Financial Journalist Deepali Gupta has covered the economy and stories of big corporate houses over the past 15 years. In Tata vs Mistry- The Inside Story, published by Juggernaut she dons the mantle of an impartial investigator looking out for what really happened. In a conversation with Bookedforlife, she talks about her first book…
The firing of Cyrus Mistry and the events that ensued shook South Mumbai, which arguably runs corporate India and the private Indian economy. It resonated with almost the entire business community as well as those outside of it. Yet, was spoken of only in hush tones, because invariably the question that loomed was – ‘which side are you on’. Most people I knew in the South Mumbai community did not want to articulate a clear answer.
It raised questions that were crucial to the evolution of Indian business houses on succession, governance, and shareholder rights. It engulfed the entire legal community because of the high profile of the participants – Tata and Mistry. It had several important case studies for public relations, crisis management and in turn business schools. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, this was a story of dilemma, human decisions, and emotional reactions which are telling of the nature of business itself anywhere in the world.
While the news coverage of the events was very high decibel, there are parts in the book which did not and would not find their way into newspapers and magazines. Corporate India, now the world’s fifth largest economy needs to prepare chronicles of its constituents. We owe that to our future generation. I knew if I could pull it off, readers were waiting.
Reaching out to them was one of the first things I did, and some part of me hoped that a response would come. Still, the intensity of the issue and given the prolonged court battle, I was prepared that comments may not be forthcoming. Both sides have maintained respect and propriety towards each other and refrained from speaking in the same vein.
The emotions were running so high and folks on both sides had been friends for so long that people were willing to speak.
I am grateful that they trusted my neutrality adequately to allow me to pursue research and arrive at my findings as I did.
I have largely written for print media over the span of my career, and therefore have learnt to cater to a wide range of readers, from beginners in business to CEOs who need to maximize returns on time spent.
That said, writing a book I found is extremely difficult. When writing non-fiction there are three key elements. The first is research. The second is to filter the material and drop aspects that stray from the story. In a vast Group like the Tata’s, there are so many off-shoots to stories, and each seems critical. That is when the third element kicks in. It is having the ability to tear down your own work, and redo it in the interest of making the reading easier and concise. I had to rewrite most of it at least a couple of times.
There were many big and small ones. Several people close to events confirmed that there had been hurt for a long time, and the event of Mistry’s firing had been coming. Still, the biggest surprise for me was that trouble had begun as early as it did. When I chanced upon some of the correspondence referred to in the book, it was surprising how well articulated the discrepancies had been and yet how few people suspected anything right to the end.
This is the story of dilemma of two people making the best decisions in their situations from their perspectives. The purpose of the book is not to answer Win or Lose, it is to present fact effectively. Paramount here was that both individuals were committed to preserving the institutional integrity of the Tata Group, and if financial results are any measure, that was achieved. Beyond that, whatever the Court decides will be the answer for posterity.
True indeed! However, given the detailed and extensive research that has gone into the book, it is surely a comprehensive study on the facts of the matter. “The initial response to the book has been good. It should spread awareness and further ignite debate on succession, governance, and leadership both in India and overseas. Here you have a two corporate power houses – Tata and Shapoorji Pallonji – that have made a mark globally, and I believe a global conversation with this detailed case study should result in some interesting outcomes,” concludes Gupta.
Founded by Ruchita Dar Shah, First Moms Club (FMC) started as a Facebook group. The platform and community are aimed at connecting Indian mothers across the world, to share the joys and pains of motherhood, and have grown phenomenally over the past 8 years.
A Mother’s Promise is a wonderful and heartfelt compilation of letters, poems and narratives from mums to their children. Why did you specifically choose the theme of “promises’?
I have been running the First Moms Club community for years and there are many conversations that take place on the platform. What caught my eye was that as mothers, it is always about making things better for the kids. We make these silent promises to ourselves. These can be simple things such as, ‘my child will travel more than I did’, or may be, ‘I will always give him a stress-free and safe childhood’, or ‘I will get him to read more’ and so on. It is subtle but a constant thought in everything the moms do. I thought that it would be good to chronicle these heartfelt thoughts into something long-lived.
How do you think the narratives would have been different had older parents penned this down? I notice that many of the writers are relatively young in the parenting journey.
It is at the early stages that we are most invested in the parenting journey. We think about it a lot more. The emotions are rawer as you are living through those feelings for the first time. But yes, narratives would have been different with older mums. My awareness as an older parent is definitely different. Maybe, we are more realistic and do not romanticize it as much!
