Friday, April 30, 2010

My Review: One Amazing Thing

I am a huge fan of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's work.She is a masterful storyteller,her style of writing is unique,her characters beautifully etched and haunting.Yes all words absolutely proving my love of her work!So it was obvious that after reading her last book 'The Palace Of Illusions' I was eagerly looking forward to her next. 
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning author and poet. Her themes include women, immigration, the South Asian experience, history, myth, magic and celebrating diversity.Her short stories, Arranged Marriage, won an American Book Award. She teaches Creative Writing at the University of Houston.
One Amazing Thing her new book brings together nine men and women who are trapped in the Indian Consulate office after being hit by an earthquake in America.Nine people of different ages,different backgrounds ,who would under normal circumstances not even interact with each other are thrown together in an extraordinary situation.You have Malathi and Mangalam who are visa officials ,Jiang a Chinese Indian woman and her grand daughter Lily,Cameron an ex-soldier who takes charge of the place after the earthquake hits ,Uma an Indian-American,Tariq a young American Muslim and an elderly white couple.How do they react in the circumstance while waiting to be rescued makes it a very interesting premise.

All of them are so tensed about the situation they are in ,with panic rising they end up fighting and coming to blows with each other. That's when Uma suggests that each one should share a story,one amazing thing from their life which made them believe that life, for all its pain, is miraculous.Though initially reluctant they all warm up to the idea and so the beautiful journey begins!

What makes it interesting and heart warming is that the nine people trapped in the office are not sure whether they would be rescued in time,they are not sure of survival but the stories fill them with hope.It fills up the empty silence that would exist, it keeps their mind off their fate at the same time makes them curious of each others past.

 I read straight through because this is the sort of book that pulls you along.That's the kind of writer and storyteller Divakaruni is.Only one word comes to my mind when I read this book ....unputdownable.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Crossword Best Sellers

We have made the job of finding the best selling books much easier for you!Starting from this week we will be putting up a comprehensive list of highest selling books in India in fiction,non-fiction compiled by Crossword bookstore!You will find them listed under the label 'Crossword Bestsellers'

Crossword Top Ten-Bestseller List, in Fiction for the period 19/04/10 to 25/04/10

Rank Title Author
1 Oh Shit Not Again! Mandar Kokate
2 The Immortals of Meluha Amish Tripathi
3 The Lost Symbol Dan Brown
4 Empire Of The Moghul: Brothers At War Alex Rutherford
5 Shantaram Gregory David Roberts
6 The Palace Of Illusion Chitra Divakaruni Banerjee
7 The Temple Goers Aatish Taseer
8 Dork: The Incredible Adventures Of Robin Einstein Varghese Sidin Vadukut
9 2 States : The Story of my Marriage Chetan Bhagat
10 Empire Of The Moghul Alex Rutherford

Crossword Top Ten-Bestseller List, in Non-Fiction for the period 19/04/10 to 25/04/10
Rank Title Author
1 Songs Of Blood And Sword Fatima Bhutto
2 The Secret Rhonda Byrne
3 Ten Much A.G. Krishnamurthy
4 Don’t Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight Rutuja Diwekar
5 Too Big to Fail : Inside the Battle to Save Wall Street Andrew Sorkin
6 The Big Short Michael Lewis
7 I Am Another You Priya Kumar
8 The Difficulty of Being Good Gurcharan Das
9 You Can Sell Shiv Khera
10 Connect The Dots Rashmi Bansal

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My Review : Empire Of The Moghul :Brothers At War

This book is the second book in 'Empire of The Moghul' series by Alex Rutherford.The first one was the beginning of the Moghul dynasty in India ,it was a brilliantly written story that covered Babur's journey from Ferghana to India and finally becoming the ruler of the country.That book is close to my heart as that book got me interested in the Moghul history and also pushed me to start this book review blog.

This book was eagerly awaited and as soon as I got a chance I went and bought this book to read the part two of the Moghul dynasty.It takes off from the time Humayun is declared the next emperor by Babur just before his death.Humayun was his son from his favourite wife Maham.Babur's decision to choose him over the rest of his sons doesn't go down well with the step brothers and they plot to kill Humayun.Humayun gets to know about the plot and instead of punishing them for it he ends up forgiving them and also gives them separate states to rule.This probably would be one of the many wrong decisions he ends up taking during his reign. After a few years into his rule he gets addicted to opium thanks to his step-mother Gulrukh and starts to believe that messages were written in the stars and his eccentricity continues when he organises his administrative department based on the four elements of earth,fire,air and water.He starts dressing in certain colours on certain days.While he is lost in his opium induced world he gets a jolt from the real world when he loses his kingdom to Sher Shah which eventually leads to his exit from India.

So what follows is Humayun's struggle to snatch back the reigns of his kingdom from Sher Shah.Humayun was a king who would plot, plan and contemplate a lot but his execution was very poor.He was hardly anywhere close to his father as a warrior.He does end up winning the kingdom back but not because of his great warrior skills but because of the initial support he receives from Shah Tamasp of Persia as well as the death of Sher Shah and the uncertainty following his death.What is indeed sad is Humayun's death due to a bad fall just six months after he captures Delhi and is declared the padishah of Hindustan.

Humayun died on 24th January 1556.Humayun's Tomb,his white sandstone mausoleum is still a very well known place in Delhi .

I read these lines somewhere on his manner of dying which is sadly true of Humayun's reign as the emperor and it is how he is remembered in history 'Humayun stumbled out of life just like he stumbled through it...'

The book is beautifully descriptive,well researched,each character beautifully etched and simply written which makes reading very enjoyable and almost gives you a sense of being there in that era.Unfortunately the book is not as good as the first though it would be unfair to blame the author.Humayun would probably be the weakest link in the dynasty.He comes across as indecisive,selfish,inward-looking,low self esteem and a weak character which is the reason for the book being a step below the first.The characters that stand out are surely the women in Humayun's life- Khanzada,his aunt and Babur's sister,Salima his favourite concubine,Hamida his beloved wife.Inspite of the weak character that Humayun was the author has managed to keep the reader engaged till the very end of the book.

It should definitely be in your must read list if historical fiction interests you even if it doesn't the 'Empire of The Moghuls' series will definitely get you hooked.I am now looking forward to their third book on Akbar, the next emperor after Humayun's death.

Read our review of their first book here

Penguin's list of new reads for this month

A Daughter’s Memoir
Songs of Blood and Sword by Fatima Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto’s niece, is a thrilling account of her search to uncover, and to understand, the truth of her father’s life and death in the context of the Bhutto’s dynastic politics in Pakistan.

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni from
Hamish Hamilton
A group of nine from diverse cultures and countries are trapped in the visa office at an Indian Consulate after a massive earthquake in an American city. As they wait to be rescued—or to die—they begin to tell each other stories, each recalling ‘one amazing thing’ in their life, sharing things they have never spoken of before.

How stories become stories!
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman throws fresh light on who Jesus was, offering a radical new take on the myths and mysteries of the gospels and of the church that has shaped the course of the last two millennia.

A simple idea that makes a tremendous difference
In riveting stories, Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto takes us from Austria, where an emergency checklist saved a drowning victim who had spent half an hour underwater, to Michigan, where a cleanliness checklist in intensive care units virtually eliminated a type of deadly hospital infection.

