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Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Anurag Anand - Author interview


  1. Hearty congratulations for the success of Birth of the Bastard Prince. How does it feel?
Each new book is like a child taking birth for an author. The closest parallel I can draw for my feelings on watching one of my titles achieving success is that of a father watching his child being felicitated – truly priceless. The case of Birth of the Bastard Prince was somewhat different though. Being a work of historical fiction, the work had commanded much more devotion vis-à-vis some of my other works. Hence, the words of appreciation it received were that tad bit more satisfying for me.
  1. Please tell us how did Amrapali visit your thoughts?
My native village is located in the Indo Gangetic plains, the very lands that Amrapali once walked. Stories of her beauty, valor and magnanimity form an integral part of the folklore of the region, and it is these tales that I have grown up on. Hence, the desire to weave these bits from her life into a full-fledged story was always there. The only question that I needed to answer was, when.

  1. Anurag could you share your experience of writing a book about a character which has existed in the history.
If I were describe this experience in a single word, it would be ‘Enriching’. The research that went behind plotting the story – from secondary sources to a visit to the ruins of Vaishali – I gained tremendous insights into an era from our past and its glories. Of course, the writing itself proved to be a demanding process, requiring a far higher degree of involvement and concentration, but the end result made it all worthwhile.

  1. What kind of research did you undertake for your book? Any interesting nuggets of history which you would like to share with our readers.
From reading all published works around the life of Amrapali that I could lay my hands on to surfing the internet, the research that went behind the Book was pretty extensive. I even got an opportunity to visit the ruins of Vaishali and see the Abhishek Pushkarini (the coronation tank used to anoint the appointed rulers of the kingdom) and several artefacts from the era that are displayed in the nearby ASI museum.
The one startling fact that I discovered during my research was that the very concept of Democracy was first introduced by the Vajjis as early as 500 BC. So, in the present day and age, where many of the developed nations are clamoring to establish themselves as the pioneers of Democracy, this is a fact that we Indians must derive pride from.

  1. Please tell us something about your childhood.
I was never what you could call an academically inclined child. In fact some of my friends don’t, till this day, hesitate in expressing their surprise over the fact that I took to writing. However, I was always interested in stories – from comic books to novels, I loved reading whatever I could lay my hands on – and that, I guess, formed the foundation of my writing.
I pursued most of my education staying in hostels, away from my family – a situation that I detested then, but, in the hindsight, am glad to have endured. The understanding of human nature and psyche that hostel life exposed me to holds me in good stead not only with respect to my writing but also life in general.

  1. What kind of book do you read? Who are your favorite authors?
I like reading everything from light novellas to serious literature, depending on my state of mind at the given point of time. Some of my all-time favorite authors include, PG Wodehouse, Earl Stanley Gardner, Franz Kafka, Tagore and Shankar.

  1. How much time do you devote for writing? Give us some tips as to how working professionals should take out time for writing?
The key to finding time for writing, or any other such interest for that matter, is discipline. Once I start working on a manuscript, I make it a point to spend some time on it, no matter how short the duration, on a daily basis. This not only ensures that the plot remains alive in my head at all times, but also helps me keep a check on the progress I am making. This is somewhat like what a visit to the gym is for health enthusiasts. If someone is in the habit of working out on a daily basis, he or she doesn’t have to consciously find the time for it. The time somehow manages to find itself.

  1. What would be your advice to budding writers?
I have come across several aspiring authors who begin to worry about aspects such as finding the right publisher or the right ways to market their book even before they have completed the first draft of their manuscript. This, to my mind, can only be counterproductive. An author’s primary responsibility is to ensure that he or she does complete justice to the manuscript in question, everything else follows. So, my one advice to aspiring authors would be to do what they are supposed to do – come up with the best possible manuscript. Once you have a promising manuscript in your hand, everything else will follow suit.

  1. How was your experience of finding a publisher?
I keep hearing painful anecdotes of how an author’s work was rejected by many publishers or how a particular manuscript was trashed by an insensitive commissioning editor. Fortunately though, I was spared much struggle on this front. My first work was a self-help book titled, Pillars of Success, and the only publisher I shared the manuscript with – an Ahmedabad based outfit known for publishing language titles – agreed to take it on. Since then I have worked with several publishers and have little to complain about the treatment I have received.

  1. These are the days of aggressive book marketing. Books have to be promoted. Your take on this?
Today, when duly elected governments are having to deploy aggressive marketing tactics to communicate their achievements to the populace, it is only fair that authors and publishers get together to market their works to the best they can. Cynics might argue that good books will sell on their own, and I agree. However, even to ensure that a basic threshold of readers get to read the book and form their opinions about it, there is a need for it to be marketed. The advent of social media has been a boon for many authors in this regard. It offers a cost-effective medium to inform potential readers about an upcoming work and generate enough curiosity around it.