How did you curate the mix of writers?
We had a mix of writers and everyday mums. You see, I’ve discovered that motherhood turns all of us into storytellers. Sharing it only makes it better!
Why no dads?
We thought of it, but since it was our first book, we wanted to focus it around the mothers, true to the name of our community. Maybe when we come up with a second book, we may have more Dad-writers!
What message do you want the readers to take away at the end of this all?
In the motherhood journey we find that many mums just feel alone. They feel that no one understands them. The idea is to make the readers know that they are not alone. There are so many women who are probably sailing in the same boat, but cannot express themselves. They can derive strength from others’ stories and from knowing that other women are in similar situations.
Of course, we also wanted moms to resonate and relate with the feel-good factor that comes when talking about children and motherhood. I think at the end of it, we want it to be inspirational to moms.
What has made you put this up for free downloading? Any print version coming out soon?
We do plan to put it up on kindle. We want to do so many more stories, and this book was about testing the waters. We are a small team and this was a home-grown affair that’s close to our hearts, so we were hoping people would love it as much as we do. Thankfully, the response has been really good. People read a book looking for something meaningful, and so this has definitely been encouraging.
I think many of the ideas that come out from the book are those of legacy. In a world where mothers encourage individual expression, where we reject shackles of the past, and where we do not want to leave the burden of our thoughts on our children, there is also a desire to leave behind a legacy that they can take forward. How can the modern parent achieve this balance?
It is tough! Today, children are exposed to so much more than what we were. We need to understand they are different people and more importantly, I think we need to accept it. We can introduce them to what we like but we have to learn not be disappointed if they choose a different path. Children are not extensions of you. We need to acknowledge that, and after that, if they do choose carry on your ‘legacy’ then that’s great!
I loved the fact that the mothers who penned these stories down were unapologetic about their decisions. For example, a mum who missed many of her child’s milestones since she worked full-time, did acknowledge that but never in a judgmental manner. This shows a maturity on the part of this generation of parents and children. Would you say that is true of most of ’society’ today?
I think it is because of the way digital medium has spread. We get strength from each other and are open about sharing so many things. People find their own tribe and that’s what online communities are for women. Earlier, we were restricted to the communities we were born into, but today, we can choose communities online. We can express ourselves. People are willing to share personal and intimate details… and that’s how women are finding their voice. The percentage is small but growing. When that happens, it does give people the confidence to be unapologetic about what they truly want and feel.
A Mother’s Promise is replete with touching and heartfelt write-ups by mothers to their children. Well, we can guarantee some tears of joy as the poignant words touch your heart as well as moments of humour. Ultimately, the book leaves you with an overarching feeling that being a parent (with all its challenges) is indeed a blessing!
You can download it from here – https://firstmomsclub.in/a-mothers-promise/
The world of Vintage & Classic Automobiles is an intriguing one. Dedicated and passionate collectors converged at the Osian's - Connoisseurs of Art inaugural Live Vintage & Classic Automobiles Auction in New Delhi in February 2019.
In a chat with Neville Tuli, Chairman – Osian’s Group, Bookedforlife uncovers the story of a slice of India’s automotive heritage and movement…
How was the response to Osian’s Group exhibition and auction earlier this year? Which are the vehicles that you believe are a favourite with enthusiasts?
The auction was a landmark event helping to spearhead India’s growing Automotive Heritage Movement, with thirty-eight top quality Vintage & Classic Cars from the great marques of Cadillac, Rolls-Royce, Daimler, Bentley, Jaguar, Chevrolet, Mercedes-Benz, DeSoto, Wolseley, Dodge, Austin, Riley, Ford, Fiat, Rover and Volvo consigned by many of India’s top Collectors.
Several cars had very impressive provenance, cars from the princely states of India, or cars that have been owned by famous personalities. For example, the freshly restored and award-winning car – a 1933 Rolls-Royce 20/25 HP – was the top seller at the auction fetching a Hammer Price of INR 1.50 Crores; this Rolls-Royce was once owned by Viscount Southwood and the owner of Glenlivet – John Martin.
Even though certain lots did not sell as expected, the magnificent Auction Catalogue- already a collector’s item, the Opening Preview, Exhibition and the final auction with a full house teeming with art collectors and historic vehicle enthusiasts indicated that this auction will prove to be a game changer for the Historic Vehicles market that is still in its infant cash economy-dominated stage, hence stunting its potential, and in the process creating the negative attitudes associated with a cash economy market. Destroying this and replacing it with a more transparent, vibrant market, which is respectful of the automotive history and international conservation traditions is the driving need. It will take another two to three auctions to embed this deep-seated transformation.