Ash and Tara Online Treasure Hunt
Emperor Akbar has lost his precious emerald dagger! Follow the exciting seven monuments trail to help him find it and win exciting prizes. This online treasure hunt is open to school students under the age of 18.
Know more and play here

Essential reading for every young citizen
Former Chief Justice Leila Seth makes the words of the Preamble to the Constitution understandable to even the youngest reader in We, the Children of India: The Preamble to Our Constitution

A Twenty-first Century Guide to the World around Us
One of this month’s bestsellers, The Scientific Indian by A. P. J. Abdul Kalam will speak to every curious and adventurous mind, and especially to tomorrow’s scientists and technologists, encouraging us to dream big, and urging us to work hard to make our dreams come true.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Interview with the author of The Immortals of Meluha

In The Immortals of Meluha, the first of a trilogy on the possibility of Shiva, being an ordinary mortal Tibetan tribal leader who is elevated to godliness, the author Amish, makes us relook at religion and mythology with a contemporary gaze. The book, which is on the bestselling list in India right now, is the first of a trilogy, the second part of which should be published by the end of the year. We spoke to Amish, the author of the novel, about his interesting take on the myth of Shiva.

1] What sort of research has gone into this book, did you actually visit the places mentioned or was it references from history, archaeology that you have used to create your Meluha?

I didn't do any specific research for this book. Or another way of looking at it is that I have been researching this book for 25 years! I love history and have been a fanatical reader of the subject for many years - and my sources of knowledge for The Immortals of Meluha range from Graham Hancock and Gregory Possehl to the Amar Chitra Katha series! I have visited many places of worship of Lord Shiva. But most of the historical places in the book have actually not been visited by me. Their descriptions are drawn from my readings of history books. Most unfortunately, I have not visited Kailash Mansarovar as yet. I would love to visit it someday. I hope I’ll have the heart to handle it!

2] Your premise of Vikarma, as mentioned in the book, is an interesting concept wherein a person with anything unfortunate happening to them is supposed to not contaminate another with their karma, through touch. Do you correlate it with any modern day concept?
Yes I do. The way the untouchables and dalit are treated in India is very similar to the way the Vikarma were treated in The Immortals of Meluha. We as a society have improved our behaviour with the Dalits. But it is still not good enough. We have a long way to go. Every single person, regardless of their caste, sex, religion or nationality, deserves to be treated only on their karma, their deeds. Nothing else.

3] Was the dialogue deliberately written in modern idiom to make the book something modern readers could relate with?
Yes absolutely. I wanted to make the language such that modern readers could relate to it. But it wasn’t only that. The book has been described as a fast-paced page turner. I think a key part of that was the modern language. Classical/mythical language would have slowed the story down. Since the book is long (The Immortals of Meluha is 400 pages), I think the modern, easy language helps people read it quickly and the focus remains on the story. I have got feedback that most people have read the book in one or two sittings

4] Meluha is an ideal state, but by showing the opposite nature of the Chandravanshis and their Ayodhya, you show that no way of living is ideal. What is the message you are putting out here?
What is ‘ideal’? People could have varying interpretations of it depending on what drives their character. Meluha is an ideal state for those that seek order. But for those who love freedom, Meluha is not ideal. They would probably prefer Swadweep. Nothing wrong with that - with having different requirements from life for yourself. Where the problem begins is when we confuse being different with being evil. Just because someone has a different way of life that we abhor, it does not make him evil. Evil is something much bigger. I will be expanding on this theme and the way of life of the Suryavanshis and the Chandravanshis in the second book of the trilogy, The Secret of the Nagas.

5] This book takes religion and myth by its horns, were you afraid of raising any hackles by your portrayal of Shiva as a mortal?
I don’t know if the book takes religion by the horns. I don’t think it does. The beauty of Hinduism is that there are so many interpretations of the truth. For example, there is the Valmiki Ramayan and the Tulsidas Ramayan – which most of us are aware of. But there are many other versions like Kambaramayanam in Tamil Nadu, Kotha Ramayana in Assam, even a Jain version called Kumudendu Ramayana from Karnataka, each with its own unique take on the story. In the Indonesian Ramayan, characters are very different from what we Indians are used to. It is the same with all our gods. Hinduism allows order and freedom to coexist. Mine is only a small addition to the rich tapestry of our religion – a story which transformed my life for the better. Writing this story converted me from a non-believer into a devoted shiv bhakt.
Also, in Hinduism, we have always had 3 concepts of god. One is the nirgun-nirakar god, another is that god comes down in human form or avatar and the third is that humans discover the god within them through the force of their karma. Lord Buddha for example was a human who is respected by many Hindus as an avatar of Vishnu. He achieved godhood through his karma. I have only followed the third concept of god because I find that the most empowering thought.

6] You are working on the sequels to the book, when is the first sequel likely to be published?
The sequel should be out in a year. It takes a bit of time because I also have a day job which keeps me busy.

7] What has the response been to The Immortals of Meluha? Are there plans to publish it abroad?
By god’s grace, The Immortals of Meluha is doing quite well. We are already # 1 in the bestseller lists of the major national chains like Crossword, Landmark, Odyssey and Oxford. We have also entered the all time bestseller list of Flipkart, one of India’s largest online book stores. And yes, we do hope to publish the book abroad also in the near future.

Read Kim's review of The Immortals of Meluha, published at here.

Friday, April 23, 2010

You Are Here

As an extension of our Bloggers to Authors series, here is Sunayana Roy's review of Meenakshi Madhavan Reddy's You Are Here.

You Are Here

Meenakshi Madhavan Reddy

Penguin Books, Rs 199

When Meenakshi Madhavan Reddy’s debut novel came out last year, the one consistent charge levelled against it was that it was too similar in tone and concept to her popular blog, Compulsive Confessor. Accordingly, I started reading the book with certain preconceived misgivings.

However, You Are Here proved itself to be a fast, smooth and light read, well edited for the most part and sufficiently gripping to have me finish it in one go. The similarity to eM’s blog, I would say, lies in that both eM (the central character of the blog) and Arushi (the protagonist of the novel) seem to come from a similar background. But I think this is more a case of Reddy writing about what is familiar – in her case the familiar is already well discussed on the blog but Arushi never did seem to blur into eM.

What I liked best about the book was Arushi’s consistent fleshing out as a ditsy, untried and aimless young woman. Her voice as the protagonist often meanders into the meaningless or takes random diversions, is at times unsure, and the bossier reader will want to occasionally shake some sense into her but for the most part as she tries to make sense of her life and loves, one finds oneself viewing her through somewhat indulgent spectacles. She sounds like somebody we’ve all met at some point and since she is essentially harmless, it’s hard to dislike her.

That sentiment could sum up this reader’s feelings about the book: light, fun and essentially harmless. It will probably not make you rethink your priorities or values but it doesn’t claim to want to.

Sunayana Roy
Meenakshi Madhavan Reddy blogs at

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The oldest books known to man

Thanks Ann, for the link.

Solo by Rana Dasgupta

Rana Dasgupta was awarded the Commonwealth prize recently for his mammoth novel, Solo. Solo, is the kind of novel that overwhelms you when you hold it in your hand and as you sink into it, it takes over with a kind of morbid fascination that compels you to keep turning the pages to find out where the storyteller will take the tale.

