The Artist

Trying my hand at flash fiction by taking inspiration from real life people.

I saw her sitting in front of her canvas painting, with one hand clutching the color palette, and the other frantically filling in the empty space with bursts of color. From where I stood, I could only see parts of the canvas jutting out, and an array of movements as her fingers gently glided over the sheet of paper. Her hair was tied up in a bun looking as aesthetically pleasing as her paintings. The thing about artists is that their entire life seems like an elaborate painting, with each and every stroke meticulously planned out, the color scheme transitioning from vibrant to light pastels, the image reflecting the painter’s thoughts and feelings.

Having known her since school, deciphering the workings of her mind came easily to me. Her paintings, however, not so much. There was never a pattern. It’s true what they say; never try to understand the ‘WHY’ behind an artist’s work. It was the same with her. On the surface, she’d seem very happy; adding joy and sparkles in everyone’s life.

But if you had the chance to look at her paintings, you’d think differently. Here she put parts of herself no one knew. On these papers were images and drawings so sacred, and dark that one could never fully grasp the intensity of it. Inside those paintings were parts of her life unrecognizable at first glance. The more you looked at it, the more you unraveled hidden layers.

Every time I see her sketch something new, I’m awed by how much I didn’t know. I pride myself because I get to keep this feeling close me, not sharing it with anyone else.

That’s the thing about breathing the same air as an artist; every day is an invention. A portal to a different world, and the chance to see life one brush stroke at a time.

Agnyatha by Krishnamurthy Hanuru: The memoir of Tipu’s Unknown Commander

A memoir of Tipu’s Unknown Commander.

Translated from Kanada by L.S.Shankar Swamy, and written by Krishnamurthy Hanuru, this novel traces the life of a commander under Tipu Sultan’s reign.  This book also won the prestigious Karnataka Sahitya Academy Award.

The unknown commander was very close to the Sultan, and was responsible for maintaining law and order in the kingdom. The novel starts off with Tipu Sultan offering his commander to bring real tigers to be kept in the palace. Afraid of letting him down, the soldier sets off with his troop into the interiors of the forest and spends days on the lookout for one. Finally, the commander emerged victorious and took back a ferocious tiger, caged, and hungry. This is just one of the many instances where the commander showed utmost courage. However, the commander’s life was a series of brutal killings, merciless acts carried on the innocent villagers, and animal-like behaviour with the women. He would loot the poor, treat the women with scorn, and show no remorse. It was when the commander was faced with the same fate, he realized his deeds.

In politics, trust or being trustworthy is similar to a cat lovingly licking its newly born young one to death.

We also get to read about the commander’s family life, his relationship with his father that was always volatile, and how he didn’t care about his wife or having a family.  His rash nature, fueled by the desire to win and please his kind overruled any emotion for him.

The novel has a blend of history, folklore, and myth giving the readers wonderful insights about India’s rich heritage.  The cover illustration has been beautifully described inside the book by the author with each and every detail mentioned with precision.

However, despite the rich context, I was finding it difficult to concentrate on the book. That’s the downside of translated books. It loses its essence. There were a few chapters that seemed confusing.

If you’re into historical fiction and keen on learning about India’s folklore, myths, and traditions during Tipu Sultan’s time, this would be a good pick.


Author: Krishnamurthy Hanuru

Publisher: Bee.books

Genre: Historical fiction

Pages: 177

Format: Paperback

Rating: 3/5

Source: Review copy

Blurb: 

“There is nothing like this novel in Kannada literature. Starting as a chronicle of a soldier’s life in the times of Tipu Sultan, the narrative moves with astonishing vitality across time and space. Its supple structure, its shifting locations and perspectives, the freedom with which the narrative roams over different and seemingly irreconcilable genres—such as myth, history and folklore—create a world which is at once mesmerizing, baffling and yet deeply ‘real’. Hanuru’s scholarship and imagination enable him to place each episode in a precise time and place. Yet these worlds, which seem so apart and autonomous, morph into each other and open up a vast canvas, rich and vibrant, leavened by the writer’s sensitivity to human foibles.