While the actual vintage cars are one aspect, could you throw light on the market for automobile memorabilia in India?
All facets of popular culture fascinate India, especially the world related to Transportation and Travel. The Osian’s Group brought in Paris-based Gautam Sen, one of the world’s leading transportation and automotive experts, to head its Transportation, Travel and Tourism Auction House Division. The newly set up division, which was inaugurated formally along with India’s First Vintage, Classic & Racing Automobilia Auction in Mumbai on 26th October 2018, will be India’s first such Division.
The objective has been to introduce India to various automotive ‘cultural treasures’ such as automotive art, artefacts, mascots, rare toy model cars, vintage advertisements, catalogues & brochures, rare film posters which privilege the automobile, and related transportation memorabilia to the enthusiasts and connoisseurs of India.
This was indeed a unique and pioneering initiative which has been three years in the planning. Osian’s curated one of the most extensive, yet exclusive collection of artefacts pertaining to the world of historic vehicles, which was put on display for one week before being put under the hammer. We believe that the interest and investment in historic vehicles and artefacts in India will soon match those with the most important internationally. This subject is critical for the historical and educational eco-system to develop. No economy can sustain growth grow with an intellectual vacuum and below-par understanding of its heritage.
Do you feel that moves by government to curb black money and regularise dealings have had a positive impact on the credibility of the industry?
Changing the black economy mindset is a vast and difficult task. Unless you replace what you destroy with a better structure it will back fire in the short run. However, with another five-year mandate we will get a deeper chance to see the success or not of the demonetisation process in daily attitudes. Any approach requires sustaining, planning and a holistic policy which encourages and nurtures all facets of the market. If any gap stays, a hole can affect all else. Many are working towards the change, and with more cooperation and long term thinking I am sure it will succeed.
However, the existing black economy mafia which prefers to keep the market hidden so that important historical vehicles can be bought cheaply from distressed old families facing liquidity crunch will be destroyed. The Auction path is critical to that. Over the past twenty years Osian’s has succeeded in transforming the black markets for the Indian fine and popular arts, film memorabilia, rare antiquarian books, prints and photographs and crafts, all once rooted in the cash economy mindset, which are today significantly more transparent, intellectually more vibrant and inclusive, hence capable of playing a deeper role in the development of India’s cultural infrastructure. Yet one auction can only instigate the change, it will take a few more auctions and top-quality catalogues, media interest, to gain momentum and lovingly transform the attitudes where most recognise the advantages to the new journey.
Could you tell us a bit about the market potential for historical vehicles in India? The Indian market is relatively nascent. However, we do have many collectors and enthusiasts here. What drives them- the engineering of the vehicles, the provenance or what else? Any specific difference you find here compared to other markets?
Next to the house, the automobile is the most important man-made object. Its multi-dimensional nature, from being a potential scientific and engineering masterpiece to a design and aesthetic delight, fuelled with the possibility of being cool and sexy, linked to the youthful craze for speed and style, provides a unique mix of interest, across all generations. In the last ten years, the European and US Historic Vehicles market have seen this collectible become the fastest growing investment opportunity, and with all the society related collective joys of car ownership, participation in rallies and various Concourse events, this has become a major aspirational and historic heritage nurturing collectible.
Osian’s is taking forward the links with culture and the arts and automobile like few other institutions. It has been one of the founder patrons to the pioneering Osianama Research Center which has organised a new Research Department on Transportation, Travel and Tourism, and has organised a few events, conferences in the past and will do many more in the near future with the leading global Paris-based organisation – FIVA (the International Federation of Historic Vehicles) – and the Federation of Historic Vehicles of India (FHVI), along with other entities willing to collaborate, to provide the much needed academic health to the intellectual eco-system if the world of transportation and travel.
The Historical Vehicle is also a major family owned object with a multi-dimensional involvement across genders and ages. Its future in India is bright once a deeper respect for its history and the financial transparency of its market is assured. For the common citizen to feel a sense of belonging and oneness it is fundamental that many more rallies and pan-national exhibitions are organised, on the street and in the conference hall equally.
Osian’s has done significant analysis and documentation of Vintage cars, as can be seen from your catalogues as well as information posted online. I have seen this across your other catalogues as well. These are collection worthy themselves! Could you briefly tell us about the processes behind this?
