Know your Author

Crazy Desi Book series is special- witty, satirical, mind-blowing ‘man-animal’ characters that simply mirror real life situations that we can’t help finding ourselves in. In a chat with its authors Ananth Shankar and Nidhi Jaipuria, Janani Rajeswari S discovers more about cartooning, satire and a whole new experience. We can’t miss ‘Rat’appa, hailing from the middle-class who’s constantly vying to be on the top of the corporate world or the fussy Durga ‘Murga’ or ‘Yo’ bra, the youth with his i-pod plugged into his ears who slithers away into a world of his own. Or our very own ‘Goat’ee, the ‘lost’ foreigner who’s taken for a ride. “Crazy for the limitless thoughts and ‘Desi’ for the Indian touch, that’s Crazy Desi Book,” says Ananth. They call the four-book series ‘a mirror to the society’ through satire. “It’s a mission to make a comment on the bad and worst that exists and also to change it,” is how Ananth Shankar simply puts it.

Cartooning and self-publishing…

A brand designer who was part of both National Institute of Design and National Institute of Fashion Technology, Ananth was initially into cartooning part-time for The Times of India. His specialty is ‘Animalisation’ that reflects his love for them. “However, it’s true that cartoonists are not taken seriously and thus, have a desperate need to take up other jobs to remain afloat,” he admits.

However, a pastime became a serious passion. “I felt that the real society should be ridiculed. Moreover, I felt that it was important for my family to relate with my cartoons,” explains Ananth, who adds that cartooning is a very powerful medium that is otherwise treated as a childish experience.

His first book came in the form of ‘Bisi Busy Bangalore’ in 2004 which was narrated through the eyes of a street dog. “Back then, bookstores were happy to stock my book. However, I realised that the cost between the producer and the end of the product was far more. Thus, I decided to opt for self-publishing,” he adds. He dedicated his publishing house ‘Wags in the bags’ to his dog Bhagheera.

The idea to do his second book came years later. He has joined hands with Nidhi Jaipuria, who has been associated with the field of education for more than a decade now. Her work entails mainly helping kids play with words. She has a few short stories for children to her credit. “I usually don’t illustrate for others. But I did so for Nidhi’s collection of 24 one-page stories,” Ananth adds. Nidhi adds that the love for banter and fun actually brought the two together. “The book has grown on Ananth’s idea,” says Nidhi, who has co-authored the book series.

Humour and ‘Man’animals…

Crazy Desi Book can well be termed as India’s only animal satire comic book. “Today, when it comes to humour, it’s mostly slapstick that we get to see in the media. However, we felt the need for giving readers some intelligent humour,” she adds. What could be a better choice than depictions through animals that mean no harm to anyone? Welcome to the ‘Farm’ily. “It celebrates wildlife and depicts how life is lived by them,” says Nidhi.

The making of Crazy Desi Book…

So, how does one describe the book series in a line? “A slice of life. It comprises of the annoying situations we all face presented in the cartoon format with humour. It is an interesting mélange of 80 percent of illustrations and the rest is text,” says Ananth. Also, a compilation of experiences that Ananth and Nidhi have themselves gone through.

“We wanted the books to be about middle-class India, a re-invented 'common man' taking a dig at day-to-day happenings relevant to most city-dwellers. Food, travel, shopping and health pretty much sum up any homo sapiens’ daily priorities!” quips Ananth.

The first volume was on ‘Travel’ that was out in June last year. Remember the jam-packed share autos and how people reserve seats in overcrowded buses by putting their handkerchiefs on the seat. The next books were released after a span of three months each. When it comes to ‘Shopping’, one cannot ignore the obsession with ‘credit cards or how poor husbands wait endlessly outside shops while their better-halves take their own time to make their selections. If this does not suffice, check out the third and fourth editions of the book on ‘Food’ and on ‘Health’ respectively. “In each book, a page contains a word pertaining to the subject dealt with. This is given in order of A to Z,” explains Nidhi.

