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.
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
Lathika George is all too acquainted with the many pleasures and travails of life on Indian farmlands. She is a landscape designer, environmentalist and organic gardener and has written extensively on these topics for several publications. She also has some unique cookbooks to her credit. Her latest book, Mother Earth, Sister Seed, has been published by Penguin Random House and tells a lyrical tale of Indian farmlands.
The experience of visiting India’s farmlands must have been an exhilarating one. What is it that you take away from this?
In many ways, the conversations and interactions with people I met on these journeys have affirmed what I have believed: farming is far from a ‘hopeless’ profession. It is vibrant and alive, a life worth pursuing. The farms I visited were mostly smallholdings, farms and agrarian communities where traditional agriculture is still practiced. The diversity of crops on these farms ensure they will never want for food, but like farmers everywhere they need fair prices for their produce and much needed cash. Farming is a way of life for these farmers and it is the rituals, folklore and celebrations that take them through the highs and lows of an agricultural season. What I take away is this: the dignity and pride, the wisdom, fortitude and humour of people who are truly the heart and soul of India.
How viable do you believe farming is as a career option for the current generation? What should be done to make farming appealing to people once more?
Not everyone has the aptitude for farming. The agricultural sector (which already accounts for the largest number of jobs in the country) can provide a range of opportunities for the present and future generations in research, education, business, journalism, engineering and more. But for those who choose to farm, there are many ways to make a decent living. Small farms with a diversity of crops best suited for the region, aided by mechanization for labour-intensive field work, have proved to be a sustainable model for farming. But, I think it is clear that unless farming is made more lucrative – fair prices for farm produce – it will continue to be viewed as a dismal choice in terms of hard cash. However, there are an increasing number of people who opt for farming as a lifestyle choice – a life lived on different terms.
At many points in the book you have mentioned that the locals always took what they needed from nature – enough for their genuine needs. Does the same spirit continue today?
Indigenous tribes will never exploit the forest or ‘bleed’ a plant dry. Instead, they take only what they need as they leave the tree or plant to regenerate. Tubers and roots are never completely removed – a few rhizomes are left behind to regenerate. Indigenous people have specific rules for plant collection. For instance, the tribals of Jharkhand who depend on forests for food, fodder and medicine will pluck medicinal products only at daytime before noon, and only strip bark from the side of the tree that faces the morning sun. They have an innate knowledge of the ways of the forest since they live close to nature. Moreover, as they worship the elements of nature that provides sustenance, they will never exploit or abuse it. This does continue to this day among tribals who are still dependent on the forests, except in areas where outside influences have crept in.
You have been critical of government actions that have ruined things, but you also praise instances where government intervention has contributed positively (such as in Sikkim). Can you briefly explain how the government can play a facilitating role rather than an inhibiting one to encourage farmers and farming?
The Swaminathan Commission Report for the National Commission for Farmers covers all aspects of the reforms needed for change – access to basic resources like land, water, bio resources, credit and insurance, technology, knowledge and reliable markets. It recommends a formula for calculating the Minimum Support Price for farmers, and addresses the issue of sustainable farming. This report was submitted in 2006 and is yet to be implemented. The guidelines are all there for the governments to follow -all that is needed is the intent to see it through.
You mention in the book that you moved away to the countryside after living in the city. What motivated your decision? How long has it been?
My husband loves the mountains and wanted to move to the countryside. So, we decided to try it out for a few years. It has been 31 years now and this is a life we have come to love. We live in a village just outside Kodaikanal town in Tamil Nadu with farms all around our home. I recently expanded my own kitchen garden to a ‘one-acre farm’ as I experimented with the techniques and information I had gathered over the years. Though I refer to my methods of gardening as ‘organic’, this simply means I grow vegetables naturally, without chemical pesticides and fertilizers or genetically modified seeds.
What is your advice for someone considering making the big change to a life more in harmony with nature?
Living in rural India calls for a change in lifestyle and giving up many things that you take for granted. Weigh the pros and cons carefully and make your decision based on what strongly outweighs the other.
Lathika George gives a detailed glimpse into the many facets of life in harmony with nature in India’s farmlands and forests, as well as the unique challenges that modernisation poses to the indigenous way of life.
Books by Latika George
Deepak Dalal is well-known for his wildlife fiction books centred around the flora and fauna of the Indian subcontinent. His adventure filled stories are often set in the jungles of India or natural havens in the country. Besides the thrill of an adventure novel, his works provide a glimpse into our rich natural heritage.
Bookedforlife chats with him to know more about his work…
You gave up a career in chemical engineering to write books for children. Can you share your motivation for this?
I hated chemical engineering! The only reason I became a chemical engineer is because we have a family business that requires engineering skills. But, when I finally graduated as an engineer and started working I came to realize that I was in the wrong place. My heart was not in an office job. I preferred the outdoors, wilderness areas, wildlife and adventure. So, a few years down the line, I switched and started travelling and writing books for children.
