Know your Author

says Manjiri Prabhu, founder and director of Pune International Literary Festival and an author of several novels, in conversation with Varsha Verma. Manjiri Prabhu has always tried to do something different in the literary world. While, she became the first author to pen down astro-detective novels, she also founded the Pune International Literary Festival (PILF) to celebrate the written word. Here, she talks more about her love for the literature.

Varsha: As founder and festival director of PILF, let us know about PILF and how it has been doing till now? What is the role of PILF in the literary world?

Manjiri: PILF has been started with the vision to engage, explore and experiment with all forms and genres of the written word that will inspire you to fall in love with them ...and light the lamp of knowledge. Now in its third year, more than 250 authors and creative personalities have participated in the last two years, making the festival a remarkable success. We have the mission to offer an exciting and interactive platform in Pune for writers, publishers, media, film & TV writers and readers and propecia 5mg wow)) creating a star position for Pune on the international literary canvas.

From last year, as a social responsibility of PILF, we began highlighting an important social cause. Like in 2014, our social theme was ‘Environment Protection through Animal Welfare’ and our focus was on adoption of street dogs and save the tiger. Maneka Gandhi inaugurated the festival and did a one-hour session which was life-changing for some. This year, the theme is ‘The global image of India’. Every citizen should work towards upholding the core moral values of society, contribute to the social and environmental welfare of the country and be a global ambassador for India. This year’s social cause includes Safety, Security, Cleanliness, Tourism and Empowerment.

Varsha: When is the next PILF scheduled and what new can the visitors expect?

Manjiri: This year (2015) the festival will take place from September 4-6, 2015, at YASHADA. More than a hundred authors and creative personalities will participate and there would be discussions, workshops, and an interesting exhibition on the queen of Crime – Agatha Christie, in celebration of her 125th birth anniversary.

Few of the proposed authors will include Sudha Murthy, Rajdeep Sardesai, Shashi Tharoor, Ashok Chopra, Kathryn Hummel (Australia), Piers Moore Ede (UK), Neil Hollander (France). It will also include workshops on Ad-filmmaking by Ashmith Kunder, making very short films (of 3 to 5 minutes) - Siddhartha Jain, iPop TV, Haiku by Kala Ramesh, Writing for children (for Teens) by Leela Gour Broome, Reading Your Mind by Nakul Shenoy and many more….

Varsha: Astro-detective is a new concept. How did you come up with this new concept?

Manjiri PrabhuManjiri: For me the journey with Astrology began at a very early age. In my Mom’s stomach to be precise, like Abhimanyu. My Mom was the first lady Astrologer of Pune, way back when I wasn’t even born. She is a pioneer, a teacher, a consultant and the perfect ‘guide’ for the many frustrated, helpless people who sought some hope through Astrology. To them, she is the anchor, their support, affording them guidance, without losing sight of the Science. I almost took Astrology for granted for all the growing years of my life. But a striking incident changed the gravity of the Science for me. I particularly remember an occasion, which actually formed the base of my novel The Cosmic Clues and triggered a serial. My mother used to regularly look at horoscopes at that point. A film director from Bollywood, approached my mother. He said it was very urgent and he needed to consult my mother privately. My mother, despite being busy, agreed. When he visited her, he asked a single question: “When will I have a child?”

My Mother stared at his horoscope for a long minute. Finally she glanced at him and said, “You want the truth?” The man was a little nonplussed. ‘Of course!” he said. “Well then, you have a son. It’s just that you can’t claim him as your son,” she explained calmly.

It was as if a bomb had been dropped. The man paled, his eyes darted from one end of the room to another. He was afraid, someone may have listened. But then, he nodded and confessed that she was right.

This incident made me realise that Astrology is a tool unlike any other. With a totally untapped potential, it had to be exploited in the right manner – especially in solving a crime.

And that is how I used it as a crime-solving tool in The Cosmic Clues and The Astral Alibi. Sonia Samarth (the main character in the book) is the world’s first Astro-Detective, thanks to my mother, who provided me with the best of authentic horoscopes for the novels.

Varsha: Also tell us about your other books?

Manjiri: I have written eight books including one non-fiction book on the image of Indian woman in Hindi films. That is a conversion of my Ph.D. thesis on the same subject. My first two novels published by Rupa Books, titled A Symphony of Hearts and Silver In The Mist were romantic novelettes in the Rupa romance Series. The book on Hindi film is titled Roles- Reel and Real.

