India is a land of contrasts and contradictions. How can one then define what is “Indian”? If one looks closely, we can indeed define ourselves through simple objects. Or maybe, simple day to day objects can define us Indians! This is exactly what Jahnvi Lakhota Nandan has done in her picture book Pukka Indian: 100 Objects that Define India. The book was released at ARTISANS Gallery at Kala Ghoda in Mumbai, and has been critically appreciated for an honest view of the country and our identity as Indians, through the lens of product design.
Pukka Indian takes 100 objects that we could associate with India, or rather objects that define India. The book presents aesthetically shot images of the object followed by a comprehensive history of the role of the object and its significance in the Indian context.
Bookedforlife chats with the author to unravel the inspirations and travails of the journey of writing “Pukka Indian”.
Coming up with objects that in some way define our identity is a colossal task, which you have accomplished quite well! What inspired the idea in the first place?
I went to a product design school. I think it was natural for me to question objects of daily use. Objects used every day like the bangle, bindi, pressure cooker, sari blouse, dupatta tandoor, etc., all put a long tradition of design of household objects, at the core of everyday life in the country. Objects like Kalnirnay calendar, bahi-khata for bookkeeping, mandira, a tool used to churn milk into butter, reflect uniquely Indian habits like churning and calculating, gestures I became acutely aware of while studying architecture design at the School of Art and Design at Tsukuba, Japan. Here I realised that few contemporary cultures have as close a relationship with objects that were designed 5000-7000 years ago as India does. Kitchen tools like the tava, the oldest of utensils in India used to roast the country’s staple diet, are a testament to this long and uninterrupted use of objects. Design thus became the chain linking the last two decades of my life; the chain that propelled me to this architecture school and that brought me to Paris to design with the most elusive of all materials – smell, that in India finds expression through incense.
What were the challenges you faced in the actual research process?
The process of research was very extensive. I went through archives, documents, and interviews not just with designers but also with writers of fiction who have used these objects in their books.
You have given special attention to the kitchen and the objects within it. What is it about the Indian kitchen and its evolution that you find fascinating?
Yes. Definitely, the decorative aspects, particularly surface embellishment plays a historic role in Indian design. Its origins go back to design of utensils for the gods. It is also reflected in the design of kitchen tools where traditionally kitchen utensils were used to cook as well as serve. They were used in temples as well as homes. Ancient utensils used during rituals gave rise to utensils for daily use. Some, like the deep rimmed patila for boiling milk exist from the later Vedic period and was used both in temples and in homes for the same purpose. This combination of the sacred and the profane is what makes it unique. Their design combined both decorative and utilitarian elements. This is the reason why they have multiple tasks of cooking, storing and serving. Indian designs have constantly involved and have included sophisticated technologies. Even during the Harappan period the simple kitchen tools such as the skillet and the tong for making rotis was an extremely ingenious and innovative response to the conditions around. If you take a simple thing such as the box for chapatis it is fascinating to note how over thousands of years its material has evolved from terracotta to metal and now it is available in various polymers.
You have a fine balance of old objects that have existed for centuries with newer objects. Can you name a couple of modern objects whose design is timeless and would definitely stay very relevant in the distant future?
This is what cultures like India and for that matter all traditional cultures including Scandinavian cultures teach us. We don’t need to choose between the old and the new, because tradition is still current, and current defines the future. Cultures like ours are unbroken. This thread of continuity is expressed in design too.
Pukka Indian is a great source of information on how common everyday object design has shaped our lives in deep ways. In your opinion, what should the reader take away from the book?
Indian design is constantly evolving. Having stood the test of time is just one of its unique aspects. Its success is due to the fact that it is flexible and inclusive. Indian design often includes all the senses including taste and touch and this is one of the unique characteristics.
Pukka Indian: 100 Objects that Define India is an interesting coffee table book that makes the reader see common objects in a new light. The delightful pictures and the accompanying text paints a picture of the journey of Indian design and how our lives are so intimately connected with these everyday objects.
