Know your Author

told Dr Raghunath Mashelkar, the eminent scientist and recipient of Padma Shri (1991) and Padma Bhushan (2000) awards in recognition of his contribution to nation building. But this interview has nothing to do with his achievements as a scientist and achiever but as an author whose latest book on Gandhi has made him part of an Indian’s everyday conversation. Excerpts. Dr Raghunath Mashelkar Dr Raghunath Mashelkar’s Timeless Inspirator – Reliving Gandhi has been creating waves across the country. Ritu Goyal (RG) caught up with Dr Mashelkar (Dr M) at his office on a sunny afternoon where he spoke about what Gandhi meant to him, how the book originated in his mind and where he sees the book heading.

Bejan Daruwalla – the laughing Buddha!
Bejan Daruwalla needs no introduction. Being acknowledged as one of the hundred great astrologers in the last 1000 years in the Millennium Book of Prophecy, published by Harper Collins, USA, Bejan is also one of Asia’s most read and largest selling authors. We bring you a detailed account of the life of this man of wisdom, who besides being a successful astrologer is also a professor, poet, writer, thinker, critic…and above all a foreteller of goodness, in a tête-à-tête with Smita Dwivedi.

Bejan Daruwalla is the world’s most famous astrologer, and a regular on television shows worldwide. Besides, he is also a best-selling author and columnist. He has been a professor in English and currently his articles are published in various newspapers like The Sunday Times of India (Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata), Telegraph (Kolkata), Navhind Times (Goa), Dell Annual Horoscope 1998 (New York), News India (New York), and Berkeley Communications (London) to name a few. He had been a guest on BBC - Hard Talk India, London; ABC and NBC, USA; Star News, Zee TV, Sony, etc. He was invited to America, the Philippines, London and Pakistan, in fact the only Indian astrologer invited to Pakistan What’s more! On July 16, 2000,

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then prime minster of India, invited him to predict the future of the country.

Q: When and how did you start writing?

Bejan: I was 25 when Asia Publishing House published my first book of poetry called Wheel of Fire. Being a professor of English, expressions came naturally to me. It was in year 1958-59 that this book gave me instant fame as a poet. After sometime, there was a terrific crossroads in my life. I completed a book on short stories and signed a contract with some publishers. But then my publishing company went bankrupt. And so in 1969, I went to Philippines as an astrologer.

Q: What inspires you to be active with your writings even at 80?

Bejan: My favorite word is love…it’s my nature to love and this inspires me to write poems even today. I write poems on Lord Shiva, Ganesha and even a 25-year-old girl. I would have been a painter; I would have painted this whole world with love. Oh! I love to have such a vast canvas.

My faith in Lord Ganesha instills me with all the positive energy. So, there’s always a vibe in me that keeps me on. I spend time on writing regular features and columns, besides working on poetry and astrology books.

Q: How has been your journey as an author?

Bejan: I have written around 200 books, which include three collections of poetry and 150 books on astrology. My satisfaction comes not from writing books but from the fact communicating with the people. This year, my annual forecast book is also translated in Russian. It’s been quite sometime since I started writing forecast books.

I have many books on astrology and so it’s difficult to mention all titles. But one book worth a mention is I am the sky, which won the first prize for Paperback Publishing at the Delhi Book Fair.

I feel lucky to have worked with the finest publishers from all over, which include Orion Publishing, Paperback Publishing, Times Group Books, Hind Pocket Books, Lovdev Publishers, Avon, Ranvir Books – Mumbai, etc.

Q: What can our readers expect next from you?

Bejan: As of now, I am very excited about my latest book 2012 – Will the World End, which is all set to hit the bookshelves. And I am sure it is going to be a wonderful book. I researched and researched a lot before writing this book. I studied science, technology, galaxies, black holes, astronomy, astrology, and so on. And I found out that technology and humanity will marry each other and stay together. To sum up, I would say ‘I care and I dare’. This would definitely be one of my finest books.