 

Tides Don’t Cross by Simar Malhotra

The story is as much about lost love as it is about redemption, hope, and the increasing political tensions arising due to Islamophobia and the extremist nature of the society at large

Set in America and India, Tides Don’t Cross is a story about Mrinalini, Rukmani and Ayaan, who cross paths, and have their lives altered by the course of their interaction. The story is as much about lost love as it is about redemption, hope, and the increasing political tensions arising due to Islamophobia and the extremist nature of the society at large. Simar, at the age of just 21, has written with honesty, and experience, since she is studying in America, and has observed the culture over there closely. I was really in awe of her writing style, her narration, and the way she displayed the reality of the changing mindsets, and those that are yet to be changed.

The two sisters, Mrinalini and Rukmani are each other’s opposites. Mrinalini is submissive. She gives in to her mother’s bullying, often complying to her demands, however unnecessary. So when her mother, Nirmala, forces her to marry a guy who she deems is perfect, Mrinalini has no choice. But what looks perfect, never really is. Her marriage is hollow. She feels suffocated, and is constantly trying to please her husband and in-laws. Rukmani is fiesty, confident and speaks her mind. She refuses to give in to her mother’s patriarchal notions, and does not conform. When she meets Ayaan in Paris, they hit it off immediately. Ayaan is the swimmer, the too-good-to-be-true boy who you can’t help but admire. He’s everything you’d a expect a man to be. But as they say, all good things come to end, and so does their romance. Will they be able to wade off the dark clouds looming over their destinies or will they succumb to the darkness?

I’m not really a fan of romance novels, and somehow felt something missing in the story. Mind you, the plot is well developed but it didn’t resonate with me. Also, Rukmani’s character was highly impulsive, and her reckless nature seemed to ruin things for her. Ayaan seemed way too fictional at one point.

If you’re just starting out and would like a light easy read, Tides Don’t Cross would be a good choice.


Author: Simar Malhotra

Publisher: Rupa Publication

Rating: 3.2/5

Pages: 250

Format: Paperback

Blurb:

Sparks fly immediately when Rukmani—fierce and assertive in the best and worst possible ways—meets the gentle Ayaan in the magical city Paris. Meanwhile, back in India, her reticent sister, Mrinalini struggles to cope with the void of a loveless marriage and an early pregnancy.

Tides Don’t Cross follows these extremely interesting characters as their lives cross in surprising ways. Mrinalini, Ayaan and Rukmani wade through choppy tides, unaware of their common destiny. Deeply touching, this is an unforgettable story of thwarted desires, of love and its loss, of losing and finding oneself, and of falling and learning to rise.

 

Daddykins by Kalpana Mohan: A bitter-sweet memoir that will make you laugh and cry.

Daddykins is an intimate and deeply relatable account of our relationships with our parents whatever our age, and the shared experiences of love and grief that unite us all.

While driving back in the car after the party, he turned to my sister to ask her the one question that seemed to giving him heartburn. “Was this a birthday or a sendoff?”

Returning back after celebrating his ninetieth birthday, the one thought that kept lingering in the mind of Daddykins, was that of mortality, and how much more time did he have? In this memoir that’s written with utmost affection, love and respect for a man the author grew up loving, her father, we see life through his eyes, and how with changing times, Daddykins, remained loyal to his routines, his family, and everything that was dear to him.

Kalpana Mohan, a journalist in California, flies down to take-care of her father whose health keeps deteriorating, She describes her father’s life, piecing together every little detail with precision, and caution coupled with laughter and wit. She traces her father’s life of when he was growing up in a country that went through partition, his marriage at an early age, and fighting poverty to landing his first job. Often dealing with the crankiness that the illness brought him to seeing him wither down and accept defeat when his body could no longer cope, Kalpana, captured the journey of a man who never lost sight of his bold nature, and smiled even at his lowest, never letting his physical inability hinder his sharp mind.

It was delightful and heartwarming to read about the relationship between a father and a daughter. The instances narrated made me tear up in parts, often making me think about my father’s idiosyncrasies, and how universal the bond is. No matter how old you are, you’ll always remain your daddy’s little girl.