Osian’s tradition from day one when it became India’s first auction house was to privilege research and the catalogue. This was pivotal for changing mindsets. To take forward this tradition the Automotive Division needed to bring on board an eminent world authority. So author-historian, and automotive and transportation expert, Paris-based Gautam Sen was selected. He has brought his vast knowledge base and his “library” of information, material and documentation. The Osianama Research Center, will develop a larger dedicated team devoted specifically to researching, collating and documenting information on historic vehicles in India, from every source available. This is an ongoing independent academic process, with many scholars and researchers to join in the coming months. It serves the market as it does academia. Transportation will always straddle this cusp of Lakshmi and Saraswati.
While restoration costs may be relatively low in India, there are high import duties. How does this impact the market?
This is the main area where the government needs to act and bring the necessary change in the laws as there is no risk to the domestic automobile market from Vintage and Classic car importation. Once upon a time Maruti, Gist and Ambassador needed protection, no more. Duties must be slashed on importing historic vehicles. Exports can still be curbed especially of Vintage vehicles.
By keeping the markets “closed” or “restricted” to imports, the prices in India for most historic vehicles is significantly higher than international prices. Thus, the “cost of entry” into the world of historic vehicles in India is higher than in the international markets, and the availability of vehicles are limited. Thus, there is a tendency for the same or similar set of vehicles to “circulate” within the historic vehicle marketplace. At the same time, if we follow the definition for historic vehicles as provided by FIVA, which is any vehicle that is more than 30 years old is historic, then every year a whole set of automobiles should come into the definition of what is a historic vehicle. Most of them would be Indian made automobiles, but we believe that it is important to recognise these as historic too, in fact, more so, as they are all intimately associated with the history of our country. Logically, we should see more and more vehicles coming into the marketplace, and more and more “newer” enthusiasts joining in. Markets are still nascent, many changes are imminent, it is the collectible market to nurture.
In a nutshell, Defining India Through Their Eyes by Sonia Singh (published by Penguin) has conversations with illustrious personalities whose own personal stories have been interwoven with the India narrative. As citizens of a country, when we look back at our lives, and we compare this journey with that of our country we will invariably notice that somewhere these two stories intersect. The personal becomes the political. And, the political becomes the personal.
It is one such journey that Sonia Singh is taking the reader through. Except, this is not really about one individual. It is about a diverse range of personalities who look at India through the unique spectrum of their experiences.
I think that as Indians, engaging in this narrative with the people who have had some role, however big or minuscule in shaping India, is indeed enlightening.
For me, these conversations threw some some interesting behind the scenes information. Reading about Arun Jaitley’s experiences in prison on being arrested during the emergency for instance was quite fascinating. The interview with Dalai Lama threw up wonderful glimpses of how different Prime Ministers of India, right from Pandit Nehru to Narendra Modi have walked the tightrope with China on the issue of Tibet. Raghuram Rajan’s insights into the workings of bureaucracy were an interesting aspect to the chapter that obviously talked about economics largely. Aruna Roy’s activism is inspiring in how it led to a defining moment for the people in form of the RTI act.
Another point I must mention is the selection of personalities. They are so diverse and that really makes it interesting ! You have opposing personalities – on one hand there is Pranab Mukherjee who stood with Indira Gandhi during the Emergency and on the other there is Arun Jaitley who was imprisoned during that time. Personalities like Aamir Khan and Kamal Hassan from the film industry and sports stars like Sania Mirza and Sachin Tendulkar add to this wonderful curated mix of people that includes several more luminaries.
All interviews stand out strongly on their own. Depending on each reader, of course, some of these conversations will resonate more strongly than others.
For me, one of the best interviews was one with our current Finance Minister, who earlier headed the Defense Ministry. We can’t really talk about defining moments in India without reference to some bold decisions taken on the Indian response to terrorism. The interview with Nirmala Sitharaman, who at the time of the publication of the book was the Defence Minister, is very fiery and very inspirational. A woman helming one of the most crucial ministries (both then as Defense and now as the Finance Minister), I felt her interview was quite interesting.
Another one I particularly enjoyed was the conversation with Nandan Nilekani. The reasons are obvious- conceiving Aadhar under one government and implementation of the same under another. What were the challenges that the corporate honcho faced in the corridors of power in Delhi? Aadhar has redefined identity for Indians and has been a crucial milestone in nation building.
Just when you think that it cannot get better and more candid than this, you turn the page and there pops another equally fiery personality.
The simple purpose of any conversation is to be enriched by it. And, by talking to these diverse minds about defining moments in their lives, and how these moments intersect with the story of India is inspiring.