Author: Jahnvi Lakhota Nandan
Publisher: Roli Books
“When Morning Comes” by Arushi Raina narrates a fictionalized account of the turmoil of the Soweto Uprising in South Africa. It was on June 16th, in the year 1976, when school students in the Soweto township in Johannesburg, South Africa, began a series of protests and demonstrations against some very oppressive educational policies of the government. Those were the days of an apartheid government.
The uprising is central to the story that is narrated from four different points of view: Zanele, a black girl; Jack, a white South African boy, Thabo, a thug and Meena, an Indian girl. The narratives spin the story forward to its conclusion, though never losing sight of the central theme.
What I found very powerful were the insights by the author, gently sprinkled across the four narratives. Consider the following statements;
“Mama thought that her life, cleaning after white people who spent most of the time pretending she didn’t exist, was a life worth living”
“To be neither black nor white was to have different, unclear loyalties. It wasn’t assumed that we were political agitators”
“A week and Zanele still hadn’t been found. My mother gave Lilian three days off to look for her. Maybe, because she believed in a mother’s right to bury her daughter- even if the mother was the help”
The simple but powerful language grips the reader completely, leaving the story alive in the mind long after the book is over!
I grew up in South Africa in the late 90’s. South Africa’s apartheid history wasn’t history then–it was a recent past, that as a child, I saw in flashes in how adults, and children interacted with each other. But I never really thought of writing a story set in this past, perhaps because it was too complicated, and too close.
It was only years later, sitting in a dorm room in New York, so far away from South Africa, that writing something grounded in South Africa, in a history I had caught in flashes, in classroom discussions and in my friend’s parents’ stories, felt not only something I could try and do, but something very necessary for my development as a writer.
Multiple narrators tell the story. The story moves forward with narratives from Jack, Meena, Zanele and Thabo. Why did you choose this particular form of narrative?
I think it felt like the only honest way to tell the story. I’ve always been a bit in love with points of view, how different voices can collide and come together in unexpected ways that I can’t predict.
In retrospect, I also think multiple viewpoints as a technique is very closely paralleled with my experience growing up in South Africa. Whenever I go back to South Africa, there are different perceptions of the truth, depending so much on the unique and nuanced racial, ethnic and histories that make up South Africa, and really any country, including India.
We need to live with that difference, to find our truth between the spaces of our individual opinions and perceptions. One of the saddest things to see happening around the world right now is the lack of nuance and diversity of viewpoints coming together. Luckily, it still exists in fiction.
Teenagers are associated with rebellion. However, history is a witness to the fact that the youth have been instrumental in effecting many changes. The characters are young and very resolute in their own way, quite different from the more shallow adults in the story. In your opinion, is this true of our young adults today?
Absolutely. One of the things I say when I go into classrooms today, is that teens are powerful, so powerful that they scare us adults a bit sometimes! But, with this power comes so much opportunity to change the way things are. For good and bad.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
In addition to learning about the Soweto Uprising when I was in school in South Africa, and touring the sites of the uprising, I also relied heavily on multiple documented primary accounts online and in text. The amount of time I spent trying to find books in obscure college stacks across the US (I couldn’t get to South Africa near the time of the first drafts) was not funny.
We live in a world where sadly, but definitely, children and young adults are exposed to conflict, war, inter-group hatred and the darker side of human nature. What impact do you hope the book has specifically for the young adults who read it?
I hope that they are powerful. That there are small moments, personal moments, family moments…that they have a voice and a chance to act.
Can you share any feedback that you have got for this book from your readers?
One thing I’ve always enjoyed hearing from teens is: why don’t they teach this in school, instead of boring historical textbooks? And I sort of agree. I mean that’s why I secretly wrote the book. I love history, but I only read fiction for fun. Why can’t more education thread in interesting diverse avenues, including fiction?
Another thing I hear a lot, which sort of breaks my heart, are teens who come up to me after a talk and tell me that this history in this book reminds them of their home in the Philippines, or in Egypt, or the US. Racial segregation and state abuse are big words but teens recognize it as well as anyone, and carry this experience from the places they came from.
