may describe an event in the life of one individual, but the reader will see that human emotions and situations are common across all. In that sense, love and loss, and how we deal with them, will always remain common concerns.
V. Raghunathan is an academic and has written vastly in the nonfiction genre. This is his first fiction book. The instances in the novel and probably bits of the character of Balan himself seem to be inspired by his own life.
Filled with nostalgia this is also a story about growing up, leaving the innocence of childhood and dealing with pain and loss as one navigates through life. A great sense of humour pervades Return to Jammu, which makes it a heady mix of humour fueled nostalgia!
Title: Return to Jammu
Author: V. Raghunathan
OTHER BOOKS BY V. RAGHUNATHAN
The Legend of Virinara by Usha Alexander seems to be a parable of modern times in its concerns and themes though it is set in an ancient world where the monarch, Raja Vijay rules the mighty state Virinara. The powerful king expands his kingdom, eating into the surrounding forests. However, the forest dwellers are not ones to be subdued. They respond with an act of terror. The kingdom, that has been peaceful so far, is shaken.
Peace and compromise is the only way out. Raja Vijay’s beloved sister Shanti ventures deep into the forest alone to seek a solution. But stories of power and politics are never so simple. She falls in love with the forest warrior Narun. A peacemaker between the two rivals, she seeks a nonviolent path to resolving the conflict. Does she succeed in establishing peace or are humans ever destined for war and the havoc that ensues?
The story is narrated by Shanti, in a flashback. Her half sibling who has renounced worldly life to become a monk writes the story as she narrates it. The narrative moves back and forth from the present to past thus adding interesting layers to the tale.
The fast paced story moves towards its conclusion with twists and turns that keep the reader anticipating what the next turn of events would be. The politics of the royalty, the basic difference between the lives of the modern settled folk and the nomads, the hierarchical nature of society, the corrupting nature of power, putting individual animosities above common good- all these are the factors that come in the way of ‘diplomatic conversations’ and peaceful solutions to the problem.
We are in a world filled with conflicts of all kinds. There is an internal conflict between who we wish to be and who we believe we have to become for the sake of duty. The characters undergo these complex internal conflicts. And then, there is an external conflict that we are all familiar with. The conflict between the forest dwellers and the town dwellers who seek to expand into the forest forms an important theme as well. The conflicting interests between groups, the role of diplomacy, tact and violence in this saga makes it a story that is so relevant to our times despite being set in the past.
The Legend of Virinara is set in times when the role and status of women was relegated to childbearing and running the household. Against this background, the women of the Royal household who are integral to the story are strong and they try and rise above the ‘status’ accorded to them by society. Eelar-amma, the kings step mother, is a wise and just woman who uses her influence for the good of all. The protagonist Shanti, is a brave woman who steers the course of her own life despite trying factors around her.
The Legend of Virinara clearly has a deep philosophical message about life and the times we live in. It also shows the importance of forming your own philosophies rather than being brainwashed by prevailing thoughts. As Shanti says in the book of her knowledge and growth, “I sampled them all: Mahavira, Carvaka, other teachers from distant lands- even obscure cults and unsung teachers, whose names have long since dropped from our discourses. I devoted myself finally to none of them. I found each of them incomplete. I walk my own way. And that’s what I encourage in the youths who come to learn from me,”
In that sense the book portrays that “There are different ways of understanding and knowing and not every story is true in the same way,”
It also illuminates how individual equations interfere with larger scheme of things. As Shanti encapsulates her life in words, her discussions with the monk reveal deep philosophies that seek to find a solution to the problems that mankind has always faced- problems of conflict and violence.
Perhaps the best way to describe The Legend of Virinara is in these words- “It’s your story and it is our story. A true story of our world. Perhaps someone will find a reflection of themselves and their times in your words,”.
Title: The Legend of Virinara
Author: Usha Alexander
Publisher: Penguin Books
Sonia Shah’s book, The Fever, an account of the journey of one of the most pervasive and deadliest diseases on earth- Malaria, could not have been better timed. Even as the book seeks to uncover the mystery of malaria, there are movements world over to grapple with this disease. As the recently held Malaria Summit London 2018 showed, we have reached a stage where global political will has to be directed towards the eradication of this disease that has plagued mankind for years, and continues to do so. The summit provided backing to this cause and called upon the Commonwealth nations to show bold political action against what is clearly the world’s deadliest disease.