I have a great affection for kids. I laugh with them and cry for them. They are world’s most beautiful creation. Even when this whole world will come to an end, the only thing that would remain will be a child. Even the most barbarous God doesn’t have heart to kill a child. I have also completed a book on short stories for children, which is still pending with the publisher

Q: Which was the first book that you read?

Bejan: Oh! That’s Shakespearean literature for sure. I have read a lot of it.

Q: Who are amongst your favourite author/writer?

Bejan: Well, to start with… I like Kamala Suraiyya aka Kamala Das, an Indian writer who wrote in English and Malayalam; Keshav Malik, an Indian poet, critic, arts scholar, and curator; Pritish Nandy, a Indian poet, painter, journalist, politician, media and television personality, animal activist and film producer, to name a few. And my latest favourite is Chetan Bhagat, an Indian author who has written Five Point Someone, One Night @ the Call Center, The 3 Mistakes of My Life and 2 States: The Story of My Marriage.

Q: What else keeps you busy besides astrology and writing – be it hobbies, likes and dislikes?

Bejan: I am fond of listening to music of great classical maestros like Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Zubin Mehta, Bismillah Khan, etc. I do listen to contemporary music as well. I love to play with children, and like to observe them for hours. I love to laugh…oh! It’s my favourite one…Hahaha.

Q: What message would you want to give to our readers?

Bejan: Yes, I want to give a Mantra for success and it goes “Observe and Hard Work”. If any one sticks to these two virtues…he/she will get success for sure. And always remember brighter side of a story…no matter how tragic the end was. See good, do good. Om Shri Ganeshaya Namah!

KRA Narasiah, a prolific writer, turned his pastime – writing – into a passion. A marine engineer by profession, he took note of whatever happened when he sailed to near and far off places, which later became inspiration for his books. Here, this sailor-turned author shares his journey of sailing and writing with D Ramalingam of AABP.

KRA NarasiahKavoon Ramalingam Appala Narasiah (KRA), now in his 70s, started his life as a marine engineer. He sailed for 10 years in naval vessels (1953 to 1963). In 1960, he was deputed to world famous Harthand & Wolff in Belfast, North Ireland, to assist in the construction of INS Vikrant, the first Indian naval aircraft carrier, where he became first Indian chief of Flight Deck. Later, he joined Visakhapatinam Port as marine engineer and retired as its chief mechanical engineer in 1991. Post retirement, he was appointed by the Indian Port Association, to bring out a Compendium of Major Ports. He was also told to make a study of Kandla, Calcutta and Madras Ports for privatization, improvements in mechanical and marine engineering respectively. He was also invited by World Bank to join the emergency rehabilitation programme in Cambodia from 1994 to 1996.

Books that brought Halchal (change) in his life…

When he was sailing, his pastime was reading. However, the books of reference published by the Admiralty Publications attracted his attention. Sinking of the Bismarck and the Battle of the River Plate were two monographs that riveted his attention to story telling. “I never found such books in any Indian languages and thought if I can put my experiences in writing,” expressed Narasiah. “Similarly, the books by Nicholos Monsora on sea and sailing, especially The Cruel Sea impressed me a lot. But what really touched my heart was Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea,” he added.

The writing bug…

KRA started writing for a daily that was published on board INS Vikrant. When he left the Navy and joined the Merchant Marine, the uncontrollable urge in him to write made him to attempt a short story in Tamil. “The story was inspired from real life. When I was in Cambodia, one of my co-sailors, an Indian, opened his heart over a drink and told me about his troubled family life. That formed the concept for my maiden attempt in Tamil story writing,” told Narasiah. He sent the story to Ananda Vikatan, a popular Tamil weekly, published from Madras (Chennai). After a few weeks, he received a letter from the editor that the story was not only accepted but also published as the award-winning story under the Vikatan ‘Seal Marked’ stories. Same thing happened to his second story as well and then there was no looking back. However, since he could not write much on board, he just wrote a couple of stories in a year. But as all his stories were published, he was greatly encouraged to write.