Defining India Through their Eyes by Sonia Singh brings forward interesting perspectives on India. Some conversations give you a background to behind the scenes politics. Some show how decisions taken at top levels have connotations spread over decades. Some show the power of a single idea. But all of them have something enriching to offer!
Almost 25 years ago, Pico Iyer visited Japan for the first time, as a transit passenger. This little diversion must have been some preordained plan, because Japan made way into his soul. Well, quite visibly. Few years later he found himself in the country, and also found love. Japan had claimed the California boy as her own.
Japan also gave him his first book- The Lady and the Monk. In the famed author’s latest offering , Autumn Light- Season of Fire and Farewells, published by Penguin Viking, Japan once again makes a dominating presence felt. The perspective has changed though. This time the story gently touches on concepts of death, decay and impermanence, probably the ultimate truths of life.
There is a beauty in impermanence. There is a joy in capturing the transient. Where else can this eternal truth be encapsulated but in the essence of Japanese philosophy. Within Japan, where Pico Iyer first made a defining decision, lies this exploration of what autumn represents.
The author returns to his beloved Japan in Autumn and all around him he observes changes. But, he seeks out the « changelessness in change ». Through the narrative of his own story he ponders over this much larger question.
There is a gentle discussion of death as Pico is confronted with the same. His father in law passes away; his wife decides to shift her mother in a nursing home ; the ponderings of the mother on this decision; the ritualistic markings of obeisance to the dead ancestors ; the stories of the pain of war stuck into the minds and collective consciousness of common people; the separation and disintegration of familial ties…All these streams of thought have been approached gently but remain deep and poignant.
There are many threads that run through the narrative. One of them is the relationship of old parents with their young children. How do the filial ties hold once birds have flown from the nest? How does the modern generation confront mortality and old age of parents?
Deftly woven words, wry humour, and a gentle, almost inviting manner of addressing what many may call dark topics, is what is so endearing about the book.
Another running theme in the book has to do with Ping-pong. While in Japan, Iyer regularly plays ping-pong with people much older than him. They may be seniors but that’s no deterrent to their agility and perfection at the game. It is through the prism of this game that we get one more glimpse of how the old can be celebrated.
Autumn slips into his spirit and voice. His wife, Hiroko, has a family story linked to the wars and the bombing of Hiroshima. Through her memories of the days the sad tales of the futility of war come out strongly. The personal speaks for the collective. The war still haunts the people who have memories of it.
But, I am sure that readers, as they take time to savour this profound book, will come to realise, as Iyer does, “Why, I wonder, must I be so often running against time, when I know the only way to be happy is to make my peace with the autumn and see it as a friend “!
Mindfulness (Mindful parenting included!) has almost become a fashion in our troubled times where fast paced living seems to be hacking at the very roots of a peaceful life. We are mindful about eating, working, socialising and so on. But, it is the need of the hour to be mindful about an activity that actually sets the stage for our future as a civilisation- parenting. But Mindful parenting is more than your typical new age lifestyle term, as this book from Harper Collins goes on to show. The Children of Tomorrow (A monk’s guide to mindful parenting) by Om Swami presents age-old wisdom crystallised in a format palatable for modern parents.
The chapters in the book stress on the need for parents to be mindful and collaborative with each other on raising their children. Jokes and hilarious cartoons between the chapters add an element of humour. The last chapter gives a ready reconer of tips that parents must bear on mind.
I think this book is, in a sense, a manna for modern parents. Belonging to the current generation of parents with young kids, I can’t help but acknowledge the unique challenges that our lot faces – we may have lesser kids and more resources than our own parents did, but we still grapple with many questions and parenting issues. We have google at our fingertips but sometimes can’t really know what information to choose! We are individuals with multiple hopes and dreams, a generation that is individualistic and high achieving, we are made of yummy-mummies and ever growing young dads, we juggle our schedules and that of our kids with finesse (and the latest apps and a team of staff). But still, we are, at the end of this all, lacking something substantial and something deep!
The thoughts that Om Swami presents have their roots in his experiences of interacting with young children, young adults and parents at different parenting stages. As an impartial observer he looks at their problems and the potential suggestions on what can help them. I think most of these thoughts are applicable to all relationships and not only the parent-child one.
I particularly liked the chapter on building an identity capital. Just like one needs financial capital to get through uncertain times in life, or maybe just as a buffer, building an identity capital is crucial for children to cruise through life. This may be a buffer against phases of identity crisis that seemingly impacts a variety of age groups today, including parents themselves !