How has the writing journey been?
The journey was difficult to start with. I hadn’t studied creative writing and I had to train myself. This took a while. But now the going is great. I enjoy my work and look forward to it on a daily basis.
It is unusual to find fiction books set in the Indian wilderness, talking specifically about Indian birds. What was the inspiration behind the Feather Tales Series?
Let alone children, even adults know so little about birds. Most of us live in urban environments and the only birds we are aware of are crows, pigeons, sparrows, kites and parakeets. But India is home to 1200 species of birds. Birds like hornbills, cranes, storks, orioles, ibises, pelicans, kingfishers, flycatchers…the list is endless. The inspiration behind the ‘Feather Tales’ series was to make children aware of the beautiful birdlife we have in our country; to connect them with birds, and hopefully convert them into birdwatchers someday.
The Feather Tales series:
Some of your books, such as the VikramAdtiya adventure series, are used as supplementary texts in schools. Do you feel fiction can be used as a tool for teaching facts?
More than a hundred schools have used my VikramAditya books as readers. There is no finer way to learn than through a page-turning story. The story captivates the reader and while the story unfolds, titbits of wildlife, history, flora and fauna are unconsciously digested by the reader. Stories are great tools.
The Adventure Series set in Indian wilderness:
India has a rich heritage of flora and fauna. How can urban parents create a sensitivity and connectivity to nature?
Travel. Visit wildlife and bird sanctuaries. Learning is wonderful when it is experiential. India is blessed with many wildlife and bird sanctuaries. Start early, while kids are young. Wildlife and birdwatching are great pastimes and if children are drawn to them while young, they will keep returning for the rest of their lives.
What are some wildlife fiction books and books on nature that you have loved and would like to recommend?
In a time when unscrupulous human activity threatens the natural world, wildlife fiction books have a great role to play in sensitizing the younger citizens of the world to the beauty that they must not lose!
Gaurav Tekriwal is best known for putting magic into math. What most of us see as a dreary subject, can actually be great fun. And for this, he has scouted the rich ancient heritage of Vedic mathematics as well as math traditions from countries around the world. His latest book, Maths Sutras from Around the World, outlines some of these mental math techniques.
BookedForLife chats with the math-master himself to glean how one could put the magic back into math.
Maths Sutras from Around the World describes powerful mental math techniques in a very easy to understand manner. In today’s gadget dominated world, where everyone has access to speed calculators, what do you believe is the role and importance of mental math?
In today’s world the importance of Mental Math cannot be undermined, even though we have calculators and computers to do all the calculations and processing for us.
Globally, right now we are facing a full blown Math Crisis. Did you know that 73.7% of all children in Grade 3 in India can’t subtract! (two digit problems with borrowing) according to the ASER Report by Pratham. In the United Kingdom, more than 17 million adults have Maths skills less than an 11-year-old according to the newspaper Guardian and countries like South Africa, Ghana, and Oman rank Bottom 3 in the World in Maths Scores according to the TIMSS Survey.
Mental Math techniques like Vedic Maths simplify Math to a great extent. Children love to loathe Math – but if they are shown that you can play around with numbers and that there can be more than one way to solve a Math problem – they would definitely be more excited.
If your country can’t do math, how will it progress? I was in South Africa taking a class in 2009 and I asked a 15-year-old girl student how much is 8 times 8. She solved it graphically for me by making 64 circles (8 in row) and by counting and telling me the wrong answer of 54 in 7 minutes. That’s how bad the situation is. Even though you may have the fastest calculators – you need your concepts in place too.
Math is a very creative subject. This aspect of Math is never shown in schools. Hence everybody right from students, parents and even teachers themselves are scared of it. While teaching if you can be a bit more creative and positive via these methods you can instil a love for Math.
Also, our brain is just like a muscle. You need to keep exercising it. Mental Math techniques are one of the ways to do so.
You are the Founder President of the Vedic Maths Forum India. What are the specific advantages of this ancient curriculum as compared to the way math is taught in our schools today?
Often, in schools, Math is taught in a mechanized robotic way, sapping the subject of its true beauty. You are given a problem and you have to solve it using a series of dull steps. No one shares that you can be creative about it too. You can sidestep the traditional way and solve it in a new way which is quick and fun. Vedic Math can be said to be the world’s fastest mental math system. It works in the same way the mind works. For example, we can all read left to write but when we solve sums on addition, subtraction or multiplication we always do it right to left. With the Vedic system you do your calculations left to right, get the answer quicker and you can even check your answer.
You also have a solid understanding of how the number system works using visual patterns. Armed with Vedic Math skills you can not only shine in your academics in school, but you can also apply the system to competitive examinations where you have to solve problems in less time.