  1. Tell us about your future projects.
I am simultaneously working on two projects presently. The first is a contemporary love story with a difference. Clichéd as the plot description may sound, this book is likely to connect with readers who prefer to read about real characters and situations rather than fantastical ones. This title is expected to hit the stands towards the year end.
The next is a non-fiction book aimed at guiding aspiring authors through the process of writing, publishing and marketing their works. Tentatively titled, ‘Scripting your Dream Bestseller’, this book should be available on the stands by the first half of 2016.

Read the review of Anurag's Birth of the Bastard Prince here

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Halt Station India - Book Review

Halt Station India is a scholarly endeavour and a product of great research. Yet it is a fresh and entertaining read. It records the history of the railways in India, more particularly the famous train network of Mumbai. It documents the journey of railways right from the first train which ran from Bombay to Thane up to the latest Mumbai Metro and Monorail via the trams and best buses. What is interesting is that this is not just a story of development of trains. It is also a riveting tale of growth of the financial capital of the country Mumbai.

The book traces the journey of the tracks right from its conception. It tells us that while laying of the train tracks for the first time the rulers and the ruled worked together. It tells that on seeing the train the natives were bewildered. They thought of train to be an incarnation of the God. They applied tilak, offered coconut and flowers to the track and prostrated before it. It tells the incredible tale of how the bullock carts with clever marketing strategy gave a run for money to the railways albeit for a limited period. By a strange coincidence before two hundred years, the very spot where Kasab opened fire at innocent passengers along with his aide, was used for barbarous public execution of the criminals. As a result of wich the place had acquired the name Phansi talao. The book is full of such nuggets of the past some of which are humorous, some poignant and all of them interesting.

Halt Station India documents the history of every station big and small that falls on the route from CST to Thane. It also covers few stations after Thane up to Kalyan. It tells us as to how the station came into being. While telling so it invariably touches upon the socio-economic and political conditions of those times. After narrating its birth it speaks about the pieces of history which are still intact and lay unnoticed on the stations which get thousands of foot falls on any given day. I have been to CST numerous times but I did not know it houses an ancient durgah – Baba Bismillah durgah. The CST building was planned in such a manner that the said durgah would not be razed.

The book contains rare old photographs. It quotes passages from several official correspondences. The author has even contacted the descendants of those officials who were involved in the evolution of railways in our country in some manner or the other. I really enjoyed reading the book. It satisfied my urge of reading something fresh yet something true. This is undoubtedly one of the best books on the non-fiction shelf.

That does not mean that the book has no flaws. After a few pages the book becomes repetitive. The same sidings, the same station master’s office, the same bells and the same inscription of Glengarnock Steel. The author perhaps having visited the stations and found the relics is overwhelmed with joy. Somehow we readers can not match up with his enthusiasm. But still I loved the book. Writing a book like this involves lot of labour and I salute the author for all his efforts.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

HolidayIQ spied on me. Beware of it.

I had recently been to Hampi. I had stayed at a hotel for two days. At the time of checking I provided to the hotel manager all my details including my name and phone number. Now I had not mentioned about my Hampi visit on any public platform. Yet yesterday I received a sms on my mobile saying “Hi Mahesh, HolidayIQ will contact you for review of XXX Guest House. You can also provide it at (the link to Holiday IQ page of that hotel)”

Now I had never told anyone about my stay at the said hotel or my visit to Hampi? So how did HolidayIQ come to know about my visit and my stay? What business HolidayIQ had to contact me asking for rating of the said hotel? Had that hotel owner shared my details with HolidayIQ? What is evident is that both the hotel and HolidayIQ are indulging in unethical practices to increase their database and visibility.

HolidayIQ either you have spied on me or you have infringed my privacy or both. You cannot escape this. You are guilty. I advice all the millions of travellers to beware of HolidayIQ. This time they have got access to my phone and location. Next God knows what.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Innovation the Einstein Way - Book Review

These days self help and motivational books are in. They dish out lessons of wisdom from lives of Chanakya, Krishna and Arjuna. Innovation the Einstein Way by Virender Kapoor has added Albert Einstein to this list. Unfortunately my experience has been that these books are little about the great personalities whose images they carry on the cover and more about the author's insipid, preachy lessons. I had hopes from Innovation the Einstein Way. But even it disappointed me.