“A common thread that runs through all the four books is the use of vocabulary,” says Nidhi. She feels that Ananth has a unique style of writing. For instance, adding quirky and witty rhyming puns to each page. So, each page includes illustrations, a word and a rhyme.

Reaching out to the readers, personally…

It was yet again a conscious decision to uniquely sell the book series. “I must admit that bookstores just loved the idea of ‘Crazy Desi Book’. However, they were not sure who was going to read it,” says Nidhi. She adds that the distributor did offer to stock the book across various stores. “However, we chose to make the books available only on the website and spreading the word through word of mouth” explains Nidhi. This ensures us to remain in personal contact with each reader. “Each reader gets a customized version of the book. We also stay in touch with them through e-mails and on social networking sites such as Facebook,” she adds. This move has definitely helped bring readers closer to the Crazy Desi Book Farm’ily.

Nidhi recalls the words of a 20-year-old who read the book out aloud to his ailing grandparent. “He said that it made his Grand dad smile. It indeed feels wonderful to be personally in touch with the readers,” says Ananth.

In the future

Both Nidhi and purchasing cialis wow it's great Ananth are happy about response the first three editions have garnered. “The experience has left me as fresh as a 'desi' - battered from the physical strain of drawing and putting my foot in the mouth. But mentally it feels good to have persevered and completed four 'epic' volumes, not exactly capabilities of a lazy cartoonist,” jokes Ananth.

The team is now working on the last edition in the Crazy Desi Book series, which will hit the stands soon. The book is sponsored by Fortis hospitals to reach a pan India audience.

As for the next line-up of books, Ananth says: “To create a better tomorrow by mercilessly stabbing at civic, social and ethical conduct of Indians today. The anchors of all my books will be an animal protagonist, be about day-to-day life in India and use puns to pun-ish!”

Joygopal Podder has published 13 books in 32 months including 12 crime fiction novels and was featured in the Limca Book of Records for two consecutive years (2012 and 2013)…and the year 2014 would be his hat-trick as he is already qualified. Here, Smita Dwivedi discovers more about his passion for writing!

His books include: Deceivers, (Pustak Mahal/Cedar Books), The Inheritance (Atlantic), The Landlord’s Secret and Other Stories (Atlantic), Millennium City (Prakash Books), High Alert (Atlantic), Superstar (Prakash Books), Mumbai Dreams (V&S Publishers), Beware of the Night (Vitasta Publishing), A Million Seconds Too Late (Vitasta Publishing) and Merchants of Dreams (Vitasta Publishing).

SD: Tell us something about yourself?

Joygopal: I came to writing at the age of seven in London, where I was born and spent my childhood. My first published story was at the age of 12 in a children’s magazine in Delhi, after our family returned to India. I was a freelance writer during my school and college days.

Heaving earned a gold medal in law from the University of Delhi, I was busy with my career and family life and writing took a backseat. I came to the NGO sector at the age of 40.

When I was 48 years old, my wife nearly died of blood poisoning and I went through a financial crisis. My wife survived – but lost her kidneys. I saved my house – but with great difficulty. The unpredictability of life made me to fight back – and leave a legacy of some sort. I decided to go back to my first great passion - writing. I floated a few blogs, and began the journey to write a book.

I love reading thrillers and crime fiction, so that’s the genre I chose to start off with. What emerged was a thriller featuring a social sector activist. I called my first book Deceivers.

My next novel The Inheritance delved into my earlier experiences in the corporate sector. While, my fourth book involved a serial killer. I let my imagination run riot, but grounded my story in familiar geographical territory, namely Gurgaon, where I have my home. That’s why the novel is titled Millennium City. It’s one of my most popular crime thrillers.

SD: Gurgaon is featured in most of your books. Why?