In the book you have described techniques from different parts of the world. Do you believe we can move towards toward a global integrated math curriculum?
It will take time – but this is very much possible and achievable. With globalization and with boundaries to education disappearing thanks to the World Wide Web, students today have access to very powerful information. Students are looking for alternative methods to make their Math easier and simpler. Today you can use the best from the entire world to your benefit. Why shouldn’t it be done? A global integrated curriculum is a dream and maybe you can say that this book is a step in that direction.
Math is a subject that many children dread in school. What advice would you like to give parents and teachers to ensure that they approach this fascinating subject with the right attitude?
I think we need to transform the face of Math education today and that teachers be given that power and freedom to allow children to play with the subject in the first place. Teachers must use alternative means to point out abstract concepts to students. Teachers must use technology, games, math manipulatives and promote recreational mathematics via Math Clubs. Teachers should be enthusiastic in the first place and teach the subject with the right mindset and positive mental attitude. Who says Math can’t be fun?
How did your love for math begin?
In school I was lucky to have few good Math teachers who ensured I understood the concept and performed well. When I scored a little over 90% in my tenth board Math exam – the whole experience was very motivating and encouraging for me. Math was my strength and it was something I was naturally good at. It was something which set me apart from the rest of the crowd and led me to believe in myself. So when it came to make a career choice few years down the line and to take that leap of faith – I chose Mathematics and since then I never really looked back.
Gaurav Tekriwal’s Maths Sutras from Around the World is definitely one step in a direction which paves the way for math to be seen differently. Well, we’re sure it will all add up well together!
To know more about Vedic Math: www.vedicmathsindia.org
Books by Gaurav Tekriwal:
Can motherhood be a milestone that marks the beginning of a new career? For Ambika Tiku Hathiari, the experience of searching for a book for her daughter, led to the creation of a novel concept. Not only that, but it sparked off the idea of a dedicated self-publishing platform for writers of children’s books. Anyone who has looked for a self-publishing platform in India, knows that finding one tailor-made to cater to the unique genre of children’s books, would have earlier proved difficult. Not anymore!
MomSays is an online platform committed to help create beautiful and content rich books for children.
BookedForLife chats with Ambika Tiku Hathiari, Founder and CEO of MomSays to know more about the journey of the platform and how it is geared to help those who want to write for children.
And yes, we also take a glimpse into some of the books published by MomSays.
MomSays was born out of your personal experience of looking for a book for your daughter. What exactly sparked off the idea?
That’s true. My own personal desire to put something down for my daughter led to this. But, that was just one trigger. Today if I have to reflect back on that personal journey that culminated into what MomSays is today, it is not just about a book. It was about encapsulating and putting together your values and your time spent with your child. The experience was more to do with the fact that I was creating something that my child would look back at and cherish…something that I would cherish. It is more than a book. It is a passage of values, of great times, of recording a memory in a sense. Lot of parents want to tell stories- their own stories to their children. This is a physical way of expressing it.
Why the name MomSays?
I’ve discovered on the way that fathers are equally involved in writing…in fact, are probably more involved in writing! I’ve actually got a trademark for DadSays as well! MomSays is actually not so much of a “mother says” kind of platform. When I was thinking about the venture, I realized it was more about my ideas that I wanted to communicate to my daughter through the book. I realized that I often say, “my mother said this”. It is something we carry with us. It is not just about a book. When I got down to thinking, the name MomSays was a representation of that feeling of carrying forward something, remembering what was told to you. The name also has a play in terms of being a little authoritative. But if you look at the brand and the logo, we have tried to keep the colours a little more fun and very reflective of what a parent is.
How do you ensure that the quality of the books you publish is at par with set standards?
It begins with the fact that I am a consumer. I am one of the many mothers who would buy books. I hold my brand to the same standards. Quality means a lot to us. It means the simple things like the paper quality, the binding, the printing and so on. But it also means that we give a lot of emphasis to the creative design of a book. That is where it begins for the child. We have engaged with artists who especially work with children and they are the best in the field. Whenever we engage with a designer and illustrator we share our guidelines with them. We ensure that the quality is good. How we put the whole book together also illustrates our quality. We have retailed at popular stores like Kitaab Khana, Granth, Kahani Tree and so on, and the bookstores have always told us that our books have really good quality. I think it is all about holding yourself to the same standards and not accepting anything that you would not buy.
MomSays is essentially a self-publishing platform in India. What kinds of services do you offer?
Besides writers of children’s books, our audience is parents and teachers who wish to write for children. The services we offer begin from design, illustrating, printing, editing and so on. We give feedback to the writer. There is an option to apply for an ISBN. We offer everything that needs to be done to get a book that can be at par with other books in the market. We also do many interactive sessions in schools with particular books. This is quite author driven. For example, we had a book on the theme of yoga, and we had the author actually do a yoga session with children…with all the animal poses! They loved being exposed to yoga through storytelling. Once we had a book on caterpillars and the author actually got a caterpillar for the session.