The writer gets due recognition…

It was at this time that Lakshmi Krishnamurthy, daughter of freedom fighter Satyamurthy, started a publishing house called Book Venture to publish choice books. She asked Narasiah to write the experiences of his sailing in Tamil. When published, Kadalodi (seafarer), as it was titled, became a hit and was reproduced in abridged form in Manjari, a digest in Tamil. The book was catalogued with the United States Library of Congress. So far, many editions of this book have been produced.

Narasiah’s short stories, numbering over 120, have been published in three volumes. Volume I of Tamil short stories was published in 1996-97 by Narmada Padhipagam on request from Madura College, Madurai who prescribed a few stories from it as non-detailed study for its undergraduate students. Volume II of Tamil short stories was published in 2000-01 by Alamel Mangai, a publisher from Nevedita group. It fetched two awards, one from SBI Cultural Wing and another from Tirupur Tamil Sangam. Volume III of Tamil short stories was published by Palaniappa Brothers in 2006. It also fetched the Tamil Nadu State Award.

Narasiah was also conferred with the Tamil Nadu State Awards in 2007 for a treatise in Tamil on sea trade, Kadal Vazhi Vanikam, published by Palaniappa Brothers and then again in 2008 for the book on history of Madras in Tamil, Madarasapattinam, also published by Palaniappa Brothers. This book also won the AV Meiyappan Memorial Award. As per Narasiah, “History evoked keen interest in me as I sailed with Sardar Panikkar when he was researching for his book. It was further sharpened as I was asked to join a mission of emergency rehabilitation of Cambodia in 1994 by the World Bank. Thus I spent good time in researching and penned two books, one on the history of Madras and the other on history of Madurai. I also wrote a book in English titled Maritime History of India which has also been received well.” His English writing also include chapters in the Four Hundred History of Madras and Overcoming Challenges, the story of Port of Chennai during its 125th year. He has also co-authored Madras Rediscovered with S Muthiah, who is a chronicler of Madras and is an authority on History of Madras. This book was published in the year 2008 by New Horizon Media in their ‘Oxygen books’ series.

The transformation of a marine engineer to a writer was complete, both in English and Tamil. “I won the success to my sea experience,” concluded Narasiah.

successful women pen their thoughts and aspirations in the form of books

The Indian women today have made a place for themselves in society. Be it art, culture or any other creative medium. At the occassion of upcoming Women's Day on March 8. Smita Dwivedi delves into the lives of three of India’s most recognised women celebrities who have expressed themselves in written word as well. Meet Dr Sonal Mansingh, an eminent Indian classical dancer and choreographer of Odissi dancing; Sushma Seth, renowned Indian film, television & stage performer; and Shahnaz Hussain, CEO of Shahnaz Herbals Inc and a prominent Indian female entrepreneur; who discuss their lives and unveil the writer within.

Great dancer Dr Sonal Mansingh
Her book - ‘Incredible India: Classical Dances’

Dr Sonal MansinghFor those who just know Dr Sonal Mansingh to be a great dancer, would be surprised to learn that she is a writer too! She was always asked to write stories, articles and many other things in her childhood. “I am not a writer as such, but I always wrote my diaries, experiences and notes, all through my years of growing up,” says Dr Sonal.

Recently, she has written a book Incredible India: Classical Dances published by Wisdom Tree, and there are a couple of other books, which are still in pipeline. “The core that we call Indianness distinguishes us from the Japanese, Chinese, Pakistanis, and everyone else, and is still intact. Just like the kernel, even while the exterior shell keeps changing shape and colour, the base remains unchanged. So, nothing is lost in India. The entity called India is still within us. The elements, the remnants, and hidden streams of consciousness of thoughts, traditions, and belief are all here, not lost,” said Dr Sonal. Disclosing more on her writing style/passions, she said, “I still write long hand, so it takes me six to eight months to write a book, and maximum a year. Notes are there, all the details are there in mind. The hardest part is to self edit. When one is writing a diary, it’s fine. But while writing a book one has to keep readers in mind.”