The staff at the theatre walked up to Daddykins and asked after his health. He introduced me to them. “My little girl,” he said. Fifty-one years old, with hair dyed black to retain her youth and on supplements to stave off the onset of osteoporosis and peripheral neuropathy, his ‘little’ girl held Daddykins by the elbow and led him to their seats in the first row.

The camaraderie between Daddykins and Vinayagam, the witty remarks laced with admiration and respect for each other together with the author’s stark observation about the mundane, made the book even more special. Families come together during difficult times, and it is families who help us see the shore when the tides are high. Through this memoir, Kalpana, weaved a beautiful relationship between daughters, and their fathers, and how, when all is said and done, you need your parents to help you see the light.

I never imagined that my father would really die. Death had been a stunt practised in our home. My father had ‘pretend-died’ and come back to life many times before. Sometimes when my mother or his daughters castigated him for something, Daddykins’ face would fall. “I’ll just go away,” he would say, “and then you’ll see how life will be.” Then he would flump down on the sofa or bed. In a display of cinematic bravado, Daddykins would let his arms go limp. His head would roll to his side, his eyes would shut and the tongue would leak out of his mouth. But he always got up and walked back into our lives. That night in June, however, while my sister and I paced outside his room, anxious about the readings on his oxygen monitor, Daddykins exhaled, never to inhale again.


Author: Kalpana Mohan

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Pages: 192

Rating: 4/5

Format: Paperback

Blurb:

When journalist Kalpana Mohan’s elderly father falls ill in Chennai, she is on the next flight over from California and the home she has shared with her husband for three decades. Caring for her sometimes cranky, sometimes playful, and always adored father at his home in Chennai, Mohan sets out to piece together an account of her father’s life, from his poverty-stricken childhood in a village in south India, to his arranged marriage, to his first job in the city, all the while coming to terms with his inevitable passing.

 

Mohan’s tender, moving, and sometimes hilarious memoir is an account of a changing India captured in her father’s life, from the sheer feat of surviving poverty in I920s India of his birth, to witnessing key moments in the nation’s history and changing alongside them. Above all, Daddykins is an intimate and deeply relatable account of our relationships with our parents whatever our age, and the shared experiences of love and grief that unite us all.

 

Goodbye Freddie Mercury by Nadia Akbar: Summer of Lahore, Partying, and insight into Pakistan’s richest.

Lahore is burning. General elections are right around the corner. The summer city rages with drug-fuelled parties of the oblivious, the rich and the famous, while campaign posters and rally cries dominates the airwaves.

When Nida loses her brother in an army helicopter crash, her life spirals in every direction, making her sink deeper into the dark-hole she’s trying to escape. A student of Economics at Lahore College, she desperately tries to piece together her life, and as her family tries to recover from the tragedy, Nida struggles to find a place she could finally be at peace. Belonging to a middle class family, and searching for a different kind of ‘high’ she finds herself being drawn to the life of the elite. Slowly, her dull-boring middle class life sees a new light where partying, drinking, smoking in AC bathrooms, and often passing out till the next morning seem to be the order of the day.

She starts hanging out with Omer, son of Iftikhar Ali, the right-hand man of the current PM of Pakistan, Salim Chaudhary. Omer with his sense of entitlement, power, and inability to form stable relationships is highly impressed by Nida, and her joint rolling skills, and immediately latches onto her, happy to have a new project he could work on till he gets bored. He introduces Nida to the his friends, his posh life, and of course to all kinds of nasha.

RJ Bugsy, our second protagonist, through which we see Lahore in a new light, develops feelings for Nida but keeps it to himself. He is the son of a retired Army officer, but does not conform to the standards set upon him by his father. He hosts one of the nation’s top radio shows, and is obsessed with Freddie Mercury. However, his association with a long lost friend, Moby, puts him in a compromising situation. What seemed like a small favour ultimately leads him to the dark alleys of Pakistani politics.