My next books are – Gypsies at Noelle’s Retreat a book for YA (Young Adult) audience, based in France, published by Times Group Books.

It introduces India’s first teen girl detective Riva Parkar. It is the first one in the Riva Parkar mystery series. I am working on the second in the series titled Gypsies on the Eurail. The Cavansite Conspiracy – a romantic suspense novel published again by Rupa. The story taking place in 48 hours simultaneously in four continents, revolves around a precious mineral stone being stolen and a murder connected to that.

In the Shadow of Inheritance has been published by Penguin India. Actually this is the first novel I wrote at the age of 18. The story is very dear to my heart. It is receiving very good response all over India.

Varsha: What has been the response to your books so far?

Manjiri: Pretty good. I get emails from all over India and from all corners of the world. Especially as the two astro-detective novels were published in the US and distributed worldwide, I have readers in many unimaginable and unknown places. They send their candid remarks and appreciations to my stories wi thin the novels. They also like the Indian milieu, descriptions of Indian culture, food, festivals, lifestyle and all.

Along with mystery I think love for Astrology is the common bonding factor for all my readers across the globe. For my other books published in India, I get similar responses and frank opinions as well. I like it when readers get involved in my writing and spare time to respond personally. It boosts my morale to write more, to write better and to give them something they like.

But to admit frankly, most of the popularity today at least in the publishing industry is an outcome of hard-hitting, well-targeted and professionally managed marketing strategy. I fall very short in all this and don’t ever think I can be a part of it.

Varsha: Describe your journey as an author and what are your future plans?

Manjiri: I have always wanted to be a writer since my early childhood. I grew up reading Enid Blyton and later Agatha Christie and many others. At some point, I even imagined myself as Enid Blyton reborn, till I came to know that she was still there when I was born!! I wrote my first story at the age of seven, though I was first published as late as in 1994. I feel that I don’t create my books but every book that I write creates me anew. I learn a lot about myself, life and the world around us through the process of writing and creating imaginary characters.

I am very happy when readers connect with my thoughts, my characters and plots and sail smoothly through them. I enjoy this process of creating memories in others minds and think that’s what a writer and a creative person does. I plan to continue it with writing as many books as I can. Already I have completed two novels and both are very unique in their subject and approach. The first one is titled ‘Snowflakes in Summer’. It is a futuristic fantasy and takes place in a world, centuries from now.

The second one is titled The Trail of four. It is based in Salzburg, Austria and is again an international mystery story.

Varsha: As a writer, what do you aim to achieve when you start writing?

Manjiri: To write a good book…a reader would want to carry in their hearts and memories forever.

Varsha: In your opinion, what is the hardest part of writing a book? Why?

Manjiri: Firstly, to actually begin writing the novel, then to create believable characters and finally to end it in a unique manner for the readers to remember it forever. The second challenge is to devote time to it, without falling prey to other distractions, since writing is a solitary process. And thirdly, the most difficult part, according to me is getting it published. Honestly, writing a book is a lot easier than getting it published. Almost everyone wants to write these days and try their hand at it, but very few get published and fewer get recognition. I feel blessed that I am one of those chosen ones.

Varsha: What writing/ publishing advice do you give to aspiring writers of any age?

Manjiri: Write from your heart, write what you want to read but can’t find in the market, write because your heart tells you to, not your head...just write!

“WORDS are nothing but expressions; EXPRESSIONS are nothing but emotions; EMOTIONS are nothing but feelings; FEELINGS are nothing but poetry; POETRY is nothing but soulful words and; every word has a SOUL” - with these opening thoughts Irshad Kamil, noted lyricist, poet, author, writer, strikes a chord with Smita Dwivedi. Irshad KamilAt a tender age of five, he started appreciating words and even created a poem. Well, these were the unnoticed spurts of the birth of the poet: Irshad Kamil. The name is unique…so, is Irshad his real name? To this, he replied with a smile, “I was born with this name only. It has nothing to do with me being a poet. It’s my mom’s blessings that helped me to get successful.”