You have lived and travelled in many countries, and this must have honed your world view. What is the role of literature in a society that is often fuelled by hatred?
Foremost, to experience something different from what we know, and then, to think about something a bit differently. It is not my goal to convince my readers of any particular message–not at all. It is to present a story and hope they will make the sense of it that they need to.
Are you thinking of a sequel following the story of Jack and Zanele? I am sure anyone who has read the book would want to know that!
I am, very abstractly. It will depend so much on my future as a writer!
The faces of young people are the faces of our past, our present and our future. “When Morning Comes” by Arushi Raina reasserts the power of the youth to effect change in a world that is increasingly being torn down by violence.
Title: When Morning Comes
Author: Arushi Raina
Publisher: Duckbill Books
Zentangle is a meditative art form. It is relaxing and easy to learn. It involves using structured patterns, and using them repetitively. These patterns are usually done on 3.5-inch square paper tiles. The repetition draws the mind into a “flow state”, thus leading towards mindful meditation.
Sunali Shah, a certified Zentangle teacher has just released a set of three books that teach this art form in a very simple step-by-step manner. She chats with Bookedforlife about her new book-set, Zentangle: Recipes for Mindfulness.
What are the benefits of Zentangle?
In today’s fast paced world, Zentangle helps all ages. Firstly, you have to understand that you don’t need to be an artist to draw on this simple 3.5-inch square paper tile. I have always believed, that ‘Anything is possible….one stroke at a time’. This process can de-stress and calm you. It reduces anxiety, fear and mental pressure. It brings about a positive and confident approach to life and improves your focus and concentration considerably.
So how is Zentangle different from let’s say, doodling?
Sometimes people will think the Zentangle method is like doodling because the results of each can look similar. The biggest difference between a doodle and tangle is that a doodle is generally aimless and random. One does it especially when preoccupied or to kill time. However, a tangle is structured and deliberate.
Moreover, doodling is usually a secondary activity. For instance, you may doodle while you are on the phone or bored during a meeting or class. Zentangle is both a primary activity, done with deliberate intent, and a secondary activity.
You have written an interesting series of books on Zentangle. These serve as introductory texts for anyone wanting to learn the form. What was your motivation behind the same?
I have been teaching the art of Zentangle for some time now. I get a lot of inquiries for my workshops conducted in Mumbai from people outside of Mumbai and even from other states of India. Initially, I took online sessions. However, these had their own limitations.
So, I thought of writing these books which would help me reach out to more people. People would also be able to learn at their pace. It also turns out more economical to learn from these books especially if one does not have time off from their busy schedules to come and learn through my workshops.
Can you share some experiences from your workshops?
The benefits of the workshops are that the students receive plenty of individual attention and support. They appreciate the positive, hands-on approach especially when it comes to understanding the finer points and nuances of tangling!
It is satisfying to see that the art has made a difference to the lives of people. A mother called me to speak about her very hyperactive 9-year-old son. He had been diagnosed with ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Slowly, over a few sessions we could see that he calmed down and the results were seen in school.
Another instance that I recall concerns a 78-year-old. His motor skills were almost nil. He said he could not sign cheques! Over a few sessions his shaky hand started getting more steady. Of course, it was not a complete recovery but it was good enough to write his cheques and a little more.
My friend’s mother had cancer and she was extremely depressed after chemotherapy. I went to her 2 to 3 times a week and taught her tangling. She loves tangling now and makes a tile a day!
Can novices benefit from the books?
Yes of course! Anyone can try this art form. The instructions in my books are very easy to follow.
Can you share some of your future plans with respect to propagating the art of Zentangle?
The current set of books are the elementary series. I have already starting working on the Intermediate series. The Advanced series will follow as well.
Zentangle, as an art form has many benefits to offer. If you are keen to learn it, these books could be a great way to start this process of self-study. Are you ready to Zentangle?
Title: Zentangle: Recipes for Mindfulness.
Author: Sunali Shah
Genre: Art/ Self-help
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!