Nadia’s descriptions and her unconventional and rather bold writing style is truly refreshing and unheard of. Her satire into the lives of the rich, the middle class, and general day-to day issues are remarkable. Set in the time when general elections in Pakistan are in full force, and the spirits are high, the author, creates her own little world through Nida and Bugsy, trying to fit into the society, often failing.

Despite the writing, there was something very unsettling about our main protagonist, Nida. She was being dragged from one place to the other by her pompous bf Omer, who treated her no less than a toy he’d discard. Nida tried very hard to ‘not be like other girls’ but it was pretty cliche, and boring.

However, as the story progressed, I could feel something missing in terms of plot development. There was a moment of nothingness, and then BAM. The ending had me shook. I didn’t anticipate such a dramatic climax. I don’t think I was mentally prepared for it, and I still don’t think I am over it. But looking at it closely, I realize why it was important. I wish there was more to the story; it somehow seemed too rushed and incomplete.

All in all, Goodbye Freddie Mercury is energetic, refreshing and a bold account of fiction that’s going to make you laugh, and also revel at the reality of it all.


Author: Nadia Akbar

Publisher: Penguin India

Rating: 3.8/5

Pages: 340

Format: Paperback

 

Blurb:  

In Conversation with Sanam Maher: Author of The Sensational Life & Death of Qandeel Baloch

Sanam Maher gets candid about what prompted her to write, the difficulties she faced and what it’s like being a writer.

I read Sanam Maher’s debut novel, The Sensational Life and Death of Qandeel Baloch, back in May, and devoured the book within 2 days. The author’s crisp, and intelligent writing coupled with unsettling yet relevant account of the murder of the social media star, Qandeel Baloch not only made a huge impact on me but it also prompted me to delve further into the writer’s psych and have a few questions that were lingering in my mind, answered. Sanam is one of the nicest person to talk to and if you’re not following her hilarious IG stories, what are you even doing with your time?

To know more about the book, click here: The Sensational Life & Death of Qandeel Baloch by Sanam Meher: A fierce and bold account in non-fiction.
Interview:

  • Qandeel had already created ripples through her online media presence, and had always been on the radar. What did you think of her back then?

Before I started freelancing and then working on this book full time, I worked as in a newsroom at a daily paper in Karachi. The first time I heard about Qandeel was in that newsroom, when a couple of guys who worked at the desk with me were talking about her viral “How I’m looking?” video. I looked her up and the little that I did see led me to want to do a story – I thought the piece would look at how young women are using platforms like Facebook and Instagram to push the envelope on how they can dress, speak or present themselves in Pakistan. I’ve long maintained a fascination with what we as Pakistanis do on social media and I thought Qandeel would be a great person to focus on for a piece exploring this. I would see Qandeel’s videos or photos whenever someone I knew would share them on Facebook, and then when it became popular to imitate her in DubSmash videos, but my piece was never written, lost somewhere between deadlines and switching jobs. The idea stayed with me, and I told myself I’d have time to do it later, to meet Qandeel later and to find others like her.

  • How did writing a book on Qandeel come to you?

In July 2016, I remember staring at the television the day news of Qandeel’s murder broke, and feeling stunned. I didn’t want to let go of her story once again. The idea of this woman who had managed to fool all of us – her audience and the media – and who had created this persona that we had bought into wholesale took root. I admired her gumption and the courage it must have taken to create the persona that she did.

Then, in the hours and days after, it was terrible to see the reactions online from many Pakistanis who were very happy that she had been “punished” for behaving the way that she did. I saw acquaintances in my own social media feeds having arguments about whether what had happened was right or wrong, whether Qandeel “deserved” what had been done to her. “Offline”, many of the men and women I knew were condemning Qandeel’s death but then, in the next breath, following their statements with “… but if you think about it…”

It was a moment when I was seeing friends and family members draw a line and very firmly position themselves on either side, and I think the last time I’d seen something like that happen – a moment that calls for definition or clarity on the question of how we see ourselves as Pakistanis and what we hope for or believe we deserve – was when Salmaan Taseer was shot and killed in 2011. The reactions to Qandeel’s murder have revealed two very different answers to the question of what it means to be Pakistani, and more crucially, what it means to be a woman living in Pakistan today. I wanted to tell a story not just about Qandeel, but about that moment and that definition. I knew that this book wasn’t just about Qandeel, but about the kind of place that enabled her to become who she did, and the place that ultimately found that it could not tolerate her.