What platforms do you retail on?
The most important platform is our website, http://www.momsays.co.in. We also have some books on www.amazon.in. We retail through some independent book stores. We participate in varied book fairs as well.
Does a parent-writer have any specific advantage over any other writer?
It begins with a good thought and a good thought can come to anybody. An established author has a bit of an advantage over somebody who is exploring writing for the first time. But, if you have it in you it is just a matter of taking that first step. But it is the love for children is the common factor. If that is amiss, you can’t write a good book for children!
What kind of books do children today like to read?
We work up to the 9-10 age group. Each child is different. Children like fun. The minute there is something that is fun, or something funny, they are hooked! They are also very interested in characters. It means a lot to them, to see a character do something. That’s why they get attracted to series! They associate a lot as well. A child takes in things visually. Their world is very simple. They also like new facts and they are intrigued by it. If they hear something new they get awed by it. They like to know more. Either they like a book or they don’t. If they don’t, well, they don’t! No matter how much fun you try and make it, they will not like it.
With the plethora of book options available in the market, and with increasing number of wirters wanting to publish their stories, it often becomes a challenge to identify books that will really appeal to children. But, this self-publishing platform in India has gladly taken up the task by giving a platform to those closely connected with children, to express stories that have a deeper meaning and personal connect.
There are many books on good leadership skills, each with its own merit. Become: The 5 Critical Conversational Practices that Shift ‘Who You Be’ as a Leader by Sameer Dua seeks to invoke and evoke ‘missing conversations’ that often block the way for good leaders.
The book is filled with many practical examples that define what these ‘missing’ conversations are and how leaders must have them. It takes a very empowering approach to leadership, where good leadership skills encompass much more than textbook principles.
The book uses the COACH approach (Care, Observe, Actions, Commitment, Holding Space of Conversation) to illustrate this unique model of good leadership skills. All these five elements are the conversational domains that leaders need to work on.
‘BECOME’ is an interesting name for a book that talks about good leadership skills. What made you choose this title?
As I have stated in this book, “Leadership” is not a job category; it is a set of conversational practices. Every conversation is a new opportunity to practice and apply the critical leadership conversational skills elaborated in the book. In my assessment, as a leader you never fully arrive. You are always in the making. As a leader, you may be a beginner, minimally competent, competent, expert or even a master – at each stage, you are in the process of ‘becoming’ the next stage.
In the book “Mastery”, George Leonard states, “Mastery is not really a goal or destination but rather a process, a journey”. Masters are always in this ongoing process of ‘becoming’, by going deeper in their subject.
If you are not in the process of ‘becoming’, then you reach a dead end. And that is the beginning of your decline.
What is critical for leaders to recognize is that you don’t ‘become’ by knowing more, you ‘become’ by shifting your practices, and in case of leadership, by shifting and creating new conversational practices.
You mention at the onset of the book that “if people around us are not delivering results, we are not having the required conversations with them”. It is refreshing to see this shift toward a more internal locus of control. Yet, why do so many people in leadership positions miss this point?
It’s easy to take a posture that “I have done what I could do. Now, if the results have not happened, it is because of something or someone external to me”. This is ‘comfortable’ posture, even if this posture does not deliver results!
The posture I am inviting the readers to take in this book, that is, “we are responsible for generating any result we want that matters to us” is confronting. It challenges you. It makes you think. It makes you start to question yourself. Look around the world we live in – everyone is blaming external circumstances. Very few choose this posture.
And those who do, generate results – for themselves, their teams and their organisations.
“Become” invites people to a new practice –of taking responsibility rather than that of blame; of looking for what may be missing in their actions, rather than look for what may be missing in someone else’s actions.
This book is all about ‘missing conversations’. How would you define a missing conversation?
My claim is that the path from where you are to where you want to be is that of ‘Conversations’. You will notice every result – big or small – the genesis of that result is in conversations. So, if the genesis of every result is in a conversation, and if your results are not being generated; then there is a missing conversation.
A missing conversation can be a conversation one has with oneself, or with another. This is tied in with my response to your earlier question – as a leader we need to take a posture to look for these missing conversations. If your conversation does not give you the desired result, then ‘that’ was not ‘the’ missing conversation. Start looking again. Till your conversations give you the desired result.
We either look for the missing conversations and have them, or we face the consequences of not having these conversations.
You speak about generative practices, that are conscious practices that shape a new habit or behaviour. You also mention journaling as one of the generative practices you use. Could you elaborate a bit on this?
