The 365 Page Book Called 2017

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves….its first chapter is New Year’s Day.”

It’s that time of the year again! The winter season signals the year-end and tells us that a new dawn is approaching. This “change of year” symbolism is important for two reasons: first, it allows us to take stock of the year that has gone by and second it provides us with the hope of being able to start afresh and not get weighed down by the past.new-year-quotes-07

I have never been where I am today. I have never been the age I am today, or had the experience I have today. The river of life flows and I find myself in places I have never been before. What an exhilarating moment of truth that is!

Everything is new. It is a starting point. At the same time there is a flow from the past that influences the process of ringing in the new. There are so many dreams and aspirations that one has in a lifetime. These change as we grow older and gather more experiences. Mine have changed too! I have realised that I want more for some of the people in my life, I dream more about what we will be as a society and a country. I see a lot of great people out there contributing in building a India of our dreams. You may not even hear of these contributors in your lifetime, for they focus on their actions. I want to highlight a few of them today for they have genuinely made a difference.

  1. Dreamers Doers started by Manjunath Hebbar is a platform for all those social entrepreneurs who want to showcase their work and collaborate with the like minded to impact social causes positively.
  2. Skip Armour brought to us by Chakradhari Rowe that helps a common man understand what is safety & security for an individual, a society and therefore, a country.
  3. Swayyam that teaches us eco conscious low impact living and how to connect back to the earth for our basic living. Malvikaa Solanki, the brain or rather the heart behind this can teach the young & old a thing or two about the “earthy” choices we make in life.
  4. Bal Utsav that brings life-changing education to children living in poverty. They revitalise government schools, support teachers, facilitate interventions in the space of water, sanitation and hygiene. The founders, Ramesh Balasundaram & Binu Ramesh Verma  are ever ready to facilitate learning for children and parents alike.
  5. Durga India, a project by I’m Every Woman started by Priya Varadarajan and yours truly is focused on creating awareness among the girls & women about their own safety in an increasingly unsafe world. Durga’s effort to create safer public spaces for women, including public transport, gets them to work with Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation & install safety alarms in buses.
  6. The Results Cafe, a self improvement project started by Mandeep Kataria & Prashant Reddy that enables & empowers people to stick to their resolutions and not get waylaid. Powerful, for in the end, we all need that push at some time.

These may seem like drops in the vast ocean…but, remember the old adage. They are doing their bit to create a better, stronger and self sufficient India. An India that is crossing the threshold and moving into a space where the world has to sit up and notice. Which brings me to the point of all the nay sayers out there. You can criticise, negate and shoot down any contribution made by anyone, be it an individual, a community or even the government. The fact is there are people whose purpose is to make a positive difference…even if it is to one individual. Negativity does not deter them. They look at the larger good and spread that goodness around them.

The above mentioned dreamers have influenced my own life in such significant ways that I initially did not even realise it. Who I am on the 1st of Jan 2017, somewhere is a result of that influence. What binds us together is this vision we have for this country of ours, for our society, community and people. We all want the following:

  1. A Swachch Bharat that is eco friendly. A national conscious against littering, spitting,  throwing trash everywhere.
  2. A country where girls and women feel safe and are safe. Both are equally important – the feeling & the being.
  3. An India where basic amenities are available to all citizens, in a manner in which they can afford it. That means no freebies for political gain.
  4. A youth that understands the power of our Constitution, the power of voting and contributing to the electoral process.
  5. Adherence to law and order. No negotiating as far as this is concerned.

I am sure every upright citizen wants the same. So, when there is a collective dream, the only thing we have to do, is follow it.

new-year-quotes-2014-beautiful-cards-to-send-your-wishes-brad-paisleyI picture ourselves and India starting a book called 2017 stretched out to 365 pages before us, beckoning to a future somewhere in different chapters that calls us to drive a positive change. All that we will become lies out there, in those pages. The beauty of starting this book is we all can write a sentence, a paragraph or a chapter. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we write.

We spend December 31st & January 1st walking through our lives, chapter by chapter, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the chapters of our lives…not looking for flaws, but for potential.

Praying that everyone writes beautiful lines in the Book of 2017! Happy New Year!

 

 

 

Understanding An Author…Interview With Raghu Srinivasan

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” ― Charles William Elliot.

My love affair with books started when I was in class 3. I consider them to be truly best friends who teach me, inspire me, enthral me and never ever make me feel lonely.

I had introduced “The Avatari” and it’s author Raghu Srinivasan in this blog a few months ago. I had briefly interacted with Raghu, thanks to a common friend, Sandeep Malik. When I requested Raghu for an interview, I did so with a little reservation…not knowing how that conversation would go. Imagine my surprise when Raghu agreed and said he will run it through Hachette India, his publishers and once they approve, I could have it published on my blog.

Raghu Srinivasan

Raghu Srinivasan

All I can say is thank you Raghu and Hachette India for making my dream come true!