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  • What was the most difficult aspect of writing this book?

One of the very first hurdles I faced was that I felt handicapped by never having met Qandeel. It was the first time I’d had to report on someone I had never spoken with, with whom I could not verify a single detail of anything I was learning about them. Try and think of your own life – imagine a reporter trying to find out everything they can about you. Who do you trust to tell your story? We show different facets of our personality to different people, and Qandeel was a chameleon. I had this trove of photographs and videos and interviews of this person, but at the end of the day, every appearance, video, interview, tweet or Facebook post was her in character.

With every new piece of information I received about her, I would feel, “Yes, this is it, I understand her now”, only to learn something else and be utterly confounded again. Everything I was learning about Qandeel in the interviews I did was secondhand information, and then there was the added problem of this information having been repeated so many times – particularly when it came to the principal “characters” in her life, such as her manager Mec or her parents – as they had been interviewed so many times, and continued to be, for news stories or documentaries on Qandeel. Qandeel passed away in July, and I started meeting these people two months later. By then, they almost seemed to follow a script each time for what they wanted to say. Their information was now coloured by feelings of grief or guilt or wanting to come across a certain way in media coverage, or understanding that certain things they said would help them stay in the limelight and keep the media interested in the story.

With all the news reports, gossip, TV shows and documentaries, I think many of us feel we already know Qandeel’s story – it was difficult to figure out a way to tell a story that people feel they already know, but ultimately, I realised just how little I myself actually knew, even after poring over every piece of information I could find out about her before I travelled to Punjab and started my own research and interviews. What we know so far has been coloured by the media frenzy around Qandeel’s murder.

  • You mentioned being stuck after your first week in Multan as the information about Qandeel was more or less scripted. How did you filter facts from gossip and hearsay?

Before I went to Multan, I had read and seen anything that had been put out on Qandeel and her murder. I believed I knew what had happened and I went to Multan with a plan to report on what I thought was a neatly aligned story. I was so completely confounded because most of the stuff I was encountering or hearing wasn’t being covered in whatever I’d seen and read so far. And yet, everyone I met was convinced that they knew ‘the Qandeel story’. I don’t want to be a part of that, and ultimately, I decided that I would use all the inconsistencies and lingering questions, the gossip and hearsay, to force readers to question their understanding of Qandeel and whatever she did. Its very easy to judge her and feel like you have her pinned down, but what if all you know about her was challenged? Throughout the book, I’ve included the little fibs that Qandeel told about herself, stories that sources told me that I knew were filtered memories and probably largely untrue or designed to make themselves look a certain way. This was my attempt to make the readers feel doubtful, and just when the reader feels as if they have finally “gotten” Qandeel, I wanted them to receive new information that made it all feel questionable. That was certainly my experience of researching this story.

  • ‘Not everyone seeks fame. Sometimes fame–the kind some people spend their entire lives courting, finds you.’ Do you think Arshad Khan, to whom fame arrived on a silver platter albeit unwanted was largely exploited by it?

When looking at Qandeel’s fame as a viral star, I began to think about how my generation of Pakistanis has been connected to the world like never before – what are we doing in the public spaces we are finding online? What does it mean to go viral in Pakistan? How are we building communities online in order to speak in ways that we may not be able to “offline”? What happens when we behave in a way online that seems to break the rules of how we are supposed to behave, particularly as women, “in the real world”? Something important that Qandeel’s story shows us about the ways in which we engage with social media is the constant trickle of information from online spaces into the greater public sphere – conversations and movements online are discussed on talk shows and in the news and so even if you aren’t on social media, you’re probably still going to receive information being spread there. What effect does that have?