Talking about her reading habits, she disclosed, “I’ve read memoirs, travelogues, history, philosophy and so much. There’s one little book by Ramesh Menon – Blue Lotus, which is a wonderful combination of Bhagwat Gita and Shrimad Bhagwat. It is so amazing that I have read it more than 10 times. Another book I picked up from a street shop in New York was Crazy Wisdom. In fact, I sat on heaps of books to find it.”

Versatile actor Sushma Seth
Her book - ‘Stageplay: The Journey of an Actor’

Sushma SethHaving a career that spans around five decades is indeed an achievement for an artist. And so the knowledge, experience and learning should not be just left dormant. And the best way is to compile all the inner waves of apprehensions into an ocean of knowledge, i.e. penning a book.

So how did it started, to which Sushma replied, “When my own children were aged 6, 7, and 8 years, I needed to involve them in interesting and creative activities. As my field was theatre and drama, the natural choice was to organize a drama workshop for students. Thirty children joined in the eight-week workshop. And the experience for all of us was wonderful and satisfying!”

Over the years, she has been associated closely with the activities involving children and all these experiences and involvement in the field of creative dynamics, drama in schools, and theatre-in-education has been communicated well to the readers through her book. “When children’s creative theatre was born...we held summer and winter workshops for the next 6-7 years. Every workshop ended up in two plays, Hindi and English. During these sessions, I jotted down the daily voice and speech exercises, the improvisations and my experience,” elaborated Sushma.

She expressed her gratitude for Sanjana Roy Choudhry of Amaryllis, who read the manuscript and named her book Stageplay: The Journey of an Actor, and published it with great enthusiasm. Brimming with joy she revealed, “My book is an account of my own childhood influences, besides my experience as a drama teacher and director of school/college plays.” “The initial notes were of the years 1973-1980, but assembled and given shape in 2009, and the book was released in August 2010 by eminent film personality Shyam Benegal, and my contemporary theatre friends of 1960s,” she shared.

The second part of the book is a ready reckoner for all teachers of drama as it details material for drama workshops and the finer aspects of play production. This includes movement of the body, moving on stage, voice and speech exercises, improvisations and guidelines, and other aids for the director or teacher of drama, along with a 10-day drama workshop module.

Poised with panache, Sushma is a true reader as well. “I have been most overwhelmed by the ‘Holy Vedas’, a beautiful poetic adoration of the elements, and an account of the treasure of knowledge of our heritage; the ‘Vedanta Treatise’ by Swami Parthasarthi, an account of the Vedic philosophy for contemporary application; Sage Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, which I have adopted as the blueprint for life; Swami Vishnudevnand’s book on mantras and their power,” disclosed Sushma. Besides, books on self-improvement and inspiring biographies are the ones she likes to read.

Beauty business tycoon Shahnaz Haussain
Her books - ‘Forever Beautiful’, ‘Beauty Book’,
& ‘The Book of Absolute Beauty’

Shahnaz HussainIt all started almost four decades ago when Shahnaz was in Tehran, where her husband was posted as the head of foreign trade with the State Trading Corporation. Although she was not a college graduate, but she loved to write. And so she began writing articles for the Iran Tribune. Contributing 1,000 words per week, she was offered to handle all the features in English and soon she was running the entire English magazine – cover to cover. “It was due to my writing that I could work my way to leading institutions like Helena Rubinstein, Christine Valmy, Swarzkopf, Lancome and Lean of Copenhagen,” said Shahnaz.