Set in Bulgaria, a country that has been culturally and politically isolated since the World Wars, the story opens with a blind 100 year old man, Ulrich, who lives alone in an apartment in Sofia. The entire narrative is his life, his failed life which is analogous with his country which has failed too.The narrative is the story of the 20th century which has failed some countries while the others have spurted past.
The scale of the novel is epic in its expanse, both the time span it encompasses and the perspective. The novel is divided into two halves. In the first half we get to know the story of Ulrich who had promise as a musician and a scientist in his early life, but through fate and circumstances was destined to end up a nobody with a failed life, a failed marriage.
He lives out his final years, blind and alone in a cramped apartment on the busy streets of Sofia, keenly aware of the cacophony of street sounds which intrude on his reflections. His neighbours care for him, and his mind is on its on journey through his past and into the future.
It is the ordinariness of Ulrich's life which is what makes the narrative fascinating. The story flows into the past where we see Ulrich growing up in a prosperous Sofia, where his parents have great hope for him, except that his father is violently against his love for music. This has a parallel with the state where communism blanked out all forms of cultural heritage, including music.
His father becomes a shell of man post his experiences in the wars, and Ulrich goes to study chemistry in Berlin in the 1920s, and unfortunately is compelled to return home to a job at a factory. His marriage fails, and his wife moves away with his son. His mother is sent to a labour camp and returns traumatised. Ulrich becomes a star worker in the great five year plan of the state and works until retirement, where he is handed a golden watch for his years of service. He accidentally blinds himself with acid. Whis is the catalyst for his daydreaming in his dark world. The book moves into part two. The second half of the story follows three youngsters with no apparent obvious connection to Ulrich. Boris, a gypsy, Khatuna, a gangster's mistress and her brother Irakhli, who is a poet and whose poetry makes an appearance through the second half which is set in New York. Ulrich walks into their lives, where he also meets up with his long dead first love from Berlin, a Jewish girl who was killed in the holocaust.
Solo is a strange, haunting and powerful book. It takes ordinariness, shakes it, dissects it and presents it to us for our consumption. Solo, the title, comes from the protagonists life, which is a metaphor for all our lives, which will end, solo. Add to this brilliant writing which takes us through 100 years in a country's history through the eyes of an individual.

Reviewed by Kiran Manral

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Review : Persepolis

 I was deeply moved after reading Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical graphic novel written in black and white Persepolis some days ago.The book gives you a glimpse of life in Iran through the eyes of a woman.It was fascinating to read Satrapi's first hand account of what the country went through after the fall of the Shah,the early years of Ruhollah Khomeini and the first years of Iran-Iraq war.

Persepolis details Satrapi's life during the war between Iran and Iraq. Persepolis depicts Satrapi's childhood in Iran, and Persepolis 2 depicts her high school years in Vienna, Austria and her return to Iran where Satrapi attended college, married, and later divorced before moving to France, where she now lives
Did you know that Gmail is banned in Iran?The sites like twitter and facebook were banned during the elections?The sites which we use regularly are monitored by their government.It is not an easy life there!This book helps you to understand Iran and its revolution better.Simple language,nice graphics,a young girl's angst,her lonely years in Vienna,her attempt to fit in with her school friends in Vienna,her defiance in following rules on her return to Iran keeps you captivated till the very end.

My Review :Piggies On The Railway

This book is a chicklit + crime mystery rolled into one!If are looking for an Agatha Christie kind of a detective novel sorry that this book ain't but what you get is mystery,romance,humour all packaged in one novel! It sure is a fun read must read for all the ladies out there!The book was a page turner not just for whodunnit but for a few laughs as well !

The protagonist of the book is Kasthuri Kumar who prefers to be known as Katie.She is a PI and is approached by the handsome,tall and suave Kaustav Kapoor who also happens to be the head honcho of Bollywood's leading production house to help him find the lead actress of his upcoming home production 'Ransom'. The actress has been AWOL after their shoot has wrapped up at what follows is a hunt for Urvashi.So that is the mystery angle.While she is hunting for Urvashi murder comes close to home when her ex-boyfriend's wife is found dead in her friend's parlour!Who are the killers ,are the two deaths linked if yes why what is the connection between the two deaths...

Kasthuri ...oops sorry Katie is not your regular boring PI's she is smart,sassy,uber cool lady who knows what she wants from life.She is a keen fashion and bollywood follower who rides a Royal Enfield!During the course of the investigation she comes across Tejas Deshpande who is the head of security of Kaustav's production house.He is very mysterious and to make matters worse Katie finds herself terribly attracted to him and has a small crush at the same time for the very much married Kaustav.

The end is pretty predictable and you want the author to almost jump to the end of the story rather than delving on Kaustav's wife's lesbian relationship,Neena's motive,Katie's lusty neighbor,the manager's drunken act,..all though vital to the story's mystery build up but excessively delved into.

All in all the book is fun and a good light read...

Do read our interview with the writer Smita Jain here

A chance to write for the Chicken Soup's India Series

This is an opportunity for all the budding writers out there as well as for all the non-writers to come and share their story for the Chicken Soup India Series....Here's the brief

Message from Baisali :

Brief for “Chicken Soup for the Indian Friend’s Soul”

Publishing house: Westland

Try and state specific episodes as to why you think that the person you are writing about deserves to be in the Chicken soup series.

Please send your stories to: or

Last dates for accepting submissions: August 30th 2010. But do try and send your stories ASAP for I will close as soon as I have selected my 101 stories for the same.

The write-ups will carry the contributor’s name. Westland pays Rs 1000 per story and two copies of the book. We carry a 3-4 line profile on all contributing authors. We accept blogged and published work too provided the authors get the reprint permissions. The copyright of the stories stay with the author.
Inviting stories for Chicken Soup for the Indian Friend’s Soul
Recipe for a winning “Chicken Soup for the Indian Friend’s Soul” story:
A Chicken Soup for the Soul® story is an inspirational, true story about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. They are personal and often filled with emotion and drama.
Chicken Soup stories have a beginning, middle and an ending that often closes with a punch, creating emotion rather than simply talking about it. A story that causes tears, laughter, goosebumps or any combination of these. A good story covers the range of human emotions. The most powerful stories are about people extending themselves, or performing an act of love, service or courage for another person.
1. Tell an exciting, sad or funny story about something that has happened to you or someone you know. Make sure that you introduce the character(s).
2. Tell your story in a way that will make the reader cry, laugh or get goose bumps (the good kind!) Don’t leave anything out — how did you feel?
3. The story should start with action; it should include a problem, issue or situation. It should include dialogue and the character should express their feelings though the conflict or situation. It should end in a result, such as a lesson learned, a positive change or pay-off.
4. Above all, let it come from your HEART! Your story is important!
Story Specifications
1) Stories should be non-fiction, ranging in length between 300-1200 words.
2) Chapters/Themes
• Chaddi Buddy – That first friend
• Through Thick and Thin – The one who has cheered your up's and shared your down's
• An Angel in Need – The one who enters your life for a very specific purpose
• Soulmates – The one who starts out by being a friend and ends up being a spouse
• Unusually Yours – Unique and unusual friendships
• Lost and Found – Friends who enter your lives again after ages.
P.S Please forward this mail to friends and family who are interested in submitting stories!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Q&A with Ashwin Sanghi

We got a chance to pose a few questions to Mr.Ashwin Sanghi with regards to his first book 'The Rozabal Line' which has the distinction of being on India-Today's bestseller list for four consecutive months.Did you know that the book was originally published in 2007 under his pseudonym, Shawn Haigins, an anagram of his real name?The book was subsequently published in 2008 in India by Tata-Westland under his own name.Ashwin Sanghi's second novel, a political thriller with a historical backdrop is to be released later this year.

An entrepreneur by profession, Sanghi writes extensively on history, religion and politics in his spare time but writing historical fiction in the thriller genre is his passion and hobby.Sanghi was educated at Cathedral & John Connon School, Mumbai and St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. He holds a masters degree from Yale and is working towards a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the University of Wales.

He lives in India with his wife, Anushika, and son, Raghuvir.

Ashwin can be reached either via his blog at or via Twitter at

So here goes ...
How did the concept of writing a book on the myth about Jesus Christ settling down in Kashmir post crucifixion come about?