Man and mosquito…the relationship spans centuries. Investigative journalist Sonia Shah looks into the complex struggle of mankind to eradicate and overpower the dreadful disease malaria.
“Humans have suffered the disease for more than 500,000 years. And not only does it still plague us, but it has also become even more lethal. That’s quite a feat for a disease that we’ve known to prevent and cure for more than a hundred years”, writes Shah, thereby setting the context for the book.
Why does malaria tax us so?
Despite knowing how to avoid it, and what causes it, we’ve still not managed to overpower malaria. Why?
The Fever discusses various reasons as to why malaria continues to be a ferocious and pervasive killer. Based on research and interactions with experts Shah outlines several factors that lead to this scenario. The intrinsic parasitical nature of the pathogen, conquests and colonization that exposed those who had no inherent immunity to the germ and many other factors have contributed to this.
Human factors also augment the problem. Rapid Construction and urbanisation, stagnant water, changes in local ecology, building dams and digging trenches for wars are only some of these reasons. In fact, the book even describes how malaria is one of the problems associated with climate change.
Right from the early ages when tribes hacked forests to grow plants thus unknowingly creating great conditions for mosquitoes to breed and thrive in, to modern unbridled urbanization which again gives creates favourable environs, the human-mosquito connections have been going on for years.
As Shah puts it, “Our mining, logging and farming projects continue to disrupt environmental conditions in ways that create and spread malaria to this day,”.
She also quotes many examples of how seemingly progressive developmental measures set off a fertile ground for mosquitoes to attack once more. For example, the agricultural and mineral extraction projects of the Brazilian government disrupted the Amazon jungle environment. The resultant case load of malaria infected patients is anyone’s guess. Closer home, the building boom in Mumbai has been linked to a sharp rise in cases of malaria as well.
Unsurprisingly, she says, “Part of the problem is that some of the most desirable natural resources rest under prime malaria stomping grounds,”.
An expert opinion
It takes but a glance at the bibliography behind the book to gauge the exhaustive referencing done for the purpose of this book.
Well, it’s not all bookish stuff though! The references in the book notwithstanding, Shah has travelled across the world to meet experts in the realm in a host of places including South America, Africa and India to unravel this mystery of malaria. Her acute and sharp observations coupled with inputs from experts also makes up a good portion of the book.
What I found particularly interesting is the history of development of the mosquito as a parasite- how the germ developed into a parasite as a part of its evolution. There is also a detailed explanation of how exactly the malarial parasite works- a kind of look into its operations if you please!
Talking of evolution, there are many interesting descriptions in the book that bring out how three different evolutions have resulted in the situation we find ourselves in today: first, the evolution of mosquitoes. Second, the evolution of the plasmodium that the mosquito carries. Lastly, the evolution of human response to this.
Shah neatly ties together these three aspects.
In between the more scientific explanations of the spread of malaria, there are some interesting historical nuggets that the reader will enjoy. What role did malaria play in the loss of independence of Scotland? How did it intensify racial bias against Africans, due to different immune responses? Did the Roman penchant for fountains lead to a relatively quicker spread? These are truly the stories that make the book interesting.
Human beings have always been armed with drugs that counter the disease. The earliest known cure from plant extracts such as quinine from the cinchona tree has an interesting history behind it, which is outlined in detail in the book. Who knew that the world wars would lead to the loss of this divine remedy when Japan seized control of the production? However, this led to the development of other drugs in medical labs.
The book traces the development of medical interventions for malaria, in the West as well as the East. For example, artemisinin from China was extracted by referring to ancient Chinese methods. The book chronicles the struggle for the ‘right’ drug at accessible prices against the backdrop of power struggles and unregulated production of drugs, sometimes unfortified with another combination drug (like in case of artemisinin) that caused the parasite to develop resistance against the medicine. Fake drugs and drug monopoly are also issues that plague the efforts of malaria eradication, and she discusses these as well. It is fascinating to read how malaria has defanged drugs designed to obliterate it.
While the book outlines the dismal health care facilities in countries like Africa, the pathetic conditions that force people to rely on traditional cures rather than modern medicines, it is chronicles the beauty of the relentless work that health experts world over are doing to eradicate this disease.
Shah establishes that since malaria is altered by local conditions, a one size fits all approach can’t be used here.
She takes a critical look at different aspects of malaria treatment research such as vaccine research, role of DDT, the neglect of developed nations in making an effort to eradicate malaria, treated nets and so on.