All that the book contains about Albert Einstein can be communicated in one page. But the authors drags the book up to 114 pages. As he has very little to tell about Einstein he goes on to tell us about every other thing including Amitabh Bachchan, Preity Zinta and John Abraham. Now when I pick up a book with the name and picture of Einstein, I want to read about Albert Einstein and not about Amitabh Bacchhan. The author appears to be a huge fan of Bachchan and names him wherever possible. 
The writing is patchy and lacks coherence. Even though the page count of the book is only 114 pages I felt it dragged forever. It was neither entertaining nor motivating. I did not learn anything new about the life of the great scientist Albert Einstein nor did it impart any new lessons in management. The book needed a lot more research. This is just a half-hearted effort which cannot be taken seriously. So don’t judge this book by its cover. You are bound to be disappointed.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Indian Innovators - Book Review

Indian innovators by Akshat Agrawal is undoubtedly one of the best books I have ever read. It is about 20 Indians, both young and old, who have innovated new products, devices and technologies which are both efficient and cost effective. What I liked about these innovators is that most of them have a social outlook. Their innovations are bound to change the destinies of millions of unfortunate souls all across the world. 

The book is about twenty innovations which are in diverse areas, from interactive touch surfaces to mitti-cool refrigerator which uses the traditional pots to act as a fridge. From virtual trial rooms to herbal hair removers and from laproscopic surgery instruments to sanitary pad making machines. The innovations like road construction using plastic material and environment friendly paper must be not only encouraged but widely adopted to protect our lovely planet. The same stands true with regard to the innovations in health care, so that many lives can be saved and healed. Every chapter narrates the background of the innovator, how the idea was generated, the hurdles in executing the idea, commercializing it and getting its patent registered. It also gives the technological details of the innovation, which at places becomes boring.

The story, if I can call it one, which I liked the most is that of Arunachalam Murugantham who invented the low cost sanitary pad making machine. As a part of his R & D he carried out the tests of his pad on his wife, who deserted him for the same. Then he offered it to his sister who severed ties with him and finally tried it on himself by tying a bag containing goat blood around his waist. He succeeded with his innovation and changed the lives of many women by not only making them cheap sanitary pads available but also making them financially independent. His story is poignant at the same time entertaining and holds the potential to be made into a blockbuster bollywood movie.

The book offers nuggets of advice to the researchers as well more particularly regarding the commercialization of their innovations and protecting their intellectual property rights. The book will leave you awestruck by narrating the creativity of the human mind and its capacity to fight all odds. Most of the innovators are highly qualified. The book demonstrates that unlike the ordinary schools and colleges, IIT is the only school which not only encourages innovative thinking but also provides all the infrastructure for research ( and in turn owns these innovations). This is more a matter of shame than pride. Every educational institution should encourage new thinking. That is why I feel that this book should be read by everyone who is in the field of education. 

 The book shows that there are many institutions, including some government agencies, which provide the much needed support to the young innovators (in the form of grants and scholarships) who inevitably turn entrepreneurs. Only their details are still unknown to majority even in this age of information technology. This book will surely encourage the young minds. It will serve as a perfect gift for them. 

Save my friends

Asiatic Elephant
His majestic appearance always mesmerizes me. He carries the bulk of his body weight. Yet his gait may put the top ramp models to shame. With his trunk swirling as he walks on the tar roads he is quite a sight. Yes whenever I have seen him he was either chained or he was walking on the busy streets. Whenever I see him he fills my insides with an indescribable joy. I am talking about the elephant. Though his sight brings immense happiness for me, all is not well for this dear friend of mine. He is losing his habitat with the shrinking forest cover. He is being poached for his valuable tusk. He is coming in conflict with us the human species. He is hit by trains which pass through the dense forests.While we are progressing with the dream of becoming a super power, the elephant is in danger. Mining activities, road construction and putting up of new railway track is causing unprecedented harm to this massive animal. He ends up touching electric wires and gets electrocuted.  In temples and zoos he is compelled to live alone without a mate. If this continues I will never be able to see this grand creature again. Please please save my dear friend.
Indian Peacock
It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful birds. Resplendent is the one word which will describe it aptly. When it opens its plumage there is a riot of colours. Your eyes will be transfixed on its lavish fan. How can one be so beautiful? I keep on wondering after seeing this regal bird. No wonders mother nature herself crowned the peacock with a crest. But unfortunately its beauty has landed it into trouble. Humans want to kill it for its beautiful feathers. This bird is also killed for its meat which unfortunately is gaining importance as an exotic dish. Due to loss of habitat peacocks enter the human settlements particular the agricultural fields. They cause loss to the crops. As a result farmers lay traps and even poison them. The man-bird conflict along with the climatic changes especially the rise in temperature is also diminishing their numbers. We need to undertake serious conservation steps to protect it or we will lose our crowning glory.
Spectacled Cobra
Spectacled Kobra is the longest poisonous snake in the world. The latest IUCN report has stated that ten percent of the snakes endemic to the Western Ghats,  including Kobras, are under the threat of extinction. Now this is a serious concern. Loss of habitat continues to top the reasons for their reducing population. Spectacled cobras are killed for traditional medicine preparations. They are also being used to make anit-venom serum. Again their skins too fetch lot of money. No wonders they are about to become extinct. Hence I feel that committed, persistent conservation efforts are necessary to save the splendid spectacled cobra. 