In early 1996, I came across a book called Holy Blood Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. The book subsequently went on to become a bestseller but it was my first exposure to the notion that the historical Jesus Christ may have been rather different to the one portrayed in the gospels and that Jesus may have been a married man who had children.
A couple of years later, I read Holger Kersten's book, Jesus Lived in India and was fascinated with the idea that Jesus could have been inspired by Buddhism and that he may have drawn much of his spiritual learning from India. I found Kersten’s research to be meticulous and I soon ended up marrying the two theories from these two books in my mind. What if Jesus traveled to India and left a bloodline in India? At that moment I knew that I simply had to write a book about it. Given the fact that this was simply a “theory”, the book necessarily had to be fiction.
I began to delve deeper into the story and came across several startling coincidences. For example, just outside the Rozabal tomb in Srinagar (the tomb that several researchers believe is the final resting place of Jesus) is a pair of carved feet. What’s remarkable, however, is that the feet bear crucifixion marks. The Bhavishya Mahapurana one of the oldest Hindu scriptures cites the presence of Issa in Kashmir during the reign of the Kashmiri king Gopadatta. The Shankracharya temple (in Srinagar) bears a carved inscription that specifies the very date of which “Yuz Asaf” (son of Joseph) became a prophet. All of these facts were simply astounding and I soon began to realize that there was a wealth of information that needed to be retold in a format that made for an enjoyable ride.
My true fascination, however, was with what could possibly have happened before Jesus Christ was born, not after. My interest went back to the possibility that the Hebrew patriarch Abraham may have been one and same as the ancient Hindu god of creation, Brahma. After all, Abraham’s wife was Sara and Brahma’s consort was Saraswati. There were very close linkages between the Sumerian civilization and the Indus Valley Civilization, and hence it was not an unreasonable hypothesis that one of the lost tribes of Israel may have seen India as their spiritual home. Hundreds of such possibilities led me to conclude that it would have been plausible for Jesus to view India as a land of healing and learning.
Thus I knew that I was writing a work of fiction that was strongly anchored in fact, but religion is a matter of personal faith. What I believe may not be what you believe. Rather than present a work of non-fiction that would be relegated to dusty library shelves I wanted to write a thriller that would present all of these interesting tidbits of information as part of a racy story and thus the idea of The Rozabal Line was born.

The book must have involved extensive research. What did your research entail and how long did it take you to actually put all the information required for the narrative together?

I am neither a scholar nor a researcher, simply a fiction writer, that too of the racy formulaic variety. I have never been able to appreciate or understand literary fiction and thus my writing is targeted at wider audiences who want a fast-paced read that also educates along the way.
My problem in writing The Rozabal Line lay in the fact that there was too much information, not too little. A wealth of information was already available in excellent books that had covered various issues such as the Jesus in India hypothesis, the historical Jesus, and the interplay of mythologies and religious beliefs in the evolution of the character of Jesus. Books such as Jesus Lived in India by Holger Kersten, Jesus in Kashmir: The Lost Tomb by Suzanne Olsson, The Fifth Gospel by Fida Hassnain, The Unknown Life of Jesus by Nicolas Notovich and The Lost Years of Jesus by Elizabeth Clare Prophet were very important in building the framework of the story. A seminal work in Urdu by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was also critical. Other books such as The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold by S. Acharya and The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviours by Kersey Graves were important from the angle of building an “alternative hypothesis” around the canonical Jesus. I found that the “Tomb of Jesus” website and several other online communities not only had references to many sources but also had free-flowing opinions and views of readers and contributors. Many of these reader and researcher comments also helped me build the fictional element of The Rozabal Line.
A persistent problem, however, remained: The “Jesus in India” theory being presented in a 100,000 word paperback implied that there was simply too much information and far too little space to cover it all. Over the eighteen months that I spent writing the novel, my biggest limitation was that I wanted the reader to be able to experience as much of the history around the story. The Rozabal Line has, thus, been written in a very different format in which fiction and history appear as alternating passages in a time warp. It is also one of the very few paperback novels in which you find end notes to explain the sources from which the material is derived. All of these elements make The Rozabal Line a very different read to other novels. The result is that you can either love it or hate it, but you can’t ignore it.

'The Rozabal Line' is a conspiracy thriller much on the lines of The Da Vinci Code? How has the response to this book been in India and globally?

The book was written by me in 2005-2006. Over the next twelve months my manuscript would reach over one hundred literary agents in America, England and India and would be turned down by all of them. Eventually out of sheer desperation I self-published the work in 2007 and the novel sold surprisingly well, clocking over 700 copies in a few months on The moderate success of the self-published book led to Tata-Westland offering me a publishing deal specifically for India. A new revised edition of The Rozabal Line went on sale in November 2008 in India and remained on India Today’s bestseller list for the next four months. A viral video trailer on YouTube attracted a great deal of attention and so did the fact that the first chapter of the book was available from day one as a preview download on Scribd. My blog became extremely active and very soon, The Rozabal Line had a cult following. As we speak, The Rozabal Line, has been contracted by a Turkish publisher for producing a Turkish translation. Later this year, Tata-Westland shall also be reintroducing the book through a mass-market paperback. I am overwhelmed by the response that my book has received and am truly grateful to readers and God almighty!

What is your advice to anyone wanting to write a conspiracy story/thriller?

I guess the question can be broken into two parts: (i) what advice do I have to offer to a first-time novelist and (ii) if the novelist in question is interested in conspiracy fiction then what pointers could I possibly offer.
My answer to the first part is that one simply needs to have faith. Writing is a very lonely activity and getting published is an extremely demoralizing one. I received a hundred rejections before finalizing a publishing deal. Most first timers tend to give up because of this continuous rejection process. What all aspiring novelists must understand is that writing is a creative industry and there’s no creative industry that does not put its players through trial by fire. Imagine a young man from a village landing up in Mumbai hoping to make it big in Bollywood. What are the knocks that he would necessarily have to accept to make any sort of breakthrough? The trials and tribulations of all creative pursuits—music, writing, cinema, theatre, art—are pretty similar. The ones who make it are the one who hang in there long enough.
That brings me to the second part of your question: what specific advice do I have for anyone wanting to write conspiracy fiction. Well, you simply need to love your subject. If you love the subject enough you will be disciplined enough to do meticulous research and that is fundamental to writing good conspiracy fiction because it needs to be as close to the truth as possible.
I love anything that has the faintest whiff of conspiracy, and in fact, so do most people. Who was behind the assassination of John F. Kennedy? Was the first walk on the moon just a scam or did it really happen? Did Hitler commit suicide in his bunker or did he escape? Were Jesus and Mary Magdalene married? What happened to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose? Anything that allows us to question conventional wisdom and allows us to explore a more mysterious (and obviously much more delicious) explanation is a fiction writer’s delight. My own view is that the intercourse between fact and fiction is what makes for truly interesting fiction (and interesting fact). Personally, I prefer reading fiction that sounds like fact and fact that sounds like fiction. The publication of The Rozabal Line has strengthened my view that those who like my variety of fiction are those who wish to read fiction that sounds very much like The History Channel, CNN and 60-Minutes blended together.

What are you working on next?

I have completed my second novel and I hope that it should be published by November 2010. The story is a political thriller but with a historical context. History fascinates me and hence the strong presence of a historical backdrop is likely to be a recurring feature in all my novels. Without giving away too much, it revolves around two central characters, evolves from a historical relic, involves juicy secrets around an archaeological find, and dissolves with the satisfactory resolution of a murder!

I believe you are committed to the upkeep of the Rozabal shrine, could you tell us a little more about your involvement with this shrine?

My commitment to the shrine is that I have pledged that any monies that are earned by me from book sale royalties will be contributed by me to helping the shrine, its environs and local populace. At this moment, however, the law and order issues in J&K as well as the adverse reaction of the shrine management to outsiders has made it virtually impossible for me to do much. Instead, what I’m concentrating on doing is to accumulate royalties so that it may eventually result in a meaningful and significant contribution from me as a tribute to the man who lies buried within. Since the publication of The Rozabal Line, tourists have been flocking to the shrine and I hope that this momentum will see the shrine get the sort of international recognition that it deserves.

How do you reconcile your two roles, of a businessman and author? How do you make the time to write?