Shahnaz has written three books. First, Forever Beautiful is a comprehensive book on beauty and contains personal accounts and case histories of skin and hair treatments at her herbal salon. Second, Beauty Book, published in 1985 followed with several editions, has also been translated in Hindi, Arabic, Russian and other languages. Third, The Book of Absolute Beauty deals with every aspect of beauty besides treatment of problems through her products. It’s a detailed book on skin, hair and body care, nutrition, exercise, make-up, etc.

She did not go to a regular publisher for her first book instead got it printed at the Statesman House press. So the artwork, proofreading, photograph, layout, etc, had to be done in-house, which was quite challenging for her. “The fact that I loved writing was the main inspiration. I had already written so many articles, I thought it could be compiled into a book and I could also add to it. Since I had adopted a totally new, path-breaking concept of beauty care, I thought of detailing the same into a book and talk about the practical aspects and my experiences. At the same time, it was also a comprehensive beauty book, telling readers about the beauty and health of skin and hair,” revealed Shahnaz.

Interestingly, it took her just one year to complete her first book, which was not that difficult for her as well. According to her, the title ‘Forever Beautiful’ was apt, as she believes that every woman with fitness and good health, as well as the right kind of external care, can preserve and protect natural beauty and be…Forever Beautiful!

In her regular columns, she provides home remedies as solutions for beauty problems. “My philosophy and faith in nature have not only influenced markets and minds, but have become an integral part of my brand’s image,” says Shahnaz.

Presently she’s reading a book titled The Wrinkle Cure by Dr. Nicholas Perricone. Amongst her favorite authors is Kahlil Gibran, whom she likes a lot. “I have read both fiction and non-fiction books and many of them have impressed me. Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet is a book that impacted me deeply and I still read it from time to time. I find it very soothing and it never fails to uplift my spirits. It contains some of the best advice on living life. Indira Gandhi’s book My Truth had quite an impact on me and taught me so much about the strength of the lady I admired so much. Former president Abdul Kalam’s book Wings of Fire was very inspirational. I have also read many books in my own field, especially on age control.”

Shahnaz is soon coming out with a book entitled My Life in Pictures, a biographical element and should be of interest to all. She is also planning to come up with more books on beauty. “For me, sky is the limit. For others, a good life may be living for a hundred years, but I live a lifetime between the rising and setting of the sun,” concluded Shahnaz.

A commissioning editor is the gatekeeper of the publishing industry and the only person to interact with, if you want to publish. Dr Sreepat Jain, co-founder and managing director, Veda Publishing Consultancy, describes the unique and mutually beneficial relationship between an editor and an author.

I was trying to visualize a universal method of interaction between the author and the editor but I must admit that there is none. Any author who wishes to publish needs to get in touch with a commissioning editor (also known as an acquisition editor and hereafter referred to as Editor) and this person becomes the point of contact not just till the manuscript is published but also after that.

Responsibilities of a commissioning editor…

Sreepat JainThe job description of commissioning editors differs from one to the other; from a science to a social science editor. However, they all have a common thread of commissioning new titles and developing academic lists commensurate with the philosophy of the publishing company. But then this is not all what a commissioning editor does. He explores new areas to publish in and constantly keeps himself abreast of current market trends. He goes through numerous speculative proposals in order to seek a concrete one that is not only commercially viable but is also academically sound and that can also populate his academic list. He finds reviewers to read his manuscript, negotiates lengthy contracts, explains them to the author in easy to understand language, sets deadlines, gently pursues the author to meet them, sends reminders, answers innumerable queries and concerns from the author, liaises with other in-house marketing and production departments, attends conferences, book launches and does university campus visits. His job is not yet finished as he also overviews the editing of the manuscript, keeps in touch with the typesetter, and goes through the first and the final poof, answering numerous author queries in between. Add to that all the usual bits of office work that needs to be done, like preparing weekly reports, constantly mailing prospective authors and keeping in touch with the old ones. It is obvious that commissioning editor is a pretty busy person. However, in spite of all this, he still spends a large part of his time in communicating with his authors be it in flesh, through e-mails or by just old fashioned phone calls. Communication is of the essence in commissioning.