Let me borrow from Stephen Cope’s work in his book, “The Great Work of Your Life” where he interprets the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna in the Bhagwad Gita. He states, “Mastery is almost never a result of mere talent” He goes on to add that “a certain quality of sustained and intensive effort is required – a quality of effort that has come to be called ‘deliberate practice’” When you engage in these ‘deliberate’ practices, you shift your automatic behaviours and habits.
And journaling, I assess, to be once such practice. When you journal, you engage in a conversation with yourself. And like most conversations, you never know what new possibilities can emerge through that conversation. Begin the conversation with yourself. And when you get stopped – ask yourself a new question. My claim is that when you sit to journal, the ‘conversation’ starts to flow. Often, you will be surprised with what you come up with. This is not just my experience, but that of many of my program participants who actively engage in this practice.
‘Become’ is a book filled with many questions. There are reflective questions at the end of each chapter. But, even during the course of a chapter you have put in varied questions. Do you feel this style of writing somehow leads the reader to assume a more active stance?
For me reading a book is engaging in a conversation with the author. When you are in a conversation, you do take an active stance. I’d like my readers to connect what is in the book with their life. And hence, the reflective pauses, the powerful questions, and the practices in each chapter. I believe it is in moments when your experience is stretched beyond your comfort zone is when you have greatest potential for real learning.
What is the next book you are working on?
I am currently working on two projects simultaneously. I am consulting a global organisation and supporting their leaders in generating a result that they have historically never delivered before. I believe the fundamentals are the same. I want to make this work a case study and come out with a book on this work. I believe it will be of value to many leaders and organisations. The second book is on certain irrefutable laws of leadership. These laws are blind to leaders within organisations. And because they are blind to these laws doesn’t mean that they are not paying a price – the price of this blindness is that they are not delivering desired results.
Well, this is not a book to simply read and put away. It is a book you need to work on if you want to get the full advantage of imbibing the good leadership skills described here. It is replete with questions for reflection and points to consider. There are several case studies as well to illustrate the points mentioned. To aid understanding, there are many diagrams, tables and relevant infographics that make the reading easier. Here’s a toast then, to good leadership skills!
It is that time of the year again when your fitness goals and resolutions are (hopefully) rolling in place. Well, it is indeed a perfect time for a book on fitness to hit the shelves! The Shivfit Way is a guide to functional fitness. The book stems from the Shivfit philosophy propounded by Shivoham, the trainer behind Aamir Khan’s muscular look in Dhoom 3, Sonakshi Sinha’s curves in Dabangg, Jacqueline Fernandez’s lean physique and Abhishek Bachchan’s fitness. The book is written in collaboration with Shrenik Avlani, a newsroom veteran with nearly two decades of work experience with leading newspapers.
If you love working out, but are wary of gym ‘machines’, The Shivfit Way is the right book to read! The book outlines varied exercises cardio, strength training and weight exercises for a full-body workout. Starting with eight basic movements of all exercises duly accompanied by pictures, dietary advice, detailed workouts and a section on the role of the mind and a nutritious diet in healthy living, here is a book that promises to get you back in shape!
Many people have the misconception that one needs to use sophisticated equipment in order to exercise, and the book clearly dispels that myth. Can you elaborate more on the “Shivfit” philosophy?
Fitness today has a very vague and broad meaning in people’s mind. Earlier on, fitness was just about aesthetics and the way you looked. Hence only complex machines were used to achieve those results. Today fitness is not just about the way you look. It’s also about how fast or long you can run, how much you can lift, how smoothly can you get through your day without reaching home and falling flat on the bed or even how often you can play catch with your children. Today you see many more people out in the open in parks, on the beach or on the roads doing all sorts of different fitness activities which were never seen before. The Shivfit philosophy is that it’s not only about the body but also the mind. Use your mind to get rid of the stress and use your body as a machine to make it functionally super fit.
What motivated you to write this book?
I have always been more into the coaching aspect of training. Yes, I have been a national level swimmer and reached the regionals in the CrossFit games. But to me, to be able to teach people what I know and what I love is very satisfying. I run three gyms in Mumbai which have over 1000 members. But, what about the rest who want to be coached at our facility and cannot reach us? The book came at the perfect time. It is the best way I can reach out to all those fitness enthusiasts who have been wanting to learn what we have to share.
You provide an excellent exercise glossary and enough pictures and workout regime tables in the book. What suggestions would you give the reader who wants to use the book as a guide but may not be able to access any formal exercise program?
The movements shown in the book are the basic fundamental movements one should know to start a functional fitness program. The building will hold stable only if the foundation runs strong. The workouts given are for different categories: beginners, intermediate and advance. Once the person has completed the workouts given he is ready to start following my daily workout blog on www.shivfit.com. The workouts are random but still have a purpose- not adapting to the exercises. This continuous change helps build fitness at a faster rate.
The Shivfit Way highlights the role of positive visualization in health. Can you briefly talk about your views on this?