Being an entrepreneur provides me with material sustenance—my bread and butter. Being a writer provides me emotional sustenance—my jug of wine. It’s my way of reclaiming my sanity in an otherwise insane world. By nature, I’m an introvert and writing is a very lonely pursuit. I’m locked up inside my study at odd hours researching and writing about something that piques my interest. Thus, writing is an ideal pursuit for someone like me. Though I was born in a business family and was brought up with the usual doses of business inputs (schooling at Cathedral & John Connon, BA at Xaviers College, MBA from Yale), I remain a loner and academic at heart. Writing is merely an expression of that facet of my personality. I would be incomplete with either of those two sides missing. From 10am to 7pm I am a businessman but am a husband, father and writer for the rest of the day!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Review of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's Queen of Dreams

Reviewed by Itchingtowriteblogs

I am on a Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni spree. I fell in love with her writing after reading Palace of Illusions. Such lucid style and hidden in that style is deep meaning.

All her books have a common thread - I am not talking of the Bengali backdrop- I am talking of the commonality that manifests in the form of dreams, power of stories or rather the power of a spoken word that takes a life of its own and within itself, carries a lesson. I love the way she says that everyone visualizes a story in a different way- sees it in their own mind through different filters. I think that is a great insight for everyday life also.

Digression alert- Just the other day the husband and I were discussing the shape of a cabinet I had in mind- I said L shaped, visualising a vertical L- tall in the corner, and short but horizontally extending to cover the width of the space. The husband argues that there is no space for an L shaped cabinet- he imagining a horizontal 2 dimensional L.

Queen of Dreams take the power of dreaming to a magical (supernatural?)
level. The story is built upon the idea that a dream is a telegram from the hidden world. And I interpret the hidden world to be the future, the unknown, the yet-to-happen, because they say the mind sees that which the eye cannot or refuses to see.

After reading the book, I tried to crystallise my thoughts. I realized that whichever angle I take to my review, I am bound to miss out some shades of the story. There are so many facets to it that it is difficult to put them on the same page without giving the entire story away. So I took the most obvious route -the protagonists point of view.

Rakhi is an artist living the typical American born desi life- American by birth but having a keen interest to know about her roots. Her paintings depict India as she imagines, her chai house is Indian as per her understanding of what is India.

Rakhi's mother has an incredible gift- the power to dream the dreams of other people, dream warnings and even dream lost dreams - dreams of people long gone. She seeks out people whose dreams she has dreamt and warn them of potential hazards.

But then, that is not what the story is all about. It has deeper significances as lot of reviewers point out- relationship between mother and daughter, the daughter's quest for her identity through her mother's journals, her struggle for survival post 9/11, and on top of that her love-hate relationship with her ex-husband.

The story flits from Rakhi's thoughts to her mother's journals swiftly in an almost ethereal fashion. After her mother's death, Rakhi finds her mother's journals. The journals answer most of Rakhi's questions about her roots- those which during her lifetime, her mother was never able to speak about. They explain about her struggle with her choices. Her struggle with herself to come to terms with the fact that to keep her gift intact, she had to give up on the most precious things in life which normally a woman or a person would choose- her family. Or perhaps in her case, her gift was the most important thing in her life- over and above anything or anyone else. Or perhaps she is not the stereotypical woman for whom the family comes first?

Some questions are left unanswered much to my annoyance, leaving me behind with a feeling of loose ends- I almost scraped at the book cover to see if some pages are stuck by the way!

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Review : Don’t Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight

Don’t Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight
Rujuta Diwekar
Random House
Price : Rs 199

 Reviewed by : Smitha Verma

Rujuta Diwekar shot to fame when Kareena Kapoor’s size zero became a national obsession. The media dissected Kareena’s super glam figure with the zeal that was till then reserved for Indo-Pak dialogues. So, it came as no surprise that her dietician went on to cash on the mileage and wrote a book on weight loss.

The fitness industry, which is growing by leaps and bounds, sees almost one gym launch a day in one part of the country. In the milieu of fat loss books and diet guides, Diwekar’s book became an instant pickup owing to its glam association. But the book is not just another run-of-the-mill stuff. It is packed with information, loaded with real-life examples and could be an inspirational guide for many fighting the battle of the bulge.

Diwekar sprinkles her book with not just observation but also reasoning beyond fads and myths. So if someone told you how drinking hot water after a meal would lead to weight loss, ask him the principle behind the theory. This is one dietician who will tell you to eat more to lose more. By now, we all know the need for small meals, but Diwekar would also explain to you how it aids your body’s metabolism.

Diwekar knows her subject thoroughly. She could give you scientific explanations on old wives’ tales and would also tell you how to recognize good fat from a bad one. Pardon her for her ‘Chalu Mumbaiya’ language and this book is a sure-shot hit. A on-time read for anyone who wants to know the principle behind eating right.

Q&A with Gouri Dange

Gouri Dange is a writer, book editor and practising family counsellor. Her features, articles, interviews, short stories – various works of fiction and non-fiction – have appeared regularly in leading Indian publications, on her website, and in a US-based magazine called India Currents. Her writings have a large informal following – readers, bloggers and editors write in regularly expressing their appreciation and delight at her style and content – which ranges from the savagely funny to the nuancedly reflective and empathetic. She holds writing workshops, in which participants are guided to synthesize and transform into writing what they experience, perceive and imagine. She blogs here.

Here's a short Q&A with her:
1) Your earlier blog posts have material published in your columns.Which papers/magazines did you/do you write for?

I have written for and continue to write for the TOI, Express, HT, Outlook, Pune Mirror, Sakaal Times, Namaskaar, Jetwings, Commodity Vision, Gentleman, Mindfields, Mint, Soma, Business India, Swagat, Metroscan, Life Positive, Well-Being, and some Internet content people.

2) What kind of counselling do you do? and for what ages/parameters?

It’s usually personal and family/relationship counselling. Students who come from far and wide to Pune for further studies – they often seek counselling support in areas such as: loneliness/homesickness, adjustment to a new culture, dealing with authority figures, handling money, sexual issues, issues of self-esteem and confidence, experimentation with alcohol, commitment in relationships, perceptions of ‘safe and unsafe’ behaviour, work/exam pressures, etc. I am able to provide not only an empathetic ear, but constructive suggestions and guidance. Having lived in various parts of the world and interacted with a range of nationalities, I am comfortable with a range of accents, which makes it that much easier for students to be understood and communicate freely. Cases in which family members have for long been at logger-heads and have been urged to seek counseling by those around them. I have been able to help them identify the assumptions, misplaced expectations, poor communication and hidden agendas that have fuelled the deterioration of the relationship. Couples who have basically sound marriages but are in a bad phase (related to children, infidelity, career issues, sex-related matters, in-laws etc). I also work with people who are in abusive marriages and are in the midst of divorce proceedings, helping them to let go and part ways in a non destructive way. I also provide secondary support in cases where the person seeking counselling is part of a couple or family in which one person is being treated by a psychiatrist for schizophrenia, alcoholism, etc. The person coming to me for counselling is able to find ways of coping and providing positive support to the partner/family member under treatment. In mid life issues, in the case of men, usually relating to impending retirement or retrenchment; sexual ‘boredom’ and perceived non-responsiveness of the partner, loss of interest in work, search for more meaning, etc. In the case of women, ‘empty nest’ syndrome, work-fatigue, menopause, changing sexuality, etc. I have been able to help them come to terms with certain issues, take some hard decisions, deal with guilt, etc. I work with the elderly – where the issues are loneliness, restricted mobility, disability, perceived loss of worth/respect/independence. Have been able to help in better adjustment to their changed life situation – in terms of finding new careers/hobbies, mending relationships, etc. Also worked with care-givers of the elderly, addressing their difficulties. I also work with young children and their parents. I sometimes work in tandem with a psychiatrist and/or a paedatrician

3) You are a passionate listener of Hindustani classical music. Do you have any formal training in the same?