Joygopal: Most of my books do feature Gurgaon. My plots travel all over India and the world but the protagonists are usually grounded in Gurgaon. They live here, or work here, or both. The locales of Gurgaon are liberally sprinkled all over my books. The malls of Gurgaon feature in my books, as do the flyovers of NH8 and the parks and condominiums. The metro stations have sometimes hosted dramatic situations in my books.

SD: Tell us something about your books?

Joygopal: I have authored fourteen novels and one non-fiction book in three years. The plots span a wide terrain. Bollywood and its stars and directors and producers provide interesting characters and plotlines for many of my books. Some of my novels are police procedural; others are devoted to human drama.

My latest book is Dynasty, a novel about a hotel tycoon’s family and how the family members are stalked, threatened and attacked, but nobody knows why and by whom. I have just completed a light-hearted romance novel called 3 Mixed Up Men and have started writing another light-hearted humorous romantic book called Desperately Seeking Love. I will explore historical drama also at a later date.

SD: How did you feature as a record holder in Limca Book of Records?

Joygopal: I hold the record for the most number of crime fiction novels published in the fastest time (11 books in 21 months). This record is featured in the 2013 edition of the Limca Book of Records. Earlier, in the 2012 edition, my record was 5 books in 9 months. I will be appearing in the 2014 edition also with 13 crime fiction books in 29 months. So, even my continuous appearance in the Limca Book of Records is becoming something of a record! I’m really blessed!

However, I would like to point out that, in writing, quality comes first. An author should not write to break records; I do not. The records have just happened because of the fast pace of my writing, which is not a deliberate strategy. I love writing and storytelling; I have a passion for it. So the output is fast.

SD: Where do you see yourself five years down the line?

Joygopal: What next? More books and more records. I would like to try my hand at historical fiction and also humour (which I have started). What drives me is the positive feedback I get from my readers. As long as they love what I write, I will keep on giving them my books!

I hope, of course, to become better known as an author, as the years go by, and perhaps see some of my books come alive on the silver screen.

SD: Any message you want to give to first-time authors?

Joygopal: Read and read and read. Then write and write and write. There are no short-cuts to writing success. And write so that you are remembered for generations – not forgotten in six months!

says Ashok K Banker, an Anglo-Indian from a Christian family, who has been instrumental in reviving the readers’ interest in Hindu mythology and Vedic literature. What drives this talented author to these he adds the zing to all these texts...finds out Varsha Verma. Ashok K Banker is an internationally acclaimed author of mixed-race based in Mumbai. His Epic India Library is a lifetime writing plan that aims to retell all the major myths, legends and history of the Indian sub-continent in an interlinked cycle of over 100 volumes. This includes The Ramayana series, Krishna Coriolis, The Mahabharata series, the contemporary Kali Rising thriller series and other works. His books have sold over 1.85 million copies in 13 languages and 58 countries worldwide. No wonder he is credited with the resurgence of mythology in Indian publishing.

On mythology as his muse...

Ashok K Banker“As a non-Hindu, I had no knowledge or experience of these stories or mythology. Though there were Amar Chitra Comics and TV serials, they could not amuse me. When I chanced upon the puranic texts as a young boy, I was amazed at the depth and detail and beauty of the original stories. It amazed me that those original tales were almost unknown to even Hindus today. For instance, I have met not even a handful of people in my lifetime who have read the original Valmiki Ramayana (even in translation) or the original Vyasa Mahabharata. Everyone believes they know these epics because they’ve watched Bollywood films or read comics or watched those TV serials, but that’s just a tip of the iceberg. The original epics are great works of world literature. Whether they were mythology or history or something else is for others to decide. To me, these were great stories that deserved to be known by the whole world. I waited almost thirty five years for someone to retell them or even just tell them in all their glorious detail but Indian English writers seemed to be only interested in writing about themselves, their love lives, their marriages...they still are, I guess. So I took the plunge, an Anglo-Indian from a Christian family, and did my best attempt to reclaim these great stories. If I succeeded in any small way, it’s not because I’m talented or a good writer, because I’m neither. It’s because these stories are great stories,” says the mythological writer Ashok.