Beginning his journey from a lower middle-class family of Malerkotla (Punjab), the youngest amongst the seven siblings, Irshad took admission in Punjab University (Chandigarh) and attained a Doctorate Degree in Hindi poetry. But what remained an unseen, silent companion through the years, holding him together, close to himself, was his love for writing.

“One has to be in love, feel love and celebrate love within him first then only he can write words that will touch every heart and I have my stories too.”
This love from the inception to the time it became Irshad’s Raison d’etre is a mystery for Irshad too. On asking him, how this eternal affair with words started, he shared, “That’s very difficult to answer and there is no particular date or time for any author or writer to start playing words game. It’s a gradual process and result of years of personal, emotional and inspiration journey that leads us to a point where we are now.”

From TV serials to films…

Irshad had a brief stint as a journalist and theatre, but life took him into its folds and he started writing for serials. But he was looking for something more and finally Irshad met Imtiaz Ali. First meeting with Imtiaz and a life-time bond was formed. Socha Na Tha was the first for both Imtiaz and Irshad.

Pure passion and original style began to weave itself through the pen of Irshad and be it any genre or style, Irshad proved his mettle. Though awards and accolades have been many, but the milestone was when he won himself the Filmfare Award for the song Ajj Din Chadheyya in the year 2010. Shabd, Jab We Met, Tum Milo Toh Sahi, Love Aaj Kal, Ajab Prem Ki Gajab Kahani, Once Upon A Time In Mumbai, Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, Mausam…Irshad’s songs are his imaginative revelations, yet to be decoded by all. But RockStar is the closest to the reflection of this Lyricist. Writing for Rockstar, Irshad effortlessly unleashed the real rebellion that he is... Rockstar was a catharsis…an experience of returning to oneself…reclaiming oneself.

From films to books…

Having a successful and satisfying career in Bollywood, writing a book was neither an impulsive nor an easy thing for him. It was a long yearning within him to write a book. As he shared, “Poetry is a free process, it is like flying in the sky. Writing songs too is similar to flying in the sky but within limits, as there are a number of factors to be taken into account. But there is more freedom when you are writing for yourself, than when you are working for someone else. For films, you have to keep the story and characters in mind, whereas while writing poetry, our emotions and thoughts flow without any constraints. I have been writing poetry since a long time. This being my first book, Ek Mahina Nazmon Ka, I have written it in a particular nazm meant for my young followers and fans and has the tagline Love’s Long Biography. As the title suggests, it is a book on love with a very contemporary feel to it.”

Earlier, one of his plays Bolti Deewarein was published and he had also written an analytical book on Hindi poetry – Samkaleen Kavita and recently Ek Mahina Nazmon Ka. The latter has become a bestseller within a month of release. On asking about the title he said, “I liked the phrase, hence I decided to give that as the title of the book. Besides, it is a very apt title as the book contains 31 long and short poems for each day of the month.”

Inspiration for love songs…

On asking about inspiration behind so many love songs and poems, he laughed and added, “One has to be in love, feel love and celebrate love within him first then only he can write words that will touch every heart and I have my stories too.”

Romancing with books…

On a concluding note, while commenting on importance of books, he shared, “For me books are as important as relationships. Like we have mother, father, brother or sister, we need to have a book to read as well. And having a physical book or e-book, I always prefer paper and ink. As for me, reading a physical book is like romancing with your girl friend or and e-books are like mannequins.”

Amar ChandelAmar Chandel was working as an associate editor with The Tribune, Chandigarh, where he was also responsible for the page on Health. “It was then that I realised that lot of medical problems can be resolved without the use of medicines but people are unaware of it. I started writing a column, which was much appreciated and this later formed the basis of my first book,” he shared. His popular first self-help book, Perfect Health in 20 Weeks became a bestseller. “This book took three-four years to complete,” he said.

After resigning from his job at The Tribune, he has been practicing and teaching a comprehensive lifestyle modification programme called Holistic Healing in India and abroad, with the help of which thousands of people have cured themselves of acute and chronic diseases without the use of any medicines. “This course is foundation for learning meditation as your body needs to be fit before meditation.

There is no self-realisation when the person is under stress and 90% of stress is not because of lack of meditation but certain mistakes one makes day to day, which include breathing, food, thinking process, jealously, etc. And that’s what formed the basis of my second book Stress to Serenity,” he said.