Yes, I learnt the sitar from when I was about 15, for over 20 years. I also sat in on my mother’s training and riyaz etc during her sangeet visharad ‘sadhana’. I taught the sitar for some years to young/new students. I don’t play now, it seems like there is so much to listen to, rather than to play! I play the harmonium and sing, but not in any formal/performance mode.

4) When do you expect The Bedside Blog to be published?

Someone’s working on the cover and the inside design – I hope to have illustrations and separators and little elements and embellishments along with the pieces. The artist’s name is Junuka Deshpande. She’s in Boston right now, and also a blogger – She is also a musician, filmmaker and so many other things. So bedside blog should be out in September of this year 2010. Under the imprint OMO Books.

5) As a writer, do you feel that your craftsmanship has changed from 3, Zakia Mansion to The Counsel of Strangers?

Not essentially, but yes, I have become less ‘condensed’ and more ‘amplified’. To use a music metaphor, perhaps I am singing in a more ‘khulla awaz’ now. And I am trying a raagmala – of six characters! 3 Zakia Mansion is a single raga explored and presented, perhaps.

6) What are the influences that have shaped you most profoundly?

Is this where I say Mother Teresa? J. ...Well it’s parents who lived life very fully – peopling it with friends, music, food, travel, hard work, a good smattering of irony and sarcasm and humour even in bad times. And also allowed me to meander on to many paths, without any pressure to ‘become’ this and ‘achieve’ that. The three primary kids in my life (now all grown), a niece, a nephew and a deemed daughter as i call her, have also influenced me and continue to do so. They were my fans and now I’m their fan. There are a host of subsidiary kids too – who are now lovely grown-ups. And they have actually influenced the way I look at the world. My friends (to whom I have dedicated the forthcoming The Counsel of Strangers) are also a deep and wide influence. Music is a huge influence. Ok, now this is sounding like an Oscar speech. a

7) Shaheen never gets treated for her psychological issues, and somehow manages to carry on, despite them. As a counsellor, what do feel helped her the most?

Well she did have one small skirmish with a lady therapist! Shaheen had a genuine core and did not run away from her issues. She chose to stare them in the face, and perhaps had that ability in her. She could separate the useless from the meaningful. The coming of Manas and his mother into her life provided anchors and ports at which she could dock. Her daughter too was a force in her life. Once she stopped being embarrassed and burdened by her dysfunctional family, she could deal with things.

8] Who are your favourite authors and literary influences? Gosh, so many. Graham Greene, Naipaul, Alexander McCaull Smith, Sheila Dhar (I would have been her groupie were she alive), Wodehouse, Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie writing non crime), Edward Stewart, and really so many more...poets, bloggers, humourists, screenwriters.

9] Any advice you would give bloggers who are tempted to write books?

Write away! But do get beyond the purely autobiographical. And experiment with genres. And pay your bills on time.

10] What are you working on next?

There’s The Counsel of Strangers and Bedside Blog; also a second ABCs of Parenting – these are ready and in the design/printing pipeline. I plan to go into a second edition of 3 Zakia Mansion, under the OMO Books label. Also the Marathi 3 Zakia Mansion, which is being translated right now by Anagha Lele.

I’m also experimenting with stand-up monologues (not exactly all comedy – a range of narrations from the funny to the sentimental) and am doing these in front of small audiences of about 30 people in Pune, Mumbai and Bangalore.

Friday, April 9, 2010

3, Zakia Mansion

3, Zakia Mansion
Reviewed by Dipali Taneja

3, Zakia Mansion tells the story of a dysfunctional family, largely from the perspective of Shaheen, the oldest of three children. Her parents inhabit strange worlds of their own, and rarely connect with each other. Their father is extremely harsh and autocratic, with strange ideas about child rearing. Their mother, Nimmi, is embittered by her life, and tries to find what succour she can, while remaining quite detached from her children.

Ehsaan, Shaheen's orphaned cousin, lives with them and provides great common sense, humour, and is a rock for the siblings, as is their grandmother, until a tirade against the independent unmarried daughter by Shaheen's mother drives the grandmother downstairs, to live with her other son. Matters have been compounded by Shaheen refusing to marry Sajid, her mother's effete second cousin, who has come to Mumbai looking for both a bride and a job.

Ehsaan's mimicry of Sajid's peculiar English makes you laugh out loud. Dadi moving out gives Sajid an opportunity to woo Nimmi, and her father's drunken proclamation of their affair traumatises Shaheen totally.

A marriage proposal from the Adamji family gives her an exit from her home a few moths later, but her husband is most cowardly in the face of his dominating mother, and Shaheen finds little joy in her marriage, although the birth of her daughter does change her life. Juhi is a child 'who just strolled out into the world and started ordering everybody about', much to the chagrin of her imperious grandmother, whom she constantly challenges.

Many tragedies later, Shaheen leaves her husband, who refuses to let Juhi accompany her. Juhi has developed severe eczema, and while going out of town to seek a cure for her child, Shaheen meets Manas, an architecture student. Many travails later, Shaheen is finally able to piece her life together.

The trouble with trying to review 3, Zakia Mansion is that you get sucked into reading the book again and again. It is a slim book, economical with words and rich in concepts and characters. It is a book that demands to be read and re-read several times over. One central concept is of the betrayal of children by their parents, of actual or virtual orphanhood. Another is of the need for kindness in human relationships. This verse, by Ella Wheer Willcox which appears at the beginning of the book, is also quoted by the holy man at the ashram:

So many Gods, so many creeds,

So many paths that wind and wind,

While just the art of being kind

Is all this sad world needs.

While I am eagerly awaiting Ms.Dange's next book, I do wonder if it will become as much a part of me as 3, Zakia Mansion has become.

Edited to add:  Gouri Dange blogs at

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Smita Jain tells us how to craft a perfect chicklit-crime novel

Smita Jain gave us the howlarious Kkrishnaa's Konfessions, where she placed a murder in the penstabbing world of TV serial scripting and TRP rage. Now she's back with Piggies on the Railway: A Kasthuri Kumar Mystery, about a glamorous Private Investigator suddenly confronted with a corpse of a movie star.

Here is a short Q&A
1] In both your books, Kkrishnaa's Konfessions and Piggies on the Railway, you have gone in for what would seem like an implausible mix of chicklit and crime. What do you think is the reason the mix has has worked?
It has worked?!!!! But, seriously, why wouldn’t it work? The heroine is imperfect, glamour struck and insecure. In other words, she’s totally identifiable. Show me a woman who isn’t all that and I’ll show you a straight male fashion designer. In addition, the narrative is pacy, the situations outrageously hilarious, the tone self deprecating, the language simple, the mystery intelligent, what’s not to like?

2] You've worked across mediums, from scripting serials and films to writing books, and blogging. What are the highs and lows of each medium, according to you?
Actually writing books is not that different from writing film screenplays. After all it is about writing stories and rules for writing stories remain the same whatever the medium. It’s all about character and conflict. About plot points and resolving conflict. The highs and lows are the same. The impatience when the going is slow initially, the frustration when you unable to crack a flaw in the plot or character after weeks of consistent trying, the rush of excitement when you get it, and finally, overwhelming relief when it’s done. The only difference lies in the format of the script or the manuscript as the case maybe, and the language employed. And the tense. A screenplay is always in the present tense while an MS, not always.

3] In Piggies on the Railway, you've created Kasthuri Kumar, a detective with a penchant for Fendi peeptoes and fashion ripoffs, riding a bike, and a sex life that rocks. Isnt she a total antithesis to the profession?
Yes! And isn’t it fun? But seriously, only in India is she an antithesis of the conventional detective. That is perhaps because here the genre is in its infancy yet. In developed markets you have all kinds of characters. I’ve read capers of a woman who is a beautician by day and a PI by night. I’ve read stories of PIs who are models, TV reporters, supposedly idle high society ladies, manic depressives, split personalities, alcoholics...