” I am participating in the Save the Species contest for the book “Capturing Wildlife Moments in India” in association with Saevus Wildlife India,  read the reviews for the book ‘Capturing Wildlife Moments in India’ here “ 

Friday, 3 July 2015

Trips without leaves, reservations and hole in your pocket

Everybody wants a break. Even the family members look forward towards having a family outing. However there are many constraints for the family to go out together. Kids have their schools. It is difficult to get leave from work. Getting reservations is also a tedious task these days as the seats get booked within five minutes of the opening of the bookings. If you are lucky enough to manage on all these fronts then money becomes a very big issue. Family trips can dig a big hole into your pockets. Does that mean that one should not go for a family outing? Not at all. You can go on family outings without worrying for money, leave or reservations. Yes, that is possible.

We all live in a country which so beautiful, colourful and interesting. Every nook and corner of our country, be it small temple in some quaint town or a little known hillock which offers magnificent view of the rising sun or tree with its branches overlooking the serene waters of a river or mangroves housing birds, animals and even humans, holds tremendous potential to make it to the  tourist map. The same stands true with busy bazaars, old buildings overcrowded with shops on all sides and roadside vendors selling mouth watering street food. We live on the land where great souls like Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Mahavira and according to some theories even Jesus has walked. There is a story associated with every small shrine and every palatial building.  We should respect and document it.

This is the best manner in which you can teach your children the boring subjects like history and geography. Those can be used for their school projects as well. That will be real learning. Even visiting the local museum can be fun. So can be eating roadside snacks like bhel and paanipuri at the thela. Just watching the sun set from your balcony with cups of coffee in your hands can also add value to your life. Even this small event can make your evenings big.

So don't say that you do not have time, money or logistic support for the family outing. Needless to say that with these small outings you will bond together as a family. The children will learn from the adults and adults will learn from the children too. Adults will learn to enjoy the little joys of life and to slow down which is must needed in today's age of hectic work hours.
“I am participating in the ‘Ready For Rewards’ activity for Rewardme in association with BlogAdda.” 

Romance on a shoe string

Finance is a very delicate but yet very decisive matter amongst couples. Many couples divorce on account of financial incompatability. He may be a miser and she likes to spend. While on a honeymoon he will spend without bothering his finances. But honeymoon does not last longer and real life does require some amount of financial discipline. Then come the children, the car loan, the home loan which create a heavy burden on the purse. The coffers are empty for any romantic gateaway and it does have an impact on the relation. has an interesting solution to such couples who are in kneedeep financial crisis. The article is aptly titled as romantic ideas on a budget. The article says that even by doing simple acts like planting a tree romance will rekindle into your lives. It says go to the nursery together, choose a plant or shrub. This act may appear small but will go a long way in nurturing your relation. So when are you going to the nursery to choose your plants?

Another tip it offers is to take half day off from the work. It says take first half of the day off from the work. Drop the children to school together. Go to your favourite cafe with newspapers and turn your ordinary mundane morning special. Simple, romantic, yet inexpensive, what say?

One more way to bring romance to your lives is through nostalagia. It says pick your photos. Those may be of your marriage, your honeymoon or other trips which you had. Those may be of any other moment in your life as a couple. Just write the dates of those events and make a book. It will bring all the romantic memories back. So come on, bring all those albums kept on the loft down.

Songs and romance are synonymous, aren't they. So comes another tip of compiling the favourite songs of you and your partner. Playing them will always bring the romance back into your lives. So which romantic song is playing into your head at this moment?

Mystery trail dates is another way of bringing back that long lost romance into your lives. Go out separtely leaving behind clues as to the place where you are going to meet your partner. Clues can be left on placards or small notes. It may sound little idoitic to go on such mystery dates. But I am sure it is going to be lots of fun.

So enough tips for you to bring back the romance in your life without creating a big hole into your purse. 

“I am participating in the ‘Ready For Rewards’ activity for Rewardme in association with BlogAdda.”