I was introduced to the mental aspect of fitness by Vrinda Mehta who has been in fitness industry for more than 20 years and has trained a score of Bollywood celebrities like Mr. Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit, Karan Johar, Kajol, Sridevi, Abhishek Bachchan, Tina Ambani and so on. She taught me how thoughts and emotions can be used to visualise all your goals. After using and tremendously benefitting from her mind program I realised how this aspect was the only thing missing in our approach to fitness today. Hence, together we started our program called Shivfit where we teach you not only how to remain physically fit but also how to remain mentally stress-free.
The mind is the most phenomenal yet the most neglected aspect of not just fitness and health but also our life. The awareness on healthy living has increased manifold. People are eating healthier and working out more. Yet there is more diabetes, more hypertension, more depression…! The main reason for this is stress. People are getting stressed but they are also eating healthy and training! This completely defeats the purpose.
Today science has proven that if you have stress of any kind you cannot remain healthy and fit for long. Simply put, stress is nothing but an untrained mind. The mind which does not know what to do with its thoughts and emotions remains a slave to ever changing circumstances and hence remains stressed. In the Shivfit mind program we teach how to align thoughts and emotions to visualise your goals in four main aspects of your life. We teach you how to remain stress-free throughout the process till those goals are realised.
I find the chapter Nutrition: You are what you eat, most interesting and different. While most books in this genre actually prescribe a ‘diet’, you say, “I have realized that there is no tailor-made diet for any of us-we need to figure out what works best for us and stick to it”. The chapter goes on to outline many popular diets and recommendations. What led you to take this approach while writing the book?
Nutrition is a very delicate and a very scientific topic. Not everyone can be a nutritionist but every individual however can be the best judge for their own body. I’ve tried the zone diet, paleo diet, intermittent fasting, the keto diet and also no diet. All the diets were at a different stages in my life and the situations were different. It was very easy to follow zone and paleo in Australia because of the quality of meat, fruits and vegies. I tried it in Mumbai, it was possible but very stressful. The zone diet worked well when I was working a steady shift but in Mumbai it was stressful! Meetings would come up any time. Clients would change their time and workouts weren’t happening at the same time each day. Also my goals were different. A person needs to understand that if diet itself gets stressful then what’s the point? Follow the basic fundamentals of less calorie intake equals weight loss and excess calorie equals weight gain. One needs 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight to maintain muscle mass and the carbs and fats will fit in according to your goals. Do a little bit of research, stay put with one diet for 8-12 weeks and then decide. But please do not follow anyone or anything blindly!
Well, no better way to start off the year than The Shivfit Way!
The Shivfit Way by Shivoham and Shrenik Avlani, 2017
Published by Penguin
Sonu Bhasin, author of The Inheritors, is one of the early and senior women professionals in the industry and had led businesses in senior leadership positions during her corporate career. She is an independent director on boards of well-known companies. She is the founder of Families and Business (FAB), a platform for family businesses, and the editor of Families & Business magazine. She shares some of her thoughts and observations on family businesses.
The interesting thing is that there will hardly be any family business owner who thinks that his business is not being run ‘professionally’! Truly, if you look at any family business you will indeed find non-family executives in the organisation. However, it is the quantum of decision making autonomy given by the business owner to the management team that denotes the degree of professionalism.
The amount of autonomy is a function of many factors including the vintage of the business to the vintage of the professional and the nature of decision. Thus, professionalization is not an absolute point in the continuum of the life cycle of a family business but is an ongoing process. At the end of the day, to be truly professional the family business owners need to make the separation between ownership and management of the business.
It is this separation between ownership and management that is seeing an increased traction today. Families like the Burman family set the example in the late nineties by completely removing themselves from the actual management of the business. Other business owners have seen the professional team at Dabur grow the business with only some strategic guidance from the Burmans.
However, to my mind, the need for external funding to grow the business is responsible for many business owners to bring in professionals into their business. They understand that a financial investor, especially if it is an institutional investor, will look for the professional teams in the business. Thus, even smaller businesses today are seeing professional teams at the helm.
‘Soaking business on dining table’ so to say, or basically being initiated informally into the business right from childhood is something that features principally in all cases. Have you observed that a lot of the lessons of entrepreneurship are indeed inculcated in the younger generation in non-business scenarios of daily life?
Business is not taught but is learnt. The best learning is by a process of immersion rather than by formal tutorials. The Inheritors in my book had an unfair advantage over many others. They grew up hearing and seeing their fathers/uncles discussing business every day. The young mind is like a sponge. It soaks up all knowledge. Thus, discussions around the dinner table help the young inheritors to get a peek into what goes on at work. As they grow older and start spending time at the shop floor or at the office the immersion becomes deeper. The discussions around the dinner table then take on a new meaning. The young inheritors are able to get an understanding of how their elders look at situations, what information and data points are processed and how does any decision get taken. This ‘looking into the mind’ can happen only when the inheritors spend time with the patriarchs. This class of entrepreneurship is certainly not taught at any business school!