Great writers have always fascinated their readers. We want to know how they create the characters we love or hate, the imaginative settings, and the plots & story lines that have us reading late into the night, wanting to know what happens next.Talking to an author give us an insight into his mind, what motivated him, how does he sustain his writing while there are distractions galore, researching relevant topics and most of all, understanding him as an individual. Ladies & gentlemen, in the words of the man himself…read on!

In conversation with Raghu Srinivasan, author of The Avatari.

Q1.      How did The Avatari happen in your life?At the cost of sounding extremely clichéd, who and what inspired Avatari? How did the combination of a British army officer, a Gurkha, a mathematician interested in history and an archaeologist happen?

Ans.     ‘The Avatari’ owes its origins to a drink I had with an old timer huddled over a stove, in an arctic tent in the shadow of the Karakorum ranges. The old timer had been a mountaineer before he had had a bad fall and had tramped all over the Karakorums, spending much of his time with local porters and guides. It was from them that he who had picked up a story of a group of Germans who had formed an expedition to search for Shambhala, and were never heard of again.

Q2.      This is your first book. What other kind of writing have you done earlier?

Ans.     From as far back as I can remember I wanted to be a story teller. I started off early by the age of eight; telling my younger brother intricate, fantastic fairy tales which would never end, a la ‘The Arabian Nights’. In high school, I was the editor of the school rag, and as is wont in such cases, wrote almost all of the articles – some under a pseudonym. This ‘occasional’ writing continued in the form of short, humorous articles contributed to Army magazines and journals.  I first tried my hand at writing a short story in 1992 when I was twenty seven; I remember it being very dark and cryptic. The few people who read it were kind enough to say that ‘it had had promise’ while in the same breath wondering aloud what it was all about. That was also a time when I read everything that ‘Papa’ Hemingway had written; and I later realized that your first attempt at writing should not imitate the minimalist ‘Men Without Women’. When I was thirty nine I was posted to the Indian Military Advisory Team for two years. Since it was a teaching assignment, I had time to indulge myself in reading everything their library had to offer and dabble in writing again. I wrote three short stories, which received much acclaim from my wife and mother. My aim was to write at least fifteen, so that I could publish a book of my short stories. I began ‘The Avatari’ as my fourth short story in 2005; it was a story which was metamorphose into a rather long novel, evolve from a spiritual journey to an action-adventure theme and occupy my thoughts for the next eight years.

The Avatari

The Avatari

Q3.      What kind of books do you enjoy reading?

Ans.     I am a voracious reader and like just about every genre; but stick to reading stories written in the ‘classical mode’ – so something by let’s say James Joyce or Arundhati Roy is not on my list. Frederick Forsyth, Hemingway, Mitchener, Maugham and Wodehouse would be the authors I like best. My all-time favourite book is ‘ A Farewell to Arms’.

Q4.      I have read the book and reviews online. The common thread is that your writing style is racy enough to keep the readers enthralled and the book has enough substance to keep us all engaged. How did you manage this balance?

Ans.     I think I received a lot of help on this score from my wife, Sumita and my editor from Hachette, Poulomi Chatterjee, who did some great editting. Left to my own devices I should have probably rambled on and ‘The Avatari’ would have gone on for another hundred pages. I tried to make action sequences and descriptive sequencesas ‘believable’ as possible. I am glad it worked out!

Q5.      Please share with us how much of research you had to do to weave in the details of Kublai Khan, Marco Polo and South & East Asian history.

Ans.     As I said before, I am an avid reader, and the one thing I promised myself while writing ‘The Avatari’ was that I should attempt to make no factual errors. I remember reading ‘San Andreas’ by Alistair Maclean’; where one of the characters is a Pakistani, but the story is set during World War II – when there could have been no Pakistanis. So starting with reading the ‘BardoThodol’ (The Tibetan Book of the Dead) and everything that has ever been written about the Shambhala myth, to events as they chronologically happened in history in 1296, 1956, 1963 and 1986 has been researched. I had to do a fair bit of reading on Kublai Khan and Marco Polo as also the Afghan War. These included Kublai Khan’s biography and ‘The Bear Trap’ by Brig Mohd Yusuf, probably the best book written on the Afghan war. Likewise I needed to read up on travelogues of people who had visited the enchanting places which Henry Ashton and his team visit in the book.

Q6.      Ashton, Susan, Peter & Duggy are all larger than life characters in the book. As a reader I’m curious to know if you want to continue using the same protagonists in your next book also…like a Jack Ryan in Tom Clancy novels or the famous Jason Bourne in Robert Ludlum novels.

Answered below!

Q7.      I’m sure all your fans out there want to know when the next book is being published. I’m definitely waiting eagerly

Ans.     It’s too early to say. I am presently working on a book set in China. I am a slow writer – but I hope I can write something faster than ‘The Avatari’ which took seven years!