As the book progresses, I notice that a lot of the lessons are targeted at self-improvement for parents. And then it dawns- changing your child for the better or bringing them up in the right manner actually begins with the parent. One of the main lessons that all parenting books must amplify, and that this one clearly does, is that the first step to great parenting is by setting an example ! Mindful parenting simply could well translate into mindful living yourself. But more than anything else, The Children of Tomorrow (A monk’s guide to mindful parenting) by Om Swami shows that “Good families begin with great parenting,”.
Depressed and anxiety ridden art restorer, Mila is frantically trying to gather her bearings following a brutal assault. A Buddhist nun Pema wills herself to face the illusory nature of the balance she thought she had achieved. Through Atish, her third character, Khanna gives voice to the condition of migrant labour, the education system and religious customs. The intertwining narrative between these three central characters forms the crux of this story. A conversation with Kajoli Khanna revealed her inspiration and writing process for this novel.
Based on deeply personal experiences, Khanna returned to Delhi and was experiencing the symptoms of severe trauma due to a physical assault she had suffered in the mountains. Carrying a burden that needed to be shed when her survival instinct kicked in and guided Khanna towards writing. She unconsciously channelized all those disturbing emotions and released them into a book. She finally zeroed in on a murder mystery based on her terrifying experience and started writing the story of Mila, the art restorer. But it would only form a novella.
Since Mila steps into a spiritual arena Khanna added the destructive effects of negative emotions into the story for a deeper understanding. Thus, Pema the saintly bhikshunni who harbours hatred and a terrible anger, was born. She suited the arena well so intertwining her narrative with Mila’s was invigorating. Her sisters were inspired by the nuns the author personally met at nunneries in Spiti.
However, Khanna still felt that there was something lacking in the story. The character of Atish kept popping in Khanna’s mind, asking for attention. He was obviously inspired by the underprivileged children she worked with and decided to cross the ugly barriers of class and expose the foul nexus of power that lives off the blood and sweat of the underprivileged. He also became the orator and hero through whom Khanna shared her opinions on the conditions of migrant labour, the village education system and religious customs.
Albeit with a satiric humour, Atish is intelligent, well-informed, gutsy and articulate because she wanted to tell the readers that underprivileged children are as capable (if not more), as clever, as talented, as spoilt as kids who go to snooty private schools. Atish’s achievements in the book are those that the author dreams for all her students. His mistakes can be made by any one of us, but his grit and determination, his formidable resilience belongs in the lives of the brave young warriors she has encountered.
An unfavorable experience
Talking about her terrifying experience with a criminal, Khanna shares, “I was in the mountains, working on a project when I was brutally assaulted in the middle of the night. The criminal stayed in my room for 2 maybe 3 hours. It was petrifying. I had two bodyguards following me everywhere but the fear had infiltrated my being and I was forced to return to Delhi. Even there I was terrified the man might track me down because we had reported the incident to the police. He had threatened to kill me if I did. The doubt and the fear, the frustration of having to leave the project unfinished wreaked havoc with my confidence. And I was angry that a criminal was able to dictate the terms by which I lived. This led to feelings of helplessness, despair and eventually bouts of depression. I was experiencing the symptoms of trauma.”
Miraculously, Khanna’s survival instinct arose to guide her towards writing. She began writing the story of Mila who suffered an assault similar to her. Describing the physical details of the incident was traumatic but also it was cathartic. “As I wrote I re-lived the incident, and each time I did that I cleansed myself, a bit at a time, of the grossness of it. Writing became a therapy. I firmly believe my work with the underprivileged helped my recovery. As I worked with the students their levels of confidence began to grow and so did mine. I shared the same sense of satisfaction, of joy and hope as they did. My fears and worries melted away. Years later I came to understand; by benefitting others you benefit yourself and this is what I wanted to illustrate in the book.”
Infused in Mila’s story are these essential formulae required for healing. The author wanted to share these miraculous but simple processes she had experienced with the world. It was a traumatic struggle which ended with a heartening, illuminating outcome. Mila’s tale which began as a murder mystery turned into a story about reinvention and recovery.