Quoting an example of his eight-volume Ramayana series...

Everyone says they know the Ramayana. Few do. “When I began reading and gathering insights into the various Ramayana versions, I found that Muslims in Malaysia have their own version, so do people across Asia, even the rest of the world. There are probably more Sanskrit Ramayana scholars in Scandinavia than in Delhi! And more scholars and historians interested in Vedic culture in Russia and Middle Eastern Europe than in Benaras! But in India, people dismiss it as a simple tale of Good versus Evil. Or they use it as a whipping post to project their own insecurities and prejudices. The truth is, that was another age, another era. Were men chauvinistic then? Yes, of course they were. These stories were all written only by celibate men living alone in deep forests – they had no inkling of a woman’s mind or point of view. So definitely these tales are chauvinistic, brahmanically biased, North Indian. As someone of mixed race, mixed culture, with Sri Lankan British parentage, I was fascinated by how worked up people got even today when arguing the merits and demerits of what Rama or Sita or Ravana did or didn’t do in that distant past. Like, get real, people. They did what they did. They lived, they loved, they fought, they died. Deal with it. Move on with your lives! People take it so personally. Why? I think it’s guilt. Brahmanical Hindu guilt because they regard Rama as a God yet can’t accept the fact that he banished Sita. It’s a myth that Gods are perfect. Mythology tells us over and over again that even Gods were not perfect. Just because you consider someone a God, doesn’t mean he lived up to your expectations perfectly. My interest was in the core story, not in all this irrelevant claptrap. I just told the story, as someone with my mixed background and cultural upbringing would have, in my polyglot makapao Byculla Boy Anglo-desi style. The fact that someone actually saw fit to publish it, and well over a million readers (and counting) loved it so much, is amazing. It still remains my bestselling work, with the ebook editions now outselling the print editions ten to one, because new readers are discovering it every day,” tells Ashok proudly.

What more?

“I am more than halfway, almost two-thirds of the way through my retellings of the major myths, legends and itihasa of the Indian sub-continent. When complete they will all form the Epic India Library, a massive story cycle with interconnected volumes and series. I plan to finish this project in another two to three years and will then move on to writing more personal novels, mainly romances and serious contemporary fiction since those are my two personal interests,” he shares.

The newbie...

More recently, Ashok has released EPIC LOVE STORIES – of Shakuntala and Dushyanta- the love story that gave birth to a nation, Ganga and Shantanu - a love story written on water, Satyavati and Shantanu - a love story made possible by a son’s sacrifice, Amba And Bhishma - a love story that was never meant to be, Devayani, Sharmishtha And Yayati- a love triangle that changed a dynasty. On asking about the response so far, Ashok replied, “The response has been terrific. I believe in a direct line from reader to writer. Anyone can write to me anytime and I always reply. Almost 43,000 readers (out of about 2 million readers total) have written to me and I’ve answered immediately, even corresponding with several for decades. So I have this wonderful sample of readers who help me gauge if a book is being enjoyed or not. The Love Stories are a great concept, they feel. The lovely illustrations by Kunal Kundu and beautifully designed covers by Gunjan Ahlawat play a big role in that, I feel. It’s one of the few covers where I was invited to give input into the concept and I feel very happy with the results. In future titles in the series, I plan to include lesser known stories that readers are less familiar with and I think everyone of all ages can read and enjoy these books.”

What he wants to achieve by writing...

“I want to do justice to the story. The writer should disappear once the story begins: only his voice should remain. I alter my style, syntax, vocabulary, grammar, narrative devices, everything according to the story I’m telling. If you read my Krishna Coriolis, Ramayana Series, Mahabharata, Vertigo, Blood Red Sari, you’ll see they’re all in completely different narrative styles. The story decides how it should be told and the writer must serve the story. I’m irrelevant except to offer my voice, my mind, my very limited and poor skills, to work in the service of the story. I’m just the cobbler who works the leather, not the creator of the hide, nor the maker of the thread, nor the tools or implements...merely the cobbler,” says the humble Ashok.