Editor-author interaction...

There are broadly three stage of interaction between the editor and the author. The first and the all important is the pre-manuscript stage, followed by the manuscript stage, and the final production and the post production stage. In all stages, even minor queries by the author, who are largely hesitant to ask, may well be significant and noteworthy. Hence, at any point of stage, the authors should never be afraid to contact the editor to address their concerns.

Pre-manuscript stage: The pre-manuscript stage requires the maximum amount of interaction between the editor and the author. This is where the editor’s capability is put to its ultimate test. With his experience, of academia and market alike, he guides the author in writing a good abstract of his impending book. The abstract is but an abridged version of the book or a manuscript in design. In most cases a good abstract is often half the book done, where a viable table of contents is crystallized; an optimum blend of academia (author’s delight) and market (editor’s concern). It is also at this stage that the editor, in consultation with the author, streamlines the text. Often a voluminous work (a production nightmare) is restructured onto a more cohesive but thinner book. Generally, for a good abstracts (and thereby laying the foundation of a good book), it often takes 5-10 e-mails and 4-6 phone calls spread over a period of 10-15 days. Finishing an abstract is tough not only for the editor but also for the author. But then, the abstract sets the course for an excellent book that often stands the test of time. It is here that both the author and editor appreciate each others aptitude and work culture. It is also a time where an editor motivates the author to keep up with the deadline in spite of his insurmountable teaching and bureaucratic obligations.

Manuscript stage: The manuscript stage is primarily the editors’ responsibility. Before he sends it out for review, he goes through the contents, quality of figures, tables and text. He makes sure that the matter is up-to-date with the prevailing scientific trend and the text has ample recent references. At times the editor might only get 2-3 chapters for review. In such a case, the editor constantly keeps a tab on the length of the remaining chapters so that the book does not overshoot its initial page extent. Otherwise, the entire cost of the book (costing) has to be redone, that eventually also affects the pricing of the book. The editor also makes sure that book goes to a good reviewer, someone who has already published in the same area of expertise.

Production and post production stage: The final production and the post production stage is primarily the editor’s endeavor. He is responsible that the author’s labour of pain reaches its befitting conclusion. He makes sure that the final proofs are typeset properly, there are no text and illustration errors and that the page extent of this final draft is the same as originally envisaged.

During all these three stages, one aspect that brings the editor closer to the author is his ability to respond quickly to author queries and simultaneouslyww, it is also the author’s responsibility to quickly respond back. Any delay by the author will scuttle the entire publishing schedule and, the production dates which in turn would severely affect the promotion of the book. Effective and quick communication both ways helps all involved parties.

The author’s responsibility…

The author must make sure that he gives as much information about handy contacts, academic conferences, societies and associations, and mailing groups that the marketing department can use to promote his book. The author must also mention appropriate journals that are subscribed in his department or at the university library where the review of his book can be possible. If unavailable, the author must inform the editor, who in turn would then work with the marketing department to build a good promotional flyer.

Other editors involved…

But commissioning is incomplete if I do not introduce you to those who at some point of time or the others are also responsible for the book to be published. Foremost among them are the desk and copy editors. They do the mark up on the manuscript and ready it for typesetting. They are the ones who turn the manuscript into an actual book.

The lasting relationship between editor and author…

Thus, throughout the prepublication life of the book, the editor is equally, if not more, concerned and makes sure that book sees the market soon. Both have invested heavily on the book; editor’s patience and author’s perspiration. However, this is not where the story ends, but actually begins. For an editor, each book is a prelude to the next, and to a new edition. It is editor’s pride to build a successful list of well-established authors that may even last his life time and return with new manuscripts. It’s always ecstatic to announce to the author that his first edition is sold out and is up for a larger print run in the second. But if the commissioning editor could say this face-to-face in his office with the author holding another manuscript for him, well, then it’s awesome. Happy commissioning!