4] What are your rules for crafting a detective novel?
I usually visualize the crime and then work backwards. So I think to myself, let’s have an old guy who’s stabbed. Then I give the situation some personality. For instance, when and where was he found? What were the circumstances of the crime? Next, I give him family, friends and colleagues. Since the killer is almost always from them, they all get broad back stories, aspirations, motives and opportunities and alibis. So, you see, it’s fairly simple once you get a hang of the rules. It’s intricate, but simple. It’s simply a matter of maintaining detailed notes.

5] How do you see the character of Katie evolving, since Kasthuri Kumar is planned as a series of mysteries?
Hmmm, too soon to tell. But she’s definitely not gonna get less glamorous! Or less sexual!

Q & A with Parul Sharma

I'm always all excited when Parul Sharma comes up in any discussion about bloggers turned authors, because, what the hell, she's a friend, and she's a mommy blogger, and she's a genuine nice person. Yes, yes, I'm biased and this has nothing to do with her hilarious book, Bringing Up Vasu: That First Year, which you must buy to boost up sales and send into reprint.

Here's a Q&A with her:
1] When you began blogging, did you imagine that this would lead to a book someday? Or was there always a book at the back of your mind?

Sure, I dreamt that publishers all over would be flocking to my doorstep once they read my blog, except that they didn't.
Actually, I started my blog to get writing practice and it served me well to that end. I got some readers and loads of encouragement. Yes, I always wanted to be a writer but even I, in my infinite optimism did not start blogging thinking that it would lead to a book deal. I had to go about it the old-fashioned way and so I finished the manuscript and sent it to a commissioning editor and hoped and prayed like hell that she would like it. My publishers came to know of my blog much later when I asked them if I should mention the book on it. I think the exact response was on the enthusiastic lines of yes, whatever but then, mine is not a hugely popular blog.

2] How easy or difficult is it to make the transition from blogging short posts, to writing a full fledged book, what is the shift in mind set required?
Well, I don't think it is particularly difficult but you do need to be oriented differently. There are many things one needs to consider while writing a full-length novel, the storyline needs to be consistent, the characters need to be fleshed out, the level of engagement needs to be high and so on. The stakes are higher while writing a book. Blogging in that sense is more fun and it allows you a lot more flexibility. I write about anything that catches my fancy on my blog. In a book, I need to stick to the story, a singularly tough task. Another thing - because of the comments they leave and the blogs they themselves maintain, one more or less knows who the blog-reader is. There is no such luxury while writing novels.
Also, I get away with using adverbs in the blog, something I have been repeatedly told is absolutely unforgivable if you want to be a good writer.

3] How do you respond to the criticism that most bloggers turned authors recycle the same stuff from their blogs into their books?
I think we end up writing about things that we feel close to and some overlap is inevitable in the first published work and the blog. Debuts do tend to be semi-autobiographical. As the writer gains experience, one hopes she can develop the chops necessary to explore other territories.

4] Who are your favourite authors and which are your favourite books?
I love P G Wodehouse, Stephen King, Bill Bryson, Alexander McCall Smith and Shivani and have read most of their works. I like Murakami a lot too. Amongst the newer authors that I have read I have liked Daniyal Mueenuddin and Suketu Mehta a fair bit. Oh and I am a fervent admirer of Bill Watterson.
My favourite books are To Kill A Mockingbird, City of Djinns, The Lord Of The Rings, On Writing, all Calvin and Hobbes comics, Persepolis...this could go on.

5] Any advice you would give bloggers aspiring to be authors?
The same as I would give to anyone aspiring to be an author - just write. Don't wait for divine inspiration, don't seek the perfect words to come to you, don't await the perfect pitch for your voice. The only way to be a writer is to write. Boring I know, but true. It's like any other job. You get up in the morning and you show up at your writing desk.

6] What should readers watch out for, are you working on a next book?
My second book is due for release in September 2010. The working title is By The Watercooler.

Here are the links to some reviews on the blogosphere of Bringing Up Vasu
Mamma mia me a Mamma
Monika Manchanda
R's Mom
Aneela of Golkamra
Purple Homes
The Hungry Bookworm

(If I've missed out on any links to this book, do send them in, and links to blogs with reviews of other blogger turned author written books are also welcome! Help me out here folks, you know I am scatterbrained at the best of times.)

May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss

By Arnab Ray aka Great Bong

Reviewed by Dipali Taneja

"May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss" is a brilliantly funny book by an author who is immensely observant. To me the book is essentially a sociological treatise on Indian urban life in the last two decades or so, but one written with wit, wisdom and imagination. So many of his observations ring so true- when he speaks of the ultra-slow plot progression of desi soaps, you find yourself in full agreement with the author. When he writes about the travails of the Bengali bridegroom going through a traditional marriage, you cannot help but chuckle. I loved the way he described the seminal influence some Hindi films had on him. One chapter heading is 'Five things that piss me off', which encompasses Human Resource Personnel, First Class In Flights, Polite Conversation, The Flush, and, most frustrating of them all, Calling Customer Service. You cannot help but identify with one or more of these! If you want advice on How To Start Your Own managemnt Institute, look no further. He writes openly, honestly, and political correctness can go take a jump.

If you want a lighthearted insight into modern day urban India, Arnab Ray's 'May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss' is a wonderful read!

Psst, psst: Read our interview with Arnab here
Also read Mamma Mia!! Me a Mamma??'s review here

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Karadi's new series 'Will You Read With me?'

Okay people this post is for Mums who have small kids and who wish to introduce the idea of 'reading yourself' in their kids! I came across these Audio book series from Karadi Tales and thought I'd try to get my 7 year old son to read it by himself...till now he depends on me to read out stories to him!Guess what?I was hugely successful but there were a few hitches!

The concept is what I really liked.My son liked the idea of reading stories with their favourite actor/actress/sports personality.The illustrations on the books are also very beautifully done to generate reading interest in the child.The CD that comes along with the book gives them confidence to read the book aloud and read it on their own.

What I thought could be worked upon are the long sentences and big words that turn out to be tricky for the kids to read by themselves.

So Super Hathaman is the story of Hathaman who wishes to become Super Hathaman - he wants to fly in the sky and walk on water! On the advice of the old yogi, he journeys to Tibet to acquire super powers. Does he get them? Read and listen to know that!The story is narrated by Jaaved Jaaferi ,(I realised he has quiet a kiddie fan following..How I still don't know! )... the story is by Kaushik Viswanath and artwork in a hilarious style by Chetan Sharma with mystic music by 3 Brothers & A Violin and a catchy title track by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy.
Where Super Hathaman loses out are the tough words and the long drawn sentences.Artwork is fabulous and keeps the kids interested till the very end.I could see my son could quiet relate with Hathaman and his desire to fly in the sky!
A Hundred Cartloads is a beautiful story of love and friendship between a man and his animal. Ananda the ox cares very deeply about his master and is willing to do anything to help him.He cannot bear to see his master living poorly so he comes up with a plan to make him super rich and happy.

The story is narrated by Soha Ali Khan and written by Devika Rangachari. The title music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, the charming folk music by 3 Brothers & A Violin and the detailed, vivid illustrations by Bindia Thapar make the story come alive.A beautiful story and a must read for kids I loved the illustrations in this one too.I could see my son really enjoyed this one and so did my 2 and a half year old daughter!

There are many more books in the series you could get more information here

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

And here's Sidin....

Columnist, blogger ( and now, with the publication of Dork:The Incredible Adventures of Robin 'Einstein' Verghese, an author, Sidin Vadukut is undoubtedly the funny man to read when you're in a bit of a funk. Sidin took time out to respond to our questions on his writing, and his book, and yes there will be sequels, so keep your money ready and waiting.