The reader may just also catch hints of irony and sarcasm as she mentions the gap between the highly funded NGOs that take on the disease eradication efforts and the ground realities- showing that sadly, things are more complex than what they seem.
The light touches of humour that mark the book make it quite accessible to non-experts as well. Shah mentions in the book, “It is as if scientists had to come up with a whole new language to talk about Malaria,”. Thankfully however, her own language is quite simple, readable and laced with humour.
But, there are some poignant and sad moments as well. Researchers may talk about malaria and related deaths in a purely scientific way. However, Shah gently brings in the human aspect when she discusses case studies of how the deadly parasite has been fatal for many. In touching descriptions, the text reveals how sometimes despite all the efforts to fight the parasite, a sense of hopelessness sometimes reigns.
The book will be of interest to practitioners involved in malaria treatments, students, those who have keen interest in studying the development and treatment of diseases, people from the pharmaceutical industry as well as those who seek to enhance their knowledge on this topic that has great implications for human health. It also holds important lessons for those involved in policy making and health care.
The Fever by Sonia Shah is a well-researched and robust attempt to solve the mystery of malaria.
Author: Sonia Shah
Publisher: Penguin Books
OTHER BOOKS BY SONIA SHAH
Art is a beautiful way to express one’s ideas and feelings. Many people shy away from it as they get lost in its complexity and abstraction. Art Apart is a young company aiming to create art related products which will engage the viewers in more active way. One of the product lines, visual story books, enables everyone to make their own interpretation of the ‘story’ through their own experiences and tastes.
The books created by Art Apart have almost no text, but only images. They are open to interpretation in carried ways. This makes reading the same book a very different experience for different readers. In a sense, using the term ‘books’ to describe their ‘books’ seems odd as well…. their ‘books’ are shaped like accordions, cards, fold-outs and what not.
All the books created by Art Apart try and make a point. What kind of experience do you want to provide to your reader?
All the books have a definite storyline, but because there is no text in them and the narration is only through illustrations, one is compelled to think of the textual narrative for themselves. To create this narrative, everybody has to understand the story in their own way. Their age, occupation, experiences influence the way they would interpret the story. So in that sense it becomes their own story. This experience of becoming the co-author of the book is what I think is very important and unique.
What age groups are the books for? Are specific books targeted at a particular age group?
Anybody of any age can own these books and make them their story. We have a notion that all illustrated books are for children and not for adults. That’s why most of the books for adults have lots of text and no illustrations. So, I have deliberately reversed this format for my books- There is no text, only visuals. I believe children are very comfortable with illustrations. They immediately start creating their own stories by looking at visuals. It becomes a little difficult for adults to adapt to this format. When they hold this book, they immediately start searching for the pages with text on them. And when they realize that there is none anywhere, they either dismiss it concluding that it is for children or ask the creator why is it the way it is.
You have experimented with the form of the book. What was the thought process?
The thought process behind the books is very simple – if you want to tell a story, tell it straight. Draw simple illustrations. Draw only what is necessary. Draw every step of the narration, and remember, if you understand the story when complete, then everybody will.
The form of the accordion books is not my original idea. It evolved when we were discussing about how differently we can present these sequential stories in the best manner possible. The name accordion book is given because of the way it opens up, bit by bit, like an accordion. The form of these books is very flexible. The viewer can either see one or two panels at a time or the whole story according to their preference. In accordion books, the story unfolds step by step, so there is a sense of surprise and excitement about what could come next. It is a very dynamic form for the creator as well because they have to adapt the story according to the form it is going to be presented in. There is a possibility of continuing the story at the backside as well and maybe connecting it to the front side so that there is a circular narration. For the viewers also it is more of an engaging form than a normal book.
When I want to convey an idea, not necessarily in a linear way, I like the form of separate cards. These cards can be handled freely, as a collection or as individual cards. They can be arranged in any manner the viewer wants, as a single entity or collectively. They can be displayed on a wall or hung by a thread or can be devised as a game.
What is your inspiration?