In exploring these ideas, I met with Arshad Khan aka the Chaiwallah, as well as the men and women who are trying to patrol our activities online and monitor and censor us, and others who are determined to keep us safer and more vocal online – particularly in the case of women and marginalized or minority communities. Qandeel’s social media activity also gave me a way to talk about how we might be connected to a global space of ideas and possibilities online, but we’re still very much grounded in the society and culture we live in here in Pakistan, and through her story and some of the other stories in the book, you see the terrible ramifications that a clash between the two can have. I think with someone like Arshad, or even with Qandeel, when you’re dealing with an audience that is difficult to keep entertained, an audience that has an attention deficit and has so many competing avenues of entertainment, you have to figure out ways to keep upping the ante and giving the audience the next new thing, the next scandal, the next piece of gossip. Once someone like Arshad is thrust into a completely new world and that world loses interest in him, what happens to him? He may no longer belong to his old life, and he may no longer be interesting to people from his new life once the novelty of “the Chaiwallah” wears off – so what happens to someone who is caught in the grey space in the middle? That’s what I was keen to look at with viral stars like Arshad.

  • During research, did you approach the book as a journalist or a writer?

I still find it hard to think of myself as “a writer” or “an author”! This was definitely a work of journalism, albeit much longer and more complex than any other story I’d worked on – I’d never worked on a crime story, never had to deal with so many stories and figure out a way to pull it all together so it was cohesive. I think I approached it more as a reader, constantly asking myself what I would want to read and know about with this story, what could it tell me or reveal to me. I’d read and re-read bits of writing over and over again out loud in order to hear if it was too dense, if it wasn’t fast paced enough. I needed something that any reader here would find easy to get into and wouldn’t want to put down and get back onto Instagram again.

  • Do you read reviews of your books? How do you deal with them?

This is my first book, and initially I told myself I wouldn’t read reviews because I was so nervous about what they would say. Obviously I didn’t stick to that rule. I’ve had such a great time getting mini-reviews and feedback from people who follow me on social media, especially Instagram, that that helped me feel a lot less nervous and able to hear any criticism or critical points that I might see elsewhere. So far though the reviews have been very good.

  • What has been one of your most rewarding experience as an author?

Hearing from people who are buying the book not just for themselves but for their mothers or friends or siblings. Getting messages from strangers about how they really loved it, they understood what I was trying to do and they raced through the book because they couldn’t put it down. There’s nothing more gratifying than to hear that a reader lost themselves in your work, especially because I know how easy it is to ditch a book in favor of going online or scrolling through your social media feed.

  • What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

I get asked this question a lot, especially from aspiring writers and journalists on Instagram. For me the most crucial thing, and its so basic, is to read. Read anything and everything you can get your hands on. Definitely read one newspaper a day – its free if you go online, you don’t even have to pay for the physical thing – and read every section, including the pages you don’t care about (one of my favourite stories that I worked on came from a small news item in the sports pages). Don’t worry too much if you haven’t read “the canon” or “the greats”. There have been many times when I’ve said this to people who message me and I get replies about “but I get bored” or “but I don’t like reading the news” or “the news is boring” and most memorably one time, “This seems like a lot of work.” There really isn’t a shortcut unless you’re a literary genius. When you don’t feel like reading, watch things that are beautifully made, listen to a podcast or an audio book, but constantly train your brain to think a certain way, to hear well crafted sentences, to hear how conversations can be written. Its like a muscle that you have to just keep strengthening.

  • Lastly, if your novel was being made into a movie, whom would you pick to play the lead roles?

You might actually hear some news about this very soon from me! So I won’t spoil it or jinx it.

*Image Credit: Shehrezad Maher

What it’s like working in a publishing house: My Internship experience

Is working in a publishing house worth it?

I got a call from Orient Blackswan 3 months before my internship date and was offered a general internship which meant I would be working under all departments. I have been a reader and book blogger since quite a few years now, and have been wanting to get into the publishing field. Getting a call for an internship was definitely one of the highlights of my year, and as I waited for November to arrive, there were several thoughts running through my mind. See, when you’re finally getting to do something you’re passionate about, there’s always two outcomes; you either realize  this is what you’re meant to do or you’re hit by a  gut wrenching feeling that your dream wasn’t really yours to begin with. I can safely say it was the former for me.