Stress to Serenity has already received rave reviews and is on the path of being a bestseller. “My book is for all those who wish to lead a stress-free life. 90% of stress is for no reasons and if one changes one’s attitude, lot of problems can be solved,” he said. Being a journalist, was it easy for him to get published? “KPR Nair of Konark Publishers joined my holistic healing course and motivated me to write a book. So, it was a kind of easy to get published,” he said.

Amar is currently working on his next book Raw Miracle, Raw Diet which shows that many diseases can be cured without the use of medicines. “The book will be released next year,” he told.

So how important are books in the self-help category? “My personal opinion is that books fill the missing gaps. But, books are not really helpful until they are implemented. Only those should read self-help books who want to help themselves. Every author presents his work in a book and it should not be read like a novel. Read it slowly and put it to practical use. Read chapter by chapter and what may appear non-sensible might actually be the essence of the book,” he said.

On a lighter note, Amar says that journalists lead a miserable life with bad food and equally bad working hours and unhealthy competition. “It all falls upon them on a later age. So, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle in order to be healthy,” he concluded.

–says Uma Vasudev, celebrated journalist, writer and documentary film maker

With three political biographies on Indira Gandhi, numerous novels, several books on culture, music and the arts, Uma Vasudev still continues to explore a wide and unusual creative range from history to fiction. Currently, she is working on two books alternating between politics and short stories. Smita Dwivedi in a long conversation with this inspiring octogenarian discovers her love for words, music and art. And how Delhi during 60s-70s was the best place in the world for creative writers and much more.

Uma Vasudev was the first editor of the magazine India Today. Author of two best selling biographies, Uma Vasudev is a popular Indian novelist and a well renowned columnist on political issues. She has also written, produced and directed several documentaries and television serials. Her biographies Indira Gandhi: Courage Under Fire and Indira Gandhi: Revolution in Restraint are worth reading. Some more books of Uma Vasudev include: The Song of Anasuya, Shreya of Sonagarh, Satish Gurjal: Where the Silence Speaks, Paintings, Kranthijia, Hariprasad Chaurasia and more.

As a freelance columnist, Uma has continued to cover topics ranging from politics to the arts, both in the literary field and for radio and television. Her particular interest has been Indian Classical music, in which she herself took vocal training at Delhi’s Gandharava Mahavidalaya. Her portraits of India’s great ustads and gurus were the earliest to be published in the Illustrated Weekly of India in the form of personal interviews, which are now of archival value.

On first book…

“My first book was The Song of Anasuya, which investigates and recesses around the complex human psyche. I had written this book in my 20s and it was based on male narration. This book is in Punjab University curriculum as well. So, it is close to my heart,” She shared.

On biographies!

The biographies written by Uma Vasudev are comprehensive. So, how it actually happened that she ended up with many such works. To which she laughed and added, “Even I am still wondering about this.”

Explaining it further, she added, “I was the only female journalist in 1970s to handle political beat. I got to interact a lot with Indira Ji and travel across the world with her. So, it was an obvious decision to write her biography, which was so comprehensive that we decided it into two different books. One is based on her life before emergency and another one after emergency. While, the biography on Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia was due to my immense interest in music and Satish Gujral was a good friend, so his biography was much easier.”

On Indira Gandhi…

Uma feels that her biographies on Indira Gandhi were actually an attempt to identify the country's history through a woman who governed it. According to her, she was a gifted person, with so much of courage. “She is one of the most magnificent Indian personalities of 20th century and I am lucky to spend so much time with her. It was really a great experience to trace her story from a young girl, who developed herself against the background of her grandfather Motilal Nehru’s rich fortune and early beginning in freedom struggle, to complete plunging into Indian politics and finally her fall after emergency. Also her personal life, her love life and her relationship with Mahatama Gandhi were worth knowing,” she narrated.

Characters…inspired from life!

Uma Vasudev deals with fictional as well as non-fictional approach while writing. For instance, none of the characters of her novels are entirely fictitious. She feels that fiction is basically a truth even it seems like complete fantasy. “The characters of any novel are created from within and not from outside of oneself,” shares Uma.

Delhi Diaries!