I am more of a doer than a thinker. When I paint, I don’t usually think about the output beforehand. I start by choosing a piece of paper and a few materials to draw with. Initially I draw whatever comes in my mind at that moment and that line or shape or colour on the paper inspires me to develop the painting further. I follow this process till I think it is enough. I don’t restrict myself with conventional canvas and oil paint combination. I like trying out different materials like stones, charcoal, thread, oil pastels, foil paper, used cardboard boxes, printed paper, etc. that are available around us in different forms. The process of application also changes with materials used. With all these raw materials, one can do lots of different things like cutting, pasting, smudging, mixing, etc. New, exciting materials around me and the different kinds of processes that come with them inspire me to create. I am constantly observing my surroundings and drawing inspiration from various things, not consciously every time. Some experiences get stored in your head and they come out sometime in different ways, through unexpected outcomes.
Can you share some of the feedback for your books?
I was overwhelmed by the ways in which people appreciated and responded to my products. They related their own experiences and interests with stories and created various meanings out of them. People from various disciplines also related with various instances from their work life to interpret the stories and ideas behind our products in their own way.
I met many counsellors and therapists who thought the products were good tools to initiate conversation among a group of people or for behavioural training programs. I interacted with a Ph.D. student who was doing her research on mental illness, and thought that the interactive cards could be useful to have an unusual conversation with her subjects. Many school teachers were interested in the products as means to stimulate abstract thinking and creativity among their students. People from design schools were interested in using these cards for stimulating visual thinking and design thinking. Many social organizations were interested in using them for training programs, team building and capacity building.
It was a great experience to watch people go through the products. There were expressions of utter confusion, joy, surprise, realization on people’s faces which were very satisfactory to watch. Some children started narrating stories as soon as they started scrolling through the book. Some adults took time to get used to the idea of stories without any text in them. Some went through the book from end towards the start, only to realize that there is a certain story there and then started from the beginning again. Some were more interested in the poems at the back of the book while some went back and forth multiple times to connect the visuals. Just watching variety of people interacting with something that I had created was a very fulfilling experience for me.
How do you market the books?
Right now we are planning to sell our products in three ways: Firstly, by registering with art and literature festivals like Kala Ghoda Art Festival to create awareness about our products and to get constructive and application-related feedback from our potential consumers. Secondly we will try to sell our products by specifically targeting institutional buyers such as schools, schools for children with special needs, organizations providing behavioural training, etc. Thirdly, we will try to sell our products through our website –www.artapart.in. We are also planning to make them available for sale through Amazon in the near future.
Art Apart has indeed changed the way we look at books and narration. Here’s looking forward to many more products and books that marry art, book making, storytelling and personal interpretation.
It was not long ago when it seemed that the appreciation of poetry was dying. But, the millennial generation is a surprising one. Today, youngsters have de-mystified poetry and many people enjoy the form. It flashes everywhere on social media and the accessibility of the genre has widened considerably. It is at this time that Safran, Aishwarya Nir’s debut collection of poetry, brings in a fresh perspective on simple everyday things.
The name ‘Safran’ reminds one of Saffron with its pure fragrance. “Safran is an anglicised pronunciation of the word Saffron. I felt the experiences mentioned in the book are as fragile, rare and overpowering like the threads of saffron. I also liked how this word encapsulated the Urdu word ‘Safar’ implying journey,” explains Nir.
The book is divided into three sections- Live, Love and Imagine. The poems in each of these sections broadly adhere to these themes.
The poetry has been penned by a millennial herself and hence it reflects the unique thought process and desires of this generation. “The way I see it Safran resonates with the young because it stands for limitlessness, it stands for no structures and it stands for brief yet beautiful,” explains Nir.
Indeed, some of the themes that come forth mirror a millennial thought process:
An extract from ‘To A Happy Start’ talks about freedom to discover oneself on the journey of life…
I want to travel
With the path, and not to the destination,
Knowing a part of me
I’ve not known before.
Another extract from ‘Fear Holds Me Together And Becomes My Anchor’ shows how fear makes us conform…
I have neatly pinned
my boundaries and seams,
like an outline of my own,
I dare not go.
‘Labels’ is a take on relationships…
No! I don’t want you
to give a name to it.
The world can define
what is between us.
talk. Sleep in peace.
While we will lay awake
In each other’s dreams;
what it truly is.
I particularly enjoyed some short poems which were quite profound. While the initial draft of the book had really long verses, Nir took months to edit and craft them into small ones.
For instance, the poem ‘Let It Go. Even If It Comes Back, It Was Never Yours. We Are All On Our Own’ is compact and to the point.
I stood on the seashore
and observed the waves.
Life keeps throwing things
and taking them away.