1] When you began blogging, did you imagine that this would lead to a book someday? Or was there always a book at the back of your mind?

Absolutely. When I began blogging, way back in 2002 or so, I was convinced that all this typing and posting was inevitably leading to literary achievements and fame and glory and all that. As was/is everyone else as they fill in that online form to open their Blogger or Wordpress account. At the time, in 2002, I was full of the stupid conviction of youth that I was an amazing writer and all this blogging was a distraction from the book writing and prize winning.

Now when I go back and read what I wrote in 2002... shudder.

But since then priorities changed drastically. Gradually I realized I sucked at fiction, realized perhaps journalism was the way to go, and then plunged into that whole-heartedly. This shift happened sometime in 2005 I think. I did work on a book at the time, and that period saw a slowdown in blogging which I have never really recovered from. And then that manuscript got shelved as I got on with the business of making ends meet, getting married and joining gyms.

I was once again coaxed into the book project by friends and family in 2006. Then a combination of luck, good timing and made Dork happen. So no, I was never carrying Dork in my head and waiting for the perfect moment. First I decided I wanted to write a book, Dork was the idea everyone liked best.

2] How easy or difficult is it to make the transition from blogging short posts, to writing a full fledged book, what is the shift in mind required?

The process of writing wasn't difficult. But the substance of the manuscript itself was a challenge.
I was able to cope with the process because of three reasons: Having been a journalist of some kind helps deal with deadlines, editing, correcting and, most importantly, helps you somewhat distinguish good writing from bad. (I've had some amazing editors over the last few years. Touch wood.) Secondly, I'd always written very long blog posts, 2000 words at a time. And I spend a fair amount of time on those posts. So typing into the night on a tight daily word-count wasn't a shock. And finally in Dork I'd chosen a format, the diary entry, which wasn't all that different from a blog format. This was not entirely accidental.

The substance itself was a problem. Thinking and creating a plotline that runs across 65000 words is very difficult. It was only after writing half the book that I developed a system of plot outlines, notes and character descriptions that made things easier. This was the hardest element. Creating a sequence of events that lasts AND sustains interest. Very hard.

3] How do you respond to the criticism that most bloggers turned authors recycle the same stuff from their blogs into their books?

While this is probably true, I don't think there is a problem here per se. This is a little bit like saying William Dalrymple is obsessed with history no? I don't mind blogger-authors sticking to a genre or a topic or a style. The real issue is recycling and originality. But remember that most bloggers get commissioned to write exactly what is on their blog. It is not like publishers will approach a humour blogger and tell them to write the next War And Peace with a gritty Mumbai feel.
And unless the blogger tries something drastically different, frequent readers WILL predict punchlines, plot twists, dialogues et cetera, et cetera. The blog reader can be pretty unforgiving.
Blogger-authors have it tough.

4] Who are your favourite authors and which are your favourite books?
Whatay hard question. Favourite authors: Bill Bryson, Dave Barry, Martin Cruz Smith, William Dalrymple, Sjowall and Wahloo, Anthony Beevor.
Favourite books: Netherland, Stalingrad, D-Day, Red Square, The Laughing Policeman, From the Holy Mountain, Maus, Dave Barry Slept Here, e by Matt Beaumont... so many.

5] Any advice you would give bloggers aspiring to be authors?
Write about sex. Sex and IITs. Or Sex IN an IIM. Five Point Threesome.
Otherwise develop one of two things: style or substance. Develop a style, ala Greatbong, Amit Verma, Krish Ashok, that lets you handle any topic with unique flair. Or specialize in a particular topic in great depth and enthusiasm. Like the Indian National Interest guys, Jai Arjun Singh or Bharadwaj Rangan. I can't think of another way to make it. Newspapers and, I assume, most publishers wants a killer style or an awesome story. You have to have one of those.
Then work at it. Get published. Network heavily so you get bylines everywhere. Indeed we are lucky to be in a country where new magazines still open and newspapers still look for writers. There is a dire need of good writers across all topics. Meet that demand. Caferati and book readings are good places to network.
And please be open to feedback. The earlier you get solid feedback in your career the better.
And once you feel what it means to be edited, to meet deadlines and to really craft nice sentences and tight endings, the book deals will begin to be within reach.
Oh and read lots. Of everything. No output without input.

6] What should readers watch out for, are you working on a next book?
Dork 2 is afoot. Very, very slowly. Due in June. But I am also working on a non-Dork novel outline. Hoping to send out pitches to publishers by June end. I am very excited about this project. A strange and macabre idea. Fingers itch to type. But hush hush for now. Dork 2 first.
And then that magnum opus World War 2 book that someone will have to fund me copiously for. Dream project. Much traveling involved. Unless I kill two birds with one stone and enroll for a PhD in History in 2012.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Would you like to send in a review?

If you would like to review any book written by a blogger turned author for our Blogger Turned Author fortnight, please do mail us at, with your review, and a short intro of yourself, and a link to your blog, if you blog. We would be happy to publish it.

An interview with Arnab Ray


Arnab Ray, better known as Greatbong, is one of India's most widely read bloggers who blogs at Random Thoughts Of A Demented Mind ( His blog was awarded the "Indiblog of the Year" at Indibloggies in 2006 and 2008. He has written for several media outlets like the Washington Post, Outlook magazine and Live Mint. He graduated from Jadavpur University as a Bachelor in Computer Science and Engineering and went on to finish his PhD in Computer Science from State University of New York at Stony Brook. He is presently employed as a research scientist at the University of Maryland and resides in the suburbs of Washington DC.

He recently finished writing his first book "May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss" which was published by Harper Collins.Here he talks to us about his blog and his latest book

1] When you began blogging, did you imagine that this would lead to a book someday? Or was there always a book at the back of your mind?

No I didn't. I am the kind that does things without deliberating much
as to where the "doing" will lead to.

2] How easy or difficult is it to make the transition from blogging  short posts, to writing a full fledged book, what is the shift in mind required?

I don't think there is any specific shift that is needed. My book
resembles very closely the style of a blog and so for me personally it
has been even less of a shift than it has been for others.
Content wise , there is of course a consistent focus away from current
events and "hot" news to themes that are more universally relevant
since books have shelf lives of years. Unlike a blog post.

3] How do you respond to the criticism that most bloggers turned & authors recycle the same stuff from their blogs into their books?

First of all they don't. Speaking specific to my case, while my book
does has certain popular posts rewritten, there is a lot of new
material in the book that has never been covered on the blog. Also I
don't see where the problem is even in "recycling". A blog is an
open-for-all repository of writing whose copyright is owned by the
blogger. It has not been commercially released and every blogger
deserves the right to make money from the content he has produced. If
someone was re-cycling previously published material then yes it
warrants criticism. But what is written on a blog is not "published"
in the accepted sense of the term since nobody has paid to read it.
Blog posts are analogous to draft papers that academics circulate in
research communities to warrant feedback before publishing it at a
research venue. Nobody considers its final publication as a "recycling"
do they? Another analogy is to open-source software. If a company has
their code-base online for public review and offers it as free
software package and then builds a product that takes the
"open-source" code and extends it with custom code implementing
premium features in a "paid" release, nobody criticizes them for
building their commercial product on their own open-source code base.

4] Who are your favourite authors and which are your favourite books?

Too many to mention. Orhan Pamuk, Vedvyas, J D Salinger, Salman
Rushdie, Rabindranath Tagore, Arun Shourie...and let me not even get
into books !

 5] Any advice you would give bloggers aspiring to be authors?

None at all except write on topics you are passionate about and don't
even have the "What do I need to write so as to get the attention of
publishers?" question at the back of your mind.

 6] What should readers watch out for, are you working on a next book?

Yes I am. Mainstream fiction with a humorous undertone.