Hardest part of writing...

“...the preparation, research, thinking, planning, ideating, gestating. It takes my anywhere from ten to thirty plus years to get ready to write a book. It involves a lifestyle change: If you don’t live, breathe, eat, sleep, drink writing everyday you’re only a businessman not a writer. Once it’s in your blood and you do it because you love, it’s like breathing. The actual act of writing is the easiest, most enjoyable part and barely takes any time. If it’s not, then you need to change your profession,” advises Ashok.

Advice to young author...

“Read, Read, Read. Write. In that proportion. Read at least a thousand books for every one you write. Don’t offer everything you write for publication. Be willing to throw away entire novels, even good ones, if you’re not totally happy with them. If you’re not writing better than other writers you read, you’re not ready to be published yet. Work at it. You never become a good author: your entire lifetime is a journey towards that goal. Even after 40 published books, I still feel like I’m learning how to do it all over again with each book. I still get a thrill out of it. I still love it madly. Forget the money, forget fame, forget the PR and the publicity game. It’s all about the writing and that only comes from the heart, the soul, the gut,” he advises.

Unwinding facts...

“Writing is my hobby. Being a husband, a father, a caregiver to my companion Willow, those are my real jobs. I unwind by writing, by reading...and by going to the gym which I really enjoy,” he says.

On a concluding note...

“Be well, read lots of good books (not just mine) and be kind to as many people as you can. Because good people make good readers and good writers,” concludes Ashok.

We all love to read autobiographies and biographies of rich and famous…and we have our favorites too! But if we explore this segment little more we will be taken aback by countless biographies and autobiographies on the shelves of bookstores and libraries…you name it, they have it. Be it a sportsperson, politician, singer, actor, dancer, industrialist, writer…the list is endless. There are millions of books available on their lives and achievements. Here, Smita Dwivedi writes about Pooja Bedi, author of Time Pass – an autobiography of her mother Protima Bedi, Indian model turned Odissi xponent.

The biographies of great men and women have been written and rewritten not only to glorify their great deeds, but also to provide great inspirational tales of achievement, sacrifice, courage, commitment and exemplary qualities. To start with, let me ask a question –‘Which is the most inspiring Indian biography?’ To put an end to our instant wilderness of thoughts, let me tell you the answer. It is Shrimad Bhagwad Gita – the autobiography of Lord Krishna. Yes, in India and world over, it is one of the most read autobiographical literature. As per Dr Sonal Mansingh, “It is so amazing that I have read it more than 10 times.”

Pooja’s Time Pass

Out of many famous autobiographical books some are literary masterpieces which contain volumes written about fascinating and famous people and events. So why one more? To which, Pooja Bedi replied, “The book Time Pass is my tribute to my mom – Protima Bedi. She had this wonderful habit to pen down all her emotional, personal and intellectual thoughts which were wandering within her. And she had a huge collection of her writings, which I explored when she was not with us.”

Protima was always known for her outrageous lifestyle. She was quite an icon, defying sexual taboos and challenging hypocrisies. And her nude run on the Juhu beach in Mumbai was her way to condemn society. Living life on her own terms, her death also came dramatically as she would have wanted. On August 17, 1998 while on pilgrimage to Mansarovar, a landslide killed 200 people. Among them was Protima Bedi.

While reading heaps of manuscripts by Protima, Pooja got a chance to know her mom much better. So how was the journey of writing an autobiography of your so called controversial mom? To which she replies, “Well I always stood by mom, she had given us a great lifestyle. I was always given my right to choose my ways. The diary entries and her writings were her own views and opinions about the external world. And these really helped me in knowing her better. I wanted that not only me…but the whole world should know her the way she was. So I decided to compile it in – Time Pass.”