What are your comments on gender dynamics in the family business arena? Do women inheritors have a place? Does patriarchy play that vital a role today, especially when many family businesses are on the route to professional management?
Let me start by saying that women are considerably under-represented across all businesses – family or otherwise. However, a recent EY study showed that the large and old family businesses in the world are showing the way for others to follow. These businesses are moving their women up the hierarchy within their own businesses and are doing so at a rate faster than their non-family counterparts. This is an important development because family businesses are the foundation for any economy, India included. The trend of letting the daughters take charge of the family businesses is being seen in our country as well. Priya and Priti Paul, the Reddy sisters, Tara Singh Vachani, Pooja Jain are all examples of women leading the family business.
Societal trends cannot be changed overnight nor in one generation alone. However, a change effected in one generation acts as a catalyst for successive generations. Thus, patriarchs who enable their daughters to take charge of their businesses need to be celebrated and be shown as an example for others to follow. Global studies have also shown that when there is a woman in the C-Suite the rise of other women in the organisation is faster!
What is the role of a strong family culture and values in maintaining and growing the family business? Does this element have a USP?
Family values form the core of any family. In a business family the values of the family become intertwined with the business of the family. Studies have shown that these values are the foundation of a successful family business. In fact, the common thread that binds all multi-generational family businesses is the focus on the core family values.
It is worthwhile to note that most family businesses fail to perpetuate beyond a generation. Only 30 percent of all family businesses make it to the second generation and only 3 percent last for more than four generations or beyond.
In this context that the Japanese family businesses stand out like a shining example for others to follow. The oldest family business in the world is a Japanese one – Hoshi Ryokan – a hotel which is owned and run by the same family since the year 718. It is a business which is 46 generations old! Further, out of the total 5,000 companies in the world that are more than 200 years old more than 60 percent (approximately 3,000 companies) are in Japan. Sudo Honke – makers of the Japanese wine sake, is another example of an old family business. It is in its 55th generation.
Is there some special ingredient that the Japanese have that makes their businesses go on for generations? Research carried out globally points out that the adherence to family values is the key reason for Japan to have the distinction of having the oldest family businesses. The core value in any family, anywhere in the world, is the trust between its members. In Japan this core family value is taken into the business very seriously. Thus, I do believe that family values play a non-trivial role in maintaining and growing the Family Business. There is no template for family values as each family is different and so are its values.
The Inheritors is a book that has clearly demanded a lot of intensive research. You have not only spoken to the businessmen themselves, but also key people from the respective industries in order to get a clearer picture. From all these varied narratives what according to you encapsulates the secret of being a good entrepreneur?
There is usually a set of qualities and characteristics that are associated with any entrepreneur. Such is also the case with family businesses. Each family business has its own set of characteristics that makes it unique. However, I discovered, after my interaction with the owners of nine of the most well-known businesses in India, that there are three qualities that run through all successful family businesses. These are the following:
The spirit of entrepreneurship: The Oxford dictionary describes entrepreneurship as ‘The activity of setting up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit’. However, as I sat and listened to the protagonists of The Inheritors tell their stories, I realised that the dictionary meaning was unidimensional and somewhat dry. It fails to capture the grit and determination, the ambition and passion, and the focus on getting things done.
The spirit of entrepreneurship displayed by the people in The Inheritors goes far beyond the activity of setting up a business or taking on a financial risk. During my conversations with them, I heard of their ability of being able to look at early failures squarely in the face, their refusal to stay down after their early stumbles, their ability to get up, dust themselves and move on, their conviction in their own self and their business concepts, their confidence to do things differently, their ability to force their competitors to also do things differently, their ability to treat their legacy as a blessing rather than a burden and, most importantly, their unrelenting focus on their family values.
Refusal to take Failure as The End: It is a commonly thought that children of successful family business owners are handed the business on a platter and that they lead a stress-free life. It is also assumed that the Inheritors glide in smoothly into their new roles. My conversations with the chosen Inheritors gave me a completely different perspective.
The young inheritors come into the family business with their own ideas and thoughts. They are mindful of the fact that there are professionals in the business that know more about the business than them. Each of the inheritor that I spoke with for my book went through an initial set back in his/her work life. Amit Burman set up Real Fruit Juice as a separate company which took years to turn profitable. Agastya Dalmia had to shut the first store of Keventers due to losses. However, both Amit and Agastya refused to be cowed down by failure. Instead, they took it as a stepping stone to do better. What separates successful people from the rest is their ability to look at failure squarely in the face, analyze what went wrong, take corrective steps and move on to do better
Keeping to the Family Values: Family values form the core of any family. In a business family the values of the family become intertwined with the business of the family. Studies have shown that these values are the foundation of a successful family business. In fact, the common thread that binds all multi-generational family businesses is the focus on the core family values.