A champion for mental health
At a time when social, emotional and psychological problems are prevalent, solutions are needed. This is what Khanna’s book Destiny’s Flowers sets out to provide. One of the main streams running through the novel explores a single sentence the Buddha uttered – WHAT THE MIND CREATES ONLY THE MIND CAN UNDO. This timeless wisdom is illustrated particularly by the stories of the two female protagonists, Mila who is crippled by fear and Pema, a novice who is slave to anger and hatred. Travelling with Pema and Mila through the twists and turns of the tale, the pitfalls and strengths of human emotions emerge, revealing the obstacles we create in our minds and the formula needed to dissolve them. When faced by the labels society thrusts upon us Atish shows us how to live ‘Out of the Box’. Here too it is the manner in which he thinks that turns the spoilt teenager into a wonderful human being. A dose of this book is what all modern minds need. After all, the struggle for freedom from our anxieties is universal.
“I have received an overwhelming response here in the Shimla Hills where I have given two talks on Destiny’s Flowers. In both I have related the book to overcoming trauma, reducing the destructive effects of negative emotions and living in the moment. A novel must speak to the reader (whatever their age) help them find direction or give meaning to life. I certainly hope this is what Destiny’s Flowers will do,” says Khanna.
Changing for the better
When asked if the events in the book will have last impressions on the lives of the characters, she reveals, “They do implement the realizations and changes which will have a lasting impact on their lives. By the middle of the book, events culminate to arrive at exciting and favourable conclusions for all three characters. The flowers of destiny shower their paths making wishes come true and realizations abound. Mila proves to be a catalyst in Pema’s life and later Atish as well. The bhikshunni is granted two boons that help to change her distorted view of the world and make her question the code of conduct she has lived by. Though several factors contribute to Mila’s success her journey is one of self-discovery. Atish makes a major blunder in the Fort of Joji which turns out for the best, aiding Mila (who plays spiritual detective) to ascertain the finer nuances of the philosophy she has discovered. And again, Atish’s reaction to Pema’s mistakes lightens the load of shame and guilt the novice carries. Though epiphanies and tumultuous events alter the lives of all three protagonists throughout, the last chapters are the most poignant and revealing. Both their stories and the characters come to fruition.”
A piece for everyone
The beauty of this book lies in its universal appeal, apart from being above 18 years of age, there is no restriction on whom this story is for. There is something in the novel for every age and audience. From the feedback the author has received, the book has appealed to a variety of people for a variety of reasons. Seasoned readers have called it a seamless page turner, some are taken by the final realizations Mila reaches, others resonate with the adventures of Atish and the journey of Pema and still others by the lyrical language used to create soothing, poignant and passionate scenes, but everyone is struck by the unexpected outcomes that continuously change the direction of the tale.
Gardening can be a fulfilling passion, and even more so, when you relish the fruits (or vegetables!) of your hard labour. And, it always helps to have a good friend and guide along the way. New Vegetable Garden Techniques- essential skills and projects for taster healthier crops by Joyce Russell, published by White Lion Publishing, is a book written with the aim of guiding amateur gardeners, and tipping up information for experienced ones.
Learning Vegetable garden techniques from a book can be really easy and practical, if written in an accessible way. This is exactly where Russell’s book scores high. The best part here is the manner in which the information has been organised. There is a deep connect between the pictures and the text, and the many pictures really aid the reader immensely. Several boxed tips and pieces of information make this a very reader-friendly guide.
There are 25 DIY projects in the book. These are illustrated step-by-step. The book is very practical in nature. Each “project” is presented as a recipe, complete with the list of what you need and the method. Handy tips from experience have been boxed.
The range of skills and steps required for growing your own vegetable patch is wide. Right from preparing land (or choosing the right container), to getting the right soil, making compost, taking care of pests, tending to specific plant requirements and so on, there are a gamut of steps. A lot of comprehensive information is presented in a very accessible manner.
The book is also peppered with specific examples of specific plant requirements, again adding to the handiness aspect. I liked the DIY section on making your own basket and growing plants within. Not only can one enjoy the produce, but also have a spectacular design feature. I also found the tips of growing seedlings, micronutrients and so on quite helpful, how to improve your soil and add on to make richer soil,
There are a few really excellent diagrammatic representations which are very handy. For me, the one on soil nutrients was a great ready reckoner in giving me information about my garden soil.
Why not grow your own bucket garden? Plastic buckets make for wonderful containers and they can be moved around easily thanks to the handles. Grow your favourite veggies within! They are also a perfect solution for a children’s garden as they are light and easy to move around.
It is a good idea to use biodegradable containers to grow seedlings. Once the plants are ready to be replanted in larger containers or prepared beds, you could plant out the pots themselves, which in due course will decompose, leaving no waste behind.
