Know your Author

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!



When we talk about Indian cookbooks, what name comes to your mind instantly? Probably, it is Nita Mehta, the famous cookbook author who has sold over 3.5 million cookbooks over a span of few years. What inspires the famous author to write, how she thinks of her recipes, what makes her cookbooks sell…let’s find out more. Nita Mehta is a home science graduate from Lady Irwin College, University of Delhi and a Gold Medalist in M.Sc. (Food & Nutrition). She has authored more than 350 books on various topics including more than 250 best selling cookery books. Her book Flavours of Indian Cooking won the Best Asian Cookbook Award at the Versailles (Paris) World Cookbook Fair. Three of her other books have also won international awards like Zero Oil Cookbook, awarded as Best Health and Nutrition Cookbook; Chocolate Cookbook, awarded as Best Chocolate Cookbook and Cooking for Growing Children, awarded as Best Cookbook for Children & Family. The publisher of her books is SNAB Publishers. The secret of success is her thorough and meticulous approach towards her books, as she shares in an interview with Varsha Verma. Excerpts.

AABP: When and how did you become interested in cooking?

Nita Mehta: Cooking started at a very young age. As far as I remember, I started cooking when I was 12-13 years old. That time, I used to bake cakes and cookies with my mom, aunts and neighbours. When my parents saw my interest in cooking, they let me do my graduation in home science from Lady Irwin College and then I did my postgraduation in food and nutrition. I enjoyed studying throughout my college life.

AABP: What made you decide to write cookbooks?

Nita Mehta: After my college, I got married and became busy with children. After 10 years of my marriage, when my children grew up, I started taking classes for ice-cream making, which were very well-received by the girls. It was the time when there were not too many flavours available for ice-creams and I created and developed some new ones. After 2-3 years, the same girls and their friends and relatives, asked me to give classes for cuisine like Italian, Chinese and Mughlai. I continued taking classes for another 10 years and it was at this time that I realized that I need to pen down my recipes in the form of a book.

My first book was released in the year 1993 titled Vegetarian Wonders which was a large sized book with coloured pictures. The book was beautifully photographed and was well received. Readers had said that the recipes were written very carefully and there was no margin for error. Infact, some of them even remarked that they felt that their mother is standing beside them and guiding them when they cook a dish. I have authored 350 cookbooks as of now.

AABP: How do you write a recipe?

Nita Mehta: Whenever I write a recipe (even if it is an old recipe), I try to give it a twist to a different flavour. A little change goes a long way in creating a mouth-watering delicious dish.

AABP: How do you organize your recipes in your own kitchen and then in the form of a book?

Nita Mehta: I always try to create an unusual recipe. I first cook in my mind and then put it onto paper. My operator sets it in the page format. Then, once it is done, I think how much quantity of each ingredient should go. Then, either my staff or I cook the recipe. We exact the recipes when we work along. We correct the recipe for any changes in ingredients or process. Infact, each recipe is tried 2-3 times before it is put in a book. We also try to add visuals of each recipe so that people know how an end product looks like.

AABP: What are your favourite cooking gadgets and foods?

Nita Mehta: I do not believe in commercial cooking gadgets. I try to use the minimal gadgets which are ordinarily available in our Indian households. I particularly like a good pair of knives and a chopping board, besides a food processor. Since my books are aimed at general people, I like to use the gadgets which everyone has so that they can actually start instantly with my cookbooks. Infact, I feel proud when readers say that they learnt cooking with my cookbooks.

Though I like all kinds of foods but I like Thai, Chinese and Italian, besides Mughlai. I particularly enjoy Thai food as it is very close to Indian cooking and even the spices used are more or less the same.

AABP: What is your best cooking tip for beginners?

Nita Mehta: When you are reading a cookbook, have faith in it. Read the recipe carefully, collect the ingredients and then start cooking. Better still, work it out in your mind first and then do the actual cooking. Also, always cook with a good mood and with love as food is the expression of love. That’s why mother’s food is different than the staff’s food.

AABP: Do you have an amusing kitchen incident to share?

Nita Mehta: I still remember a kitchen disaster I landed in. Soon after my marriage, I had organized a dinner party. It was a hot day and since I was not very quick at cooking, I started it early. I was so naïve that I forgot to put the dishes made with curd and tomatoes in the refrigerator. By evening, most of the food was spoiled and I had to order food from outside.

Today, when I take my cooking classes, I tell the girls to organize their work and the things which need to be served last should be cooked last. With my hit and trial method, I have amazing tips to share with them as to what can be cooked before and what needs to be cooked last.

AABP: Tell us something about yourself?

Nita Mehta: I am a family person and always like to maintain a work-life balance. I want to work but not at the cost of my family. Whenever I am out the whole day, I make it a point to be home before my grandson’s sleep time so that I can spend some quality time with him.

AABP: What inspires you to go on and on?

Nita Mehta: My family has been very supportive all through my life. Besides, I have travelled a lot in India as well as abroad which has given me an insight into different cuisines around the world. I am very passionate about cooking and when I cook a recipe in my mind, I can actually feel the aroma and taste the flavour of the food I am cooking. Then, I see how to create a twist to a normal dish to make it an exotic one.

AABP: What can the readers expect next?

Nita Mehta: I am coming up with a book on Indian sweets and a Festival Cookbook. The latter will contain information on what to do and what to cook on festivals like Lohri, Dussehra, Ganesh Chaturthi, Diwali, Id, and many more South Indian festivals, etc. I really enjoyed working on this book.

Then, there is a book on Rajasthani Cuisine, including both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Coffee table cookbooks are also on the cards.



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