Successful family businesses pass down the core family values to the successive generations. The Dhingra brothers, owners of Berger Paints – the second largest paint company in India, have built a colossal business without sacrificing even an iota of their family values. The word of the eldest in the family is law in the Dhingra family and this has been the case for over 5 generations. Sure, there is discussion and debate but once the eldest takes a decision everyone abides with it. This value, respecting the word of the eldest, has ensured that the family has grown the business without any acrimony or discord.
Similarly, it is the focus on core family values that got Tara Singh Vachani to be a pioneer in the space of Senior Living communities. Seva Bhavna is core to her and the young girl focused on this value to work in the space of providing enhanced quality of life to people much older than herself.
The focus by each business family on the above three qualities has ensured that they remain among the top business houses in India. Young entrepreneurs have a lot of learn from them!
Indeed, these are some insightful and inspirational learnings right from inheritors of successful family businesses in India.
The Inheritors by Sonu Bhasin, 2017
Published by Penguin Random House
Food art is an innovative way to express love for food! Yasra Khoker’s love for food and art have found a mélange in Food Swings, an illustrated travel journal with exceptional food art, that covers a 10-day trip Khoker took to Hyderabad, Goa and Mumbai. Bookedforlife feasts on the delightful journal as we chat with Khoker about what went into making it…
The idea behind ‘Food Swings’
While traveling, we often come across new visuals and ideas (however small or insignificant they might seem) that could be strangely appealing. I always record my findings in a journal that I unfailingly carry. This later took the form of a published book ‘Food Swings’, available for others to buy. The book is a replica of my sketchbook. The pages haven’t been designed for publication. Nothing has been omitted from the original. So, everything you see in it is what I saw and thought of and of course, ate!
Focus on food…not recipes
I’ve always been very interested in food. When I say ‘food’, I don’t just mean the cooking or eating of it but other aspects too, especially visual. There are always stories and recollections around food and a lot of times, I believe it’s more fulfilling for me to paint an experience rather than put it in words. If you take a look at my work, you will probably be left with a happy feeling (at least that’s my intention). I try to create that through food stories or events that play in my mind while I paint. The idea is that food isn’t ‘just food’. It is FOOD. Apart from being a life essential, it nourishes our senses. Moreover, it adds richness to existence.
The book is available as a paperback simply because a hardcover would cost more. Right now, the book is priced at Rupees 320. I haven’t set aside any margins for profit. The price covers my cost of printing and shipping. Publishing wasn’t planned so the target audience is just about anybody who shares my interest in food, art and travel. I didn’t think very much before doing this (or most things I do actually). So, I just went ahead after I received a number of requests for a copy of my journal.
So far, the response has been great. My first batch of 50 books has sold out. In addition, I’ve ordered a second batch. I’ve received a lot of love through mails and messages from people who bought it and some who have seen my work online. People are fascinated by ‘food illustration’. It is something unheard of.
I sketch what I see while traveling. Depending on the amount of time I have at a particular location, I indulge myself in a leisurely drawing or a quick sketch with runny paints. I have almost always sketched during flights (the videos are available on my website and other social media), while waiting at airports or elsewhere. After all, it’s a nice way to distract yourself from the ‘waiting’!
Sometimes, I begin a sketch knowing well that I won’t have time to fill in details. So, I do whatever I can with a quick sketch and either leave it that way or modify it later if I can. The idea is not to produce a photograph or even a likeness, it is to translate something of visual interest on a flat surface so I am taken back to that memory later while flipping through the journal. Often there are imperfect lines and that’s alright. It’s not about perfection.
I use a lot of other media but while traveling, I find watercolours and ink easy to handle so I stick to these. That is for my convenience mainly. Art work that is commissioned privately, is sometimes on paper, canvas, tiles or even a wall. Depending on the surface, you can choose media that suits best. I’ve used gouache, pastels, oil paints, coloured pencils, markers and so on many-a-times.
Illustrations versus photographs
Photography is a great media. Cameras and mobile phones are great tools to record a journey, an event or just about anything. Illustration is a different kind of visual expression and I can’t compare the two because while retaining a few similarities, they are very different in essence. One can’t be better than the other, I guess it’s about interest and convenience. You might come across an image of food that captures much more than its form. The same goes for an illustration. Your skill and manipulation of the medium matter.
With these thoughts, we leave you to enjoy food art in book form. Food Swings is a book that takes food art to an entirely different level! Now that we’ve got a taste, we just can’t wait for the next helping!
In order to buy Food Swings or look at Yasra Khoker’s work, visit https://doodlenomics.com/buy-food-swings/