But why such a unique

name: Time Pass? And she explains, “Her life was fun, she lived every moment to the fullest. Whenever we asked her about life, she always replied it’s a Time Pass.” And for Pooja, autobiographies of successful people are quite inspiring.

-“Over the course of my lifetime, something had been changing in India to turn it into the kind of place where reinventions became possible.”

Anand GiridharadasWhat are Papa and I doing here?” Anand Giridharadas got this text message from his mother when his sister was considering moving to India from California. Giridharadas was already working in India. His parents were at their home outside Washington, D.C.

Giridharadas’ parents immigrated to the United States in the 1970s, part of the great Indian brain drain. Giridharadas says he never thought he’d follow the reverse route back to India. “My childhood behavior was wanting to keep India at bay,” he says. “The first thing I learned about India was that my parents had chosen to leave it.” India, for him, meant family trips with suitcases stuffed with gifts—Gap khakis and Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky. In some ways, India was defined by the things one could not get.

“But over the course of my lifetime, something had been changing in India to turn it into the kind of place where reinventions became possible,” says Giridharadas. His book, India Calling, is about that transformation. “It was not just me as a young man going East and reinventing myself. The more important part of the story is that a lot of other people, including Indians themselves, were finding in their country opportunities to reinvent themselves.”

Giridharadas came to India to work for McKinsey & Company. He stayed on to write for the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. That allowed him to have a ringside view of this changing India.

He sees many reasons for this transformation. “A lot of people overplay the singular role that capitalism has played,” Giridharadas says. He sees a subtler but more profound cultural shift. “A lot of Indians are acquiring an idea of self and selfhood, that they matter against the claims of the family, against the claims of their caste, against the claims of the state.”

Some of that has happened through an unlikely medium—television. Giridharadas says in small town India, television “arrives actually as a force of uplift.” It does not just advertise cars and detergents. A young man named Ravindra told him if you saw a man catching an anaconda on the Discovery Channel, you knew that he was probably the best person in the world at catching an anaconda. “In a very small town, the idea of seeing the best person in the world at doing anything is such a revelation,” marvels Giridharadas.

Ravindra, son of farm hands, raised in a small town in the middle of nowhere, came from a world that accepted things as they were. But he pulled himself up by enrolling in a slew of coaching academies for conversational English and computer classes. Now he owns his own English language academy and a roller skating rink. When Giridharadas met him, he was conducting a Mr. and Miss Umred Personality Contest for his town of Umred, population 50,000, in Maharashtra. “He has become the ambassador of escape for a young generation craving it,” says Giridharadas.

In that process, the Ravindras of India are becoming more comfortable in their own skin. They eat out at fancy restaurants but are unabashed about preferring ghar ka khana or home-cooked food. At one time, men like Giridharadas’ grandfather held the reins of power. His tweed coats, pucca English and membership in the right clubs all spoke to that. “The old guard is still holding on,” says Giridharadas. “But there is a clear shift away from their rule toward one that looks and feels much more Indian, much more rooted in the soil.”

Its patron saint is perhaps industrial tycoon Mukesh Ambani. Ravindra wants Giridharadas to show him every photograph he has of Ambani on his laptop. Ambani takes business colleagues to the temple, and hankers for real food after a designer meal at Nobu, the exclusive Japanese restaurant in New York.

But ambition and a can-do spirit alone cannot propel millions up the economic ladder. “You have an abundance of workers who cannot find jobs and an abundance of jobs who cannot find workers,” says Giridharadas. “What needs to happen is to develop an educational system to align the two.”

Giridharadas will be watching to see if that happens. He’s back in the United States now, finishing his Ph.D. He says America gave him self-confidence but India gave him “a sense of community.” He hopes to write more books, and not just about India. “But I know that India will be a permanent part of my life,” he says. “I will live there again.”

(Sandip Roy, currently in Kolkata, is an editor with New America Media. Article reprinted from SPAN magazine, May/June 2011 issue.)