Q8.      Would you experiment with other genre of writing, besides thrillers?

Ans.     Yes, I would love to be able to write something like ‘Love Story’.

Q9.      A novel such as The Avatari can be made into a great movie. Has anyone approached you for scripting or even offers of making a movie?

Ans.     You’re right – I think the book has a definite cinematographic appeal! The problem is, that given the exotic locales and the swathes of history the novel covers- It would have to be a very big budget! Keeping my fingers crossed!

 

*Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted after the book was published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

Reading…A Lost Art

One of the biggest joys of my life…curling up on a comfortable recliner, rain pelting outside or snowing outside (depending on which part of the world I’m in), a cup of tea…and a book that engages me completely. I forget the world then!!! Image

I grew up with books around me…my parents encouraged me to read a wide variety of subjects. My father, a voracious reader himself was very happy to increase my pocket money when he realised that I was spending most of the money on books & music. Books helped me transport myself to a different world all together. What David Ulin says makes a lot of sense to me…“Reading is an act of contemplation, perhaps the only act in which we allow ourselves to merge with the consciousness of another human being. We possess the books we read, animating the waiting stillness of their language, but they possess us also, filling us with thoughts and observations, asking us to make them part of ourselves.” 

This possession by the author is so all encompassing that it has shaped many a lives. Definitely mine. I remember a conversation I had with my father, when I had read Mario Puzo’s “Godfather”. So influenced was I, that I declared in front of him, “I think joining the Mafia is a great career option. I would like to become someone like the Godfather”. An officer of the armed forces, my Dad’s reaction was great…”how do you think it will sound when people say daughter of an army officer is the new Mafia don?”

I have found reading books in my formative years help me develop an amazing range of skills. Today, I find it necessary to share those with my readers…especially because I find a lot of people changing their reading habits. It seems that each new media invention—movies, radio, television, VCRs and DVD players, the internet—inevitably affects the way people read and reduces the time they devote to it. What feels different about recent trends is that the web is still so new, and it is evolving so quickly that few people are stepping back to look at how it is changing us. 

One of the first things I realised books did for me was to help me imagine. Every author I read has allowed me to create my own world! I laughed & cried with the Famous Five that Enid Blyton introduced me to; I have learnt about how Ayn Rand looked at the “murder of human spirit” in her phenomenal book Atlas Shrugged. Dan Brown in his Da Vinci Code took me through so many layers of Christianity & the world of symbolism. My imagination is fired with every book I read.

Books have helped me build my vocabulary & my knowledge  base. With every book I have read, I have gained more confidence to talk about a variety of subjects. I have been able to hold my own…and engage people in interesting conversations. This is a skill I find people not developing the way they need to. When I used to hire students from various campuses as part of the corporate hiring process, I found communication skills were sorely missing. How does one build communication skills – when you have confidence about what you are communicating. 

Before taking any action on anything, where did I seek for help and guidance? Reading is an essential way which helped me out. In today’s world, getting reviews and feedback from other people can make a big impact on your next decision, and the pros and cons of each choice. I read about how to cook a seven course meal; what is golfing all about; which place is nice for a scuba diving holiday…obviously all of them enhancing my levels of of information & understanding. 

The more you read, the more you understand one thing: the A to Z of a thing. Let me give an example here: reading allows you to learn more about crocodiles and their habits. That you need to be aware of places it usually lurks for, the purpose of staying away from being harmed or bitten. Or perhaps you can try by real life experience, in approaching the crocodile, to see what happen. It can also help you find out the truth of something, right? Reading also increases the understanding of the rules of life, in order for you to adapt, adopt and accommodate into the society better. To play well in a game, you first need to understand the rules well. 

Charles Eliot very nicely put it by saying, “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.” Image

We are becoming a society of people who rarely allow ourselves to slow down enough to think and contemplate. It’s difficult to spend time reading a book when Facebook and YouTube and last night’s episode of Lost are calling for your attention. It requires a strong will to force yourself to read something longer than a few hundred words.I respect David Ulin, the book editor of The Times, when he says it is becoming increasingly difficult to read these days…there is a lot of noise out there…and reading requires silence. To make books a part of us we need a certain type of silence, an ability to filter out the noise. Such a state is increasingly elusive in our over-networked culture, in which every rumor and mundanity is blogged and tweeted. Today, it seems it is not contemplation we seek but an odd sort of distraction masquerading as being in the know.

I have also found relationships flourish better when reading is a common passion between a couple, parents & children and between friends too. And finally, let me wrap up by saying three most important people in my life find me interesting, engaging and fun to be with only because I am armed with a library of more than a couple of thousand books. 

Go on…pick up that paperback, switch off the television & the internet, relax on a chair or your bed, a bedside lamp throwing its light on the pages of your book…transporting you into a world you create for yourself!!! Happy reading!!!