On my first day, I was handed a schedule which gave me an idea of the number of days I’d be working in each department. I think that kind of set the tone for me because it helped me mentally prepare myself.  Now, I’m going to give you a detailed account of what I did in each department, and what I learnt from it. This is going to be a long post, so grab a cup of tea, relax and keep reading.  (The department’s are mentioned in no particular order so whichever dept appeals to you the most just head on to it).

  • ADMINISTRATION:
  • DURATION: 1 DAY

When you’re about to start an internship you’ve been dreaming about, the nerves run high. Naturally, I was shitting bricks but at the same time had the energy of 50 toddlers combined (don’t ask me how I know this). My first day was spent understanding the workings of the Administration dept. They’re responsible for ensuring the smooth functioning of the organization whilst tending to individual needs. To be honest, I didn’t do much on this particular day except lounge around and read books. You thought I wouldn’t exploit the fact that I was surrounded by books 24/7?

  • EDITORIAL
  • DURATION: 11 DAYS

Being a book editor has been a lifelong dream, and I had been dying (okay, exaggeration) to work under the Editorial department. It was everything I had imagined and a little bit more. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by extremely talented, kind and energetic people who made the entire experience worthwhile. I spent most of my days laughing with the editorial team (who by the way are amazing, haven’t I already mentioned it?), while at the same time learning a lot about the process of editing. I remember leaving the office at the stipulated time with the editorial team still working relentlessly. They would often work over time and still clock in the next day without being late.

When it comes to publishing houses who publish academic books such OBS,  the editorial department is divided into schools, Higher Academics (HS) and Social Sciences (Fiction and non-fiction books for colleges and general reading).

Schools: While working under the ELT department, I was introduced to novel concepts in the field of publishing. From deciding the content of the children’s text books to putting text-appropriate illustrations, and making smart-books, there are a lot of factors that need to be considered. I think I started questioning my ability as a writer and reader, when I had to write summaries of poems for standard 6. It was a nightmare. I mean, I am not the kind who likes poems leave alone understand them and write a detailed explanation of why the clouds were black and not blue. But I really had no choice but to pen down everything I could decipher.

Since technology is being introduced in education, and in the classroom setup, school books are now accompanied by presentations on various topics. The idea here was to make picture galleries for each topic to enable better understanding for the students. I made a number of presentations, which was so damn hard because you have to get into the details of each chapter and find an illustration that’s not only appropriate but is also copy-righted. I think towards the end, I almost lost my mind. But it was something I had not anticipated, and it definitely gave an insight into the editing department.

Social Sciences (HA):  On my first day with the social sciences department, I was handed an Editor’s manual along with Chicago Manual of Style and Judith Butcher’s Copy-editing Manual by my mentor. I was to read through the manuals, understand and comprehend how a manuscript is proofread, how it is copy-edited and the various stages of editing. Being able to study the techniques and processes involved in editing was a surreal moment. I was lucky to have a mentor whose insights about the publishing industry were invaluable to me. Not only did she constantly encourage me to improve myself, she also cleared a number of concepts I was confused about.
I was given a number of typed-pages to proofread and copy-edit. I also learnt how referencing is done in a book and how they differ if it’s a novel, journal or a magazine. During the second day in this department, I was asked to write a blurb for the book, “Field of Sports”. To say I was thrilled would be an understatement. After reading the book thoroughly and understanding what the book was offering, I wrote the blurb which was approved by my mentor. I also spilled a cup of coffee very elegantly on my work table, thereby displaying my competency in clumsiness and inability in settling into the adult life.

Not just this, AND THIS IS MY FAVORITE PART,  I had the opportunity of proofreading a manuscript, ‘Agnipariksha’ which is now a published book. When I was asked to proofread it, I could hear music playing in the background while a cool, soft breeze was flowing through my hair, and in that moment I knew I had found true love. It was really romantic.

P.S: If you’re interested you can read the review of Agnipariksha here: Agnipariksha by Hamid Kureshi: Translated by Rita Kothari

  • STOCKS & SERVICING:
  • DURATION: 1 DAY

Okay, so here I got to visit the warehouse, and it’s everything dreams are made of. Now stocks and servicing can get a little tricky so try to stay with me.

This department keeps a detailed account of the number of books that come in and are sent out for delivery.  I was explained how the books are maintained in the warehouse. Keeping a track of thousands of books is not easy. Therefore, every order that comes in is put into the system. An invoice is prepared against an order and all the details are stored in the office computer. A copy of the same is sent to the customer. After the orders are received, the books are prepared to be sent to the destined location. They have to be packed and wrapped carefully lest they’re destroyed in transit. The mode of transport depends on the kind of order. If it’s a bulk order, then the books are delivered through Lorry or Railways.
When the consignment is released, the physical stock is checked as per IBSTI. If the stock has been returned, they are tallied against their ISBN number, price tag, titles and the number of copies being returned. The unsold books are sent for pulping in order to make room for new stock. During book launches, events, workshops or seminars, the books are provided by this department after signing the requisition form.
I KNOW, RIGHT? Half of the things went tangent over my head, too. But it’s okay. While I was there, and when I wasn’t staring at all the books, I asked a LOT of questions and most of them were very stupid but heyyy that’s how we learn, don’t we?

  • PRODUCTION
  • DURATION: 2 DAYS

The production department, as I learnt, entails a lot of responsibilities. My mentor was extremely kind to give an in-depth overview of how production in a publishing house takes place. This department is responsible for the design, layout, printing, and for e-book coding of the finished book. It was interesting to learn the various paper-sizes and their names, the multiple book sizes now used in the publishing industry and how there has been a huge transition in the method of printing. The production department has to print books that are not only cost-effective but also high in quality.
I learnt how to choose the correct paper size of a book, along with understanding how to measure the book size.

Not going to lie, I was unaware of the technical aspects when it came to publishing a book. I never bothered finding out HOW a book is published, and it was extremely informative.

  • MARKETING
  • DURATION: 1 DAY

Starting with the marketing strategies for individual books, my mentor explained how the books were promoted in the general market, in this case schools. Marketing touches all aspects of publishing and book selling. This department develops creative marketing campaigns which include conducting workshops, seminars, book launches and bookstore displays.
My task was to create a list of the number of activities in math books (class 5, 6, 7 and 8) and create a power point presentation on how best to market and promote the upcoming Magnolia English Reader Series. During this time, I learnt how important it was for the marketing team to be creative, think ahead of time and be ready to come with new ideas to market their books.

  • SALES:
  • DURATION: 7 DAYS

Sales department sucked all the energy out of me because it is HARD-WORK. It is the responsibility of the sales department to get the book in the hands of booksellers, other retailers and mainly the target customers. From there, the book goes on to be sold to the customer.
I learnt the various stages of sales; pitching to target customers, distribution of the books and Recovery of sales and meeting the yearly target. For this the sales team has to do a lot of field work and remain in close contact with potential customers (here, colleges, and schools).
I visited approximately 9 schools, and the idea was to pitch all the new releases to the principal. It was exhausting, and involved a lot of travelling and waiting. But again, I would have never imagined the amount of effort it goes into spreading word of mouth about books.

 

 

After I had successfully worked under all departments, I was required to make a report on my experience and the work I did each day. I didn’t want to leave but as they say all good things come to an end. I said my goodbyes and left with a huge smile on my face because I was a happy little bunny who got to live her dream even though it was for short while.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my short span of working in the professional field, it’s that you HAVE to do what you like to do even if it’s not in your full capacity. I understand the restraints life brings but even if you spend an hour of your day doing what you’re passionate about, the chances of you being closer to your dream will increase, and in a world where happiness is so scarce who wouldn’t want to grab that tiny amount of immense joy and hold onto it, right?

 

The Sensational Life & Death of Qandeel Baloch by Sanam Meher: A fierce and bold account in non-fiction.

A new voice in the world of non-fiction, Sanam Maher, tackles themes of honor, violence and fame.

She