Uma loves Delhi and Delhi loves Uma; she maintained her loyalties with the city for her whole life. She spent her childhood in Delhi and was national level sportsperson too. She shared fond memories of this beautiful green city, with lots of space all over. “Coffee Shop in CP was the cradle for most of us. We were young and creative people, discussing change all the time. During 70s, it was a great place. We saw ministers…even prime minster sharing coffee with us. There are numerous great authors, writers, politicians, poets, industrialist and entrepreneurs which this city has given to India. There was something in the air; we were living freedom in true sense.”

In today’s era, when whole world is on web, the charm of watching artisans live has lost in sheen. And she shared her experiences of the time, when Delhi was a culture capital. “There was a time, when all the big artists used to have their concert in Delhi and it was pack house with all the top citizens. I was such a music fan that I used to write reviews, while I was coming back home in my car and it was published in next day newspaper. It was great fun!”

Message to readers…

“Read more and make your own opinion and learn something new every day. No matter what, books were…are…and will be our best friends,” concludes Uma enthusiastically.

Growing up in a village in Cochin with more temples than was necessary, it was no wonder that the Ramayana fascinated him. Ironically, he was drawn to the anti-hero of the epic – Ravana, and to his people, the Asuras, and that became the title of his first book. He did not stop at this; his second book Ajaya has Kauravas of Mahabharata as his heroes. Meet Anand Neelakantan in conversation with Varsha Verma. Anand Neelakantan is known for his debut novel Asura Tale of the Vanquished & AJAYA: Epic of the Kaurava Clan - Roll Of The Dice. Anand’s debut work Asura: Tale of the Vanquished was a surprise bestseller of 2012, breaking into the top seller charts within a week of its launch. And so is Ajaya.

So what is Ajaya all about? “If Jaya is the Mahabharata of Pandavas, Ajaya is the Mahabharata of Kauravas. Ajaya is Suyodhana’s (Duryodhana is more popular parlance) Mahabharata where Kauravas are heroes rather than the despicable villains they are usually made out to be. The first part of the book- Ajaya epic of Kaurava clan, Roll of the dice has been published on December 1, 2013 and the second and last part, Rise of Kali (note: Kali as in Kaliyuga) is slated for release by mid August this year,” tells Anand Neelakantan.

The book has featured in the top position in booksellers lists like Crossword, Landmark, Oxford, etc. “The response and reviews of the book has been fabulous so far. What is icing on the cake is that my first book Asura: Tale of the Vanquished is still in the charts,” he shares. The book has recently been launched in Tamil language and is receiving rave reviews.

And this is just the beginning, Anand is working on a few more books, all related to mythology. On asking why, he replies, “An author writes what he or she is most fascinated about. For me, it is mythology. I am working on Mudrarakshasa from Rakshasa’s view point. Traditional tellings say Chanakya’s story with Rakshasa as the villain. My novel will take the story from Rakshasa’s view point, at the eve of Alexander’s invasion of India.”

Since all such books make interesting trilogies, we asked Anand if he’s planning one. “Yes, I am planning a trilogy soon. Though, I prefer to work on single books as it gives a sense of completion to both author and readers. However, certain stories need a bigger canvas and I may have to write a trilogy for something I have in mind, as the story requires it,” he shares.

So, what’s the most satisfying and difficult part of writing? “When I write my first draft, I write for myself. That is the most satisfying part of writing. Nothing can beat its satisfaction. The hardest part is editing the first draft. Every word has been put with a lot of passion, but when I read it after a few days, I start doubting my sanity and writing ability. Editing out chunks of what I have poured my heart on is painful, but necessary,” tells Anand.

Anand feels that his journey so far as an author has been wonderful. “Three years before, I used to wonder whether anyone would ever read my books. Today, when my books are topping bestseller charts, it gives me a lot of satisfaction. I hope to write more and more books and perhaps try my hands in television or films,” he adds.

Cartooning remains his first love and he likes reading comics and children’s books. “The best thing to happen in the world is Tom and Jerry series, which I enjoy watching with my children. Other than that, I love to do oil painting,” laughs Anand.

As an advice to aspiring writers, Anand says, “Keep writing. The craft improves as you keep practicing. A musician practices for many years before he dares to perform in public, a sportsman spends most of his childhood practicing, yet many people who want to write expect that their first attempt to write would get published and they will earn universal fame. Writing is no different from any other profession. Practise makes a writer perfect.” 

“Read my books just as another fiction. They are not research papers and I am not a scholar by any stretch of imagination,” concludes Anand.