Illustrations by Aanchal Kejriwal accompany the poems and beautifully highlight the key themes of the poems. Nir and Kejriwal conceptualised the illustrations together and the latter brought them to life.
Safran is a refreshing collection of poems that exudes many new thoughts and infuses fresh vibrancy in poems for millennials.
Author: Aishwarya Nir
Publisher: Virgin Leaf books, Leadstart Publishing Pvt Ltd.
Philosophers have often said that man has learnt much about the universe and how it functions. But, what of the inward journey? Corporate trainer and coach Shashank Kasliwal delves within the human psyche in his new book, Freedom from the I. He uncovers the origin of negativity- the ego. In the book he explores how we can rid ourselves of these negative states of mind so that we can ultimately be on the path to a free mind and real success.
For each concept explained in the book you have shared examples from your life. As a writer, was it difficult to lay bare these emotional vulnerabilities? Or, did it provide a kind of catharsis?
When one is able to see the fact as fact and not cover it up under any name, right action follows. If I am internally feeling negative about something or my energies are negative and I keep pursuing positivity, then that leads to hypocrisy and I am broken from within. But when I see myself or a situation the way it is, I am able to find the cause that helps me remove it, otherwise I keep fooling myself. So it was neither difficult nor it was a form of catharsis. It was simply seeing the truth for what it is.
Introspection and self-awareness seem to be crucial themes underlying the book. In today’s fast paced world where things spiral around us, how would you suggest a person start becoming self-aware?
The beauty with self-awareness is that you don’t have to stop other activities and close your eyes and introspect. Self-awareness is a simultaneous, constant process where I am observant about my inner states and the actions that come out of it. If I am not happy with the results I have in my life, it is the biggest eye opener to see that somewhere your inner states are not in harmony, and that’s why there is disturbance in the outer states. If one is not self-aware then whatever thoughts he gets is just a conditioned response. It will always make you react rather than act. So right now, take your attention to how you are feeling, what are you thinking, what are your intentions, are you in alignment with the purpose of your life or simply running after the goals that society has given to you. Just pause and see with all your senses; neither condemning nor criticising but just seeing the way you are, your whole inner psychological paraphernalia.
In the book there are instances when you mention how people use alcohol as a tool to escape looking inward. I would like to know more about your thoughts on the same….
The inner restlessness can be a big clue to work upon oneself. But, instead of doing that, many people consume alcohol to run away from what they are dealing with. They don’t want to look at the situation upfront but blame other people for it. People, who take responsibility in their life for their own life, need not consume alcohol and spoil their organism. When you consume alcohol it impacts your brain adversely, is bad for your body and disturbs the mental and emotional balance. People primarily drink to get out of the inhibitions and the worry mode, which are the indicators to act upon oneself. So instead of running from them, one should embrace them. Alcohol consumption for pleasure too is a bad idea because the need of pleasure indicates that you have not found your consciousness, which is a flow of bliss that does not need anything to be in that state.
You talk in detail about how emotional blocks are created and how these alongside negative thoughts can actually affect our bodies physically. How would you very briefly explain what a person can do to avoid these ‘blocks’?
When one is aware and does not let any image create in the present in his mind of the situations he goes through then there cannot be any emotional blocks. Blocks gets created when one is inattentive, not listening properly to what is being said…when one does not live from the truth of life which lies in impermanence. When one continuously while interacting stays attentive with all the senses then the old blocks too do not surface and slowly lose their grip on us.
You talk about the development of the ego due to conditioning. This implies that if parents are aware of the concepts you talk about, it can go a long way in raising children who are inward-looking and free from conditioning. Any tips you would like to give parents specifically?
When parents stop operating from fear, become authentic about their own disorderly life and are willing to work together with their children on their lives too, then something can be done about it. If they become realistic and not push their children to follow ideals and run after success, they can have their children possess an intelligent mind. This means a mind that operates with spontaneity and does not just conform and follow what it has been told. Parents need to drop their own insecurities and not try to look for securities in their children’s future. When they stop seeking for their children, children will be free internally and will be creative, understanding and complete holistic human beings. This way our nation too will be built with honest citizens who have a high level of integrity as they will not identify themselves with success, pleasure, sex and money, which is the foundation of the ego.
Are you working on another book?
