Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Tribune : Ashok K. Banker (an interview)

ASHOK K. BANKER needs no introduction. He is an acclaimed author of mixed race and mixed cultural background. His writing spans crime thrillers, essays, literary criticism, fiction and mythological retellings. Epic India Library is his brain child and through this, he plans to retell all the major myths, legends and itihasa of the Indian subcontinent in an interlinked cycle of over 100 volumes. The Ramayana series, Krishna Coriolis, the Mahabharata series, the contemporary Kali Rising thriller series and some other works are part of this library. In the social media-savvy world, he prefers devoting all his time working on his books or with his family.
An author par excellence, here is a peek into his personality through this interview.

Read the complete interview here.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Interview : Amish Tripathi

An IIM Calcutta graduate, an ex-banker, a voracious reader, a history lover, a Shiva bhakt  - Amish (Tripathi) rose to fame on literary firmament through his brilliant Shiva Trilogy.  He shares his experience of feeling the blessing of Lord Shiva while progressing on the journey of storytelling as he stays clear of the arrogance of being a creator and approaches it with the humility of a witness.

1.       How is life high up there?

Life is good, God is kind. I am a full time author now. I am getting more time for writing. I am working harder than I did in my banking days, but I’m enjoying it.

2.       What has this experience taught you? Do you think like a seasoned author now?

I don't think I'd ever be a seasoned author; it is for others to judge. I am enjoying the life. I get to make a living out of something that I love to do - writing.

3.       How did the plot originate?

It all began as a pure philosophical discussion while I was watching a TV program with my family. In the program it was shown that in ancient Persia, Gods were known as Ahuras and Demons were called Daevas, contrary to what Indian mythology is based on. Obviously, if the ancient Persians and the ancient Indians had met, they may have called each other evil, because one person's God was another person's Demon.

While having a discussion over this topic, the first obvious question arose - 'Who is right?' - Both? Neither? The answer is neither is evil. It is just that the thinking is different. This then led to other questions - 'What is evil?' and 'How to identify the evil?' This triggered the idea to write on the philosophy of evil. But later, following the suggestions of my brother and sister-in-law, I transformed the philosophical writing into an adventure, a thriller. The hope was that along with an engaging story, I may be able to better communicate the philosophy as compared to a pure philosophy treatise which may be boring for many.

4.     Are you satisfied with your creation or would you want to change anything in the story or its narration?

No honestly there are many things that I could have improved upon but I gave it my best shot. I have no qualms in accepting that the portions which are satisfying for readers are the ones which are blessed by Lord Shiva and the ones which are not up to the mark are due to my inability to do justice to that blessing.

5.       Who are your role models - the authors  (Indian and foreign authors)

I don't really look at any role models. I read because I like to read, more non-fiction. I am a voracious reader so it is difficult to list favourite authors. I simply enjoy reading and am not searching for role models.

6.       How important is language vs plot for you?

It varies from person to person.  Some authors are more focused on language, some are driven more by the story and some by the philosophy. I am driven by the philosophy and for me, story and language are mediums to convey that philosophy.  I wanted to write on the theory of evil and who better to be the hero than the destroyer of evil Himself - the Mahadev, Lord Shiva.

7.       Is there any deliberate attempt on your part to woo western audience by creating irreverence for God in your books?

First of all, there is no attempt to show any irreverence to God in my books. I am a staunch Lord Shiva devotee. I have not written for any audience - Indian or Western. I have written the story for myself. I believe, there are two ways to look at God - one is through fear and the other through love. I don’t say approaching God through fear is wrong but I do it through love and that is what I have tried to convey through my story. 

8.       You were able to create some of the frenzy that we have only seen for books like Harry Potter etc. What do you think was the reason for that?

Lord Shiva's blessing, undoubtedly.

9.       There is a big contrast between your past corporate life and present mythology driven writing world, how do you see this transition?

There is a massive difference between the corporate life and my present life. I would say the corporate life was much more structured. Now I have to define my own structure so I have much more time to do things - travelling, reading and spending time with family. I am leading a far better life now.

10.   How are you managing your time now - publicity commitments, interviews, talks on your books, your next piece?

I work in two phases - marketing and writing. I have been in marketing phase for 'Oath of Vayuputras' until now but I am pulling back from there to the writing phase now.

11.   We as Indians are probably most religious, but are also most dishonest, corrupt and amoral. How do these two things coexist?

I don’t think we Indians are horribly dishonest. I just feel that we are a society in transition which may appear corrupt from one perspective but may not be so from another perspective. We are transitioning from a community driven, rural, agrarian society to an urban, anonymous and rules driven society. What may not appear corrupt in a rural agrarian society may appear so in an urban anonymous society.

12.   Some people have natural flare for writing, in your opinion how much of this skill is acquired and how much is it a derivative of the basic nature of an individual?

I believe that every skill can be learnt. But there are two parts to it:

The 'What' part - the idea/philosophy that you want to convey. This is not in the hands of the author. He doesn't control it. It's a blessing. Some authors call it the product of their muse, some call it the generosity of a superior force. In my case, I call it the blessing of Lord Shiva.

The 'How' part - which can be learnt, the words, the phrases and the language that are used to give form to the 'what' part. The mode of conveying the idea can certainly be polished and refined. This is certainly in the hands of the author and regular practice will help him improve.

I think, specifically for fiction writing, no author can be so arrogant to claim that everything is a result of his genius/creativity. Because if that were so, we wouldn't have cases of writer's block.

Guest Book Review III : Who Wants Green Fingers Anyway?

Title : Who Wants Green Fingers Anyway?
Author :  Geeta Dharmarajan
Illustrator: Archana Sreenivasan
Publisher : Katha
ISBN : 978-93-82454-06-9
Reviewer: Mouli Banerjee

Who Wants Green Fingers Anyway? is the new gem from Geeta Dharmarajan, prolific writer of children’s books and 2012 Padma Shri awardee for her service in Literature and Education. This joyful narrative revolves around a family’s growing awareness of the care they have to provide to the plants of their garden.

The story is very funny and entertaining. The narrative voice is that of the young elder daughter, who chronicles this family drama. She is chirpy and smart while observing the incidents unfold. Keeping her distance from the strife, she is amused at the course of events taking place before her. Amma takes immense pride in her potted plants, but they seem to be wilting. Appa tactlessly points this out to her, provoking her short-temper. Some pots break, a witty battle of words ensues, and a challenge is thrown. Will Appa be able to look after the plants better than Amma? The reader wonders, with the daughter. The plot is tightly woven and retains suspense until the final climax.

The illustrations by Archana Sreenivasan, a Bengaluru-based visual communication designer, add vigor to the story. Srinivasan, through the
caricature of the characters, enhances the humour in the story. The narrative, a good-humoured take on family life, is a typical example of

these incidental disagreements that end up as amused memories in our minds. All readers will relate to that.

The story urges its audience to realise that it takes time and effort to become good at something. Not all information can be based simply on theory. Practical experience is also crucial, as Appa learns when he tries to don the gardener’s hat, taken over from Amma. He reads books that claim to provide all the knowledge one needs to keep plants in good shape, but the mistakes he will soon commit prove otherwise.

The writing style and expressions of the book prolong this critique of pure theory. Puns on words also add to the story’s wit, for when, exasperated, Appa declares that the books said gardening should be “as easy as making mud pies.” The irony does not escape the readers: a mud pie is exactly what he has made, albeit literally a mud pie. The readers are also invited to understand the importance of accepting defeat gracefully. Appa, in the story, cleverly manages to hide the mess from Amma, which the reader may find ridiculous, yet cute. The title, too, is a clever quibble on the ability to grow plants well, and the literal meaning of one’s fingers turning green.

Who Wants Green Fingers Anyway? is a great read. It is an entertaining family story, combined with a subtle but important message on relationships.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Guest Book Review II : Old Man Who Would Not Listen

Title : Old Man Who Would Not Listen
Author :  Nonda Chatterjee
Illustrator: Joyita Banerjee
Publisher : Katha
ISBN : 978-93-82454-08-3
Reviewer: Mouli Banerjee

Kathas new book, Old Man Who Would Not Listen, is a delightful tale of how Old Man and his five friends bring a traffic offender to justice.

Nonda Chatterjees narrative is gripping and entertaining. Though we get ample hints from the illustrations, the text at no time specifies that Old Man and his five friends are in fact… dogs. This adds to the power of the intrigue and amplifies the mystery created by the artwork. Not without a pinch of humour, the protagonist actually behaves like a proper Old Man: he walks with his friends in the park every morning, before going and getting hot jalebis from the sweet seller, Moyra, who calls him “Babuji”. When Old Man has to cross the road, the illustration shows human footprints next to the pug marks, thus kindling the puzzlement. When the guard refuses the entrance to Old Man and his friends, Chatterjee punctuates with a touch of wit: “a heated exchange about the rights of the underdog followed.” With such smart, understated quibbling and subtle humour holding one’s attention, the book is undoubtedly a captivating read.

The art by Joyita Banerjee is innovative and original. It uses the contrast of black, white and yellow tones to create an ambience that generates intrigue. The use of silhouettes is also clever as it retains suspense, while Old Man and his friends walk through the last hours of the night, in the streets of Kolkata.

Old Man Who Would Not Listen is a tale on survival and standing up for righteousness. Old Man is stubborn, but so are his friends, in their loyalty to him. The title of the book gives a glimpse of its spirit, for Old Man “would not listen” to all the signs that told him he wasn’t allowed in the park. The story is an invitation to young readers to recognize and contribute in fighting discrimination. The “dogs not allowed” signboard outside the park is Chatterjee’s subtle allegory to evoke the larger question of exclusion of the oppressed and the underprivileged in (human) society.

The story transpires of a faith in kindness, but it also has more practical concerns: it informs readers on traffic discipline. It is a tale about friendship too, and how loyal friends fight for each other and help one another. Moreover, it invites readers not to underestimate the capabilities of the underdog, for, ultimately, Old Man and his friends, rechristened “the Super Six”, turn out to be the most effective guards of the society.
All in all, Old Man Who Would Not Listen is a fun, entertaining and, at the same time, a highly instructive book that is worth reading, and re-reading.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Guest Book Review 1 : The Friday Fair

Since the inception of Literary Sojourn, it has remained my journey in the literary world and I do not foresee that to be getting changed anytime soon. However, honouring one request by Katha, Literary Sojourn is proudly hosting three guest book reviews of these wonderful Katha books.

Title : The Friday Fair
Author : Rabindranath Tagore
Illustrator : Debasmita Dasgupta
Translators : Himanjali Shankar, Geeta Dharmarajan
ISBN : 978-98-82454-10-6
Reviewer : Mouli Banerjee

Katha’s new ‘Tantalising Tagore’ series is a delightful collection of five of famous children’s poems by the Bengali writer, bringing to light a spritely world of colours and life. The collection consists of five translations: The Friday Fair, The Champa Flower, The Astronomer, The Little Big Man and Clouds and Waves. Himanjali Shankar and Geeta Dharmarajan’s translation of Tagore’s poem ‘Haat’, The Friday Fair is a delightful adaptation of the original story, which famously portrays each and every minute activity at the weekly village market.

Tagore’s poem presents a word picture of a busy weekly market on the banks of Padma, in the village of Bakshiganj. It is a kaleidoscopic vision of all the frenetic events that take place in the village on that day. H. Shankar and G. Dharmarajan’s translation is refined, as it retains the flavour of the original, while at the same time making the whole experience available through the imaginary world of children in metropolitan cities, who may not be familiar with the village atmosphere.

The illustrations by Debasmita Dasgupta amplify the colour and vibrancy of the story. They are based on traditional motifs and strokes but represent a modern version of the weekly village market. This is visible in the attire of the people depicted, which are very different from what Tagore’s villages would have looked like. The illustration seamlessly merges into the narrative to provide the children with a unique artistic experience.

The original poem by Tagore, a part of his collection for children, Sahaj Path or Simple Lessons, is a tightly rhymed piece. In this translation, the original Bengali rhyme scheme gives way to a sense of rhythm and musicality. The structure of the book, with each line depicting a different scene placed on a separate page with a related illustration, offers an impression of slideshow, shifting through scenes and people and thus creating a collage of human lives from various backgrounds. There are children playing, girls from the village coming to trade hay, men and women selling vegetables, sweets, jaggery, handicrafts, blankets and even cheap umbrellas from the city! It successfully evokes a feeling of activity and community interaction at the marketplace. The Friday Fair is thoughtfully structured so to include, along with a brief but instructive annexe on Tagore, the original Bangla poem in its script and in a Roman transcription. This highlights Katha’s concern for projects of translation, which culminates here in a subtle way to initiate children to this other art.

Young readers can see the rhyme scheme of the original and contrast it with the translated version. Thus, The Friday Fair is a colourful, exciting book that takes its readers on a journey through colourful cultures and life stories.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Book Review : Smart Phones Dumb People

Title : Smart Phones Dumb People
Author :  Parthajeet Sarma
Publisher : Good Times Books Pvt. Ltd.
ISBN : 938061956-1

"Has human race become dumb with smart phones in hands? As gadgets take over our lives, have we become less intelligent?"

Parthajeet Sarma tracks the journey of technology and its various magical wonders in our lives in his book - 'Smart Phones Dumb People'. He brings out the contrast between the worlds - one that is living in 21st century and the other that is still continuing in the 19th century. While smart devices are becoming all pervasive in lives of many of us, there are sections in our society that are still struggling at the widest and bottom most level at the Maslow's hierarchy of needs - food, clothing, shelter, clean water and electric supply.

The big question is - are the technological advancements good enough to address all problems immaterial of what century they belong to?

While talking about technology in wide perspective, he brings a big array of topics under the discussion ranging from comparison between innovation and invention, ecological (im)balance, entrepreneurship, stresses of modern lives, to corruption. He talks about how integrated system of university + industry + government is being explored for better results, how agrarian societies are getting metamorphosed to urban societies at an accelerated pace, how more and more people are heading towards cities leaving their village lives behind, and how fast paced city life make lap of nature in farms an enticing getaways for city people.
The impact of PAT at various levels in our lives is also explained in details. "Process Alteration by Technology is the application of the human intellect with modern technology in order to improve and alter business processes to bring in efficiencies, leading to overall development of industry and human beings."

Sarma brings in the personal touch to his writing by narrating some anecdotes picked up from his life, his experiences and his achievements. Though overall a quick read and relevant too, it felt like going through a set of lectures, speeches, talks or blog posts on varied topics. Found the title of the book 'Smart Phones Dumb People' a little misleading though. After having read the whole text which is very generic in nature, I feel the title should have been a generic one too to suit the content within the covers. Since a wide range of subjects are touched in the book, the narrative becomes jumpy at times. 
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