This book opened my eyes to an untapped area- using fresh shoots for consuming. By germinating young seeds and using the fresh sprouts you can add immense variety and health to your diet. Microgreens are the way to go!
Keep adding to the soil to provide the right balance of nutrients and drainage that each new crop needs.
Leaves are a free valuable resource for most gardeners. Fallen leaves can be used as mulch, or compost. If you have a mower that powders them, use this to sprinkle the powder on your plants.
Planting different crops in different areas of the garden each year helps to prevent pests and diseases building up in the soil, resulting in healthier plants and harvests.
And if you’re interested in reading more about gardening, “Ground Rules” is a great book to refer to.
Snakes In The Meadows is Ayaz Kohli’s debut novel (published by Rupa Publications) and what a punch it packs! The title aptly summarizes how evil in the form of terrorists comes and destroys the peace of simple locals of a beautiful hilly village who only want to live a decent life. When all is lost they rise up like the proverbial phoenix to obliterate the enemy!
Snakes In the Meadows is a gut-wrenching story of how the locals of a hilly village, Pathri Aali, in India occupied Kashmir are brought to their knees by the mujahideen. As if it is not enough that they are having difficulties surviving in a harsh environment, most of the males of the village have travelled to the Middle East for jobs and the women and children are left to fend for themselves. The mujahideen prey on them mercilessly as if the locals are not humans at all. Some of the scenes where youngsters are assaulted brings tears to one’s eyes.
The men working abroad were kept in the dark lest they return and are killed by the mujahideen. The straw that breaks the camel’s back is an unspeakable crime committed against a child which forces the protagonist, Ashwar, to write a scathing letter to the men asking them to return and fight.
Thus begins the plan to annihilate the mujahideen from the valley. The villagers run from pillar to post to get help in this endeavour. The ignorance and outright refusal to help from certain Government quarters is disheartening. The peripheral characters though help to draw a contrast between the frog-in-the-well outlook of the ongoing activities in Pathri Aali to what is happening in the rest of the country. Also, the personalities and experiences of the other characters enhance the story – be it through their villainous roles, shades of grey or humanity and sacrifices.
Haven’t we all heard about that thing called the inner voice? But, as we traverse through life, it is worth asking ourselves the question – have we suppressed this inner voice? The Code: Awaken the Hidden Wisdom of your Heart is a book that aims to bring back to life this dying flame. The credentials of the writer, Mukta Mahajani, add authenticity and perspective to this book. Published by Jaico Books, this is the book you must read if you want to embark on a journey of introspection. As you navigate the book, you will realise that the answers to your questions are within your heart, and within the intense introspective journey that you will undertake.
What makes The Code a book that is impactful in what it promises to deliver? I think it’s a mix of several factors. The book is divided into seven key sections that talk about seven negative attributes that we need to conquer, such as Ego, Over-Competitiveness, Jealousy, Over expectations, Over ambition, Anger and Procrastination. Within each section there are several stories and examples that drive home the point the author is trying to make. The text is also peppered with quotes from various personalities and thinkers. The key point itself, that is, ‘the code’ is boxed and presented in a very accessible manner.
However, for me the short list of contemplative questions that accompany each point are the mainstay of this book. Each sub-section has a dedicated list of contemplative questions. These are sure to get the reader in introspection mode. A book or a text is useful if one actually manages to internalise the points that are made. By using these questions as an integral part of the narrative, Mahajani is actually encouraging the reader to pause and think before jumping on to the next section. You may just find that a few questions particularly may touch a nerve, and that’s exactly the purpose!
If the purpose of a book is to make the reader think and reflect, this is what these questions set out to do. It is this process that will open you up to your inner voice. Though the book is easy to read and simple, I would recommend taking time and savouring the points and questions before moving on, in order to get full benefit from reading it!
Through a bank of several stories and incidents, the book illustrates how negative attributes work in practice. It also looks at each negative attribute in a multidimensional manner.
At the end of each section there is also a handy checklist, similar to a little test that will objectively tell you where you stand in terms of a specific quality such as ego, tendencies of over expectations and so on.
Mukta’s background has given this book a unique attribute. With an author who speaks on Alternate Dispute Resolution methods, one can expect nothing less! Moreover, she has degrees in psychology, anthropology and Law. Couple this with over two decades of experience, and you have a person who has a really deep and nuanced understanding of human behaviour in all its complexity! This understanding comes across beautifully in The Code, in simple language with great clarity and lucidity. A must-read if you are looking at getting in touch with your core! The Code is all set to guide you!