I am working on “Gita”, where Krishna talks about what life is all about and how one should live it. Right from the beginning Arjuna feels that if he does not fight the war, the war won’t happen. Arjuna thinks he is the doer and that’s the cause of suffering whereas Krishna says, “war is based on other innumerable factors.” “The problem with you is that you think that you are the doer whereas all actions are happening not by you but through you by the divine.” This is what Krishna is trying to tell Arjuna- allow the actions to happen on their own and let the divine take the responsibility.
Freedom from the I by Shashank Kasliwal reveals that it is our thoughts that trap us and our thoughts that set us free. What one needs to know is how to think the right ones!
Title: Freedom from the I
Author: Shashank Kasliwal
Publisher: Jaico Books
“Just read the story, turn the pages, believing that it must be happening somewhere” writes VP Kale in his collection of short stories, Karmachari. That ‘somewhere’ could actually be anywhere considering the vast and common appeal that his works have.
Vasant Purushottam Kale (1932-2001) was a very prolific writer who wrote in Marathi. He was popularly known as “VaPu”. He also started the trend of reading his stories to live audiences. His stories are known for their insightful characterization. Karmachari, a collection of his short stories translated into English by Vikrant Pande, now brings this vibrant universe to a new generation of readers.
The characters you encounter in the book are ordinary people. But, it takes the pen of a genius to draw us into their deepest emotions, secrets and their surprising strengths.
These short stories will introduce you to a host of characters who will surprise you. A portly man on a train with an overbearing wife turns out surprisingly intelligent and mature. A rich upper class fellow travels by local train to “help” people in his unique style. A middle class contractor’s feelings of fear and guilt on taking his first bribe. A man who can’t let go of grudges till death. A middle aged man feeling attracted to a past lover. A married couple trying to understand each other. An anxious father who loses a beloved son, and many more memorable characters.
The reader will notice that the names of chapters are names of characters in the story. This underscores the importance of the character as central to the story rather than any plot or storyline. Furthermore, each story is in the first person. The narrator is speaking directly to the reader. He also builds up the story through conversation. So yes, you can forget about long drawn descriptions! The stories move fast towards their conclusion, using conversation as rungs.
Karmachari is set in the suburban Mumbai of the 1970s, predominantly in a middle class locale. However, this does not mean that these are restricted to a particular group alone.
V.P.Kale’s insight into human psychology is truly profound. Hence, despite the seeming boundary of the ‘setting’ his stories truly rise up to apply to a general human condition.
One of his characters in the short stories says:
I enjoy the diversity of human beings. Everyone has their own traits, whims and characteristics. And getting to know someone new is exciting because it opens new avenues for such discoveries.
In ‘Satwalekar’ a new office clerk changes things around much to the irritation of a senior. While gossiping about the reaction of this senior with his confidant in office he says:
“He has all the traits of anger, greed, jealousy, etc. That’s why I say he is a complete human being. I know how to guard myself against such people”
A little later the conversation continues…
“I still believe Tambe isn’t at fault. It’s easy to win over such people. I can win him over any day by ordering a special tea for him”
“Don’t tell me that’s all it takes to win people over”
“Of course! Their expectations are as small as their jealousies”
All these instances, and many more in the book, go on to show that the stories are not really confined to a particular group, but have a human universal appeal.
These short stories were originally written in Marathi. In the English translation, the language is simple and lucid, much like it was in the original works.
Humour that is intrinsic to language is something that is challenging and often lost in translation. But, Vikrant Pande has successfully translated a lot of the wry humour from the original text in Marathi to the English.
For instance, the story ‘Khambette’ mentions:
The trains were running late. There was nothing surprising about that, though. The surprise lay elsewhere: we never knew on what day it would happen.
The translation is so seamless that unless someone points it out, the reader would not know that this is a translation!
There is a philosopher in every man- no matter how ‘common’ he is. Each of the characters who are a part of the stories in Karmachari, add to it by taking on their own philosophical angle to the situation.
In the last story, titled Vandana Samant VP Kale appears in the story as a writer character himself. It is here that he finally cements his belief as the writer being an observer of society and people, and a chronicler of sorts.
Another poignant aspect of the stories, despite their philosophical bent, is that Kale refuses to moralise. In that sense he is sympathetic to the inner worlds of all his characters irrespective of whether they are perceived as positive or negative by general society mores.
VP Kale’s Karmachari is a collection of stories that rises above boundaries and lines and transcends to universal appeal.
Author: Vasant Purushottam Kale
Translated by: Vikrant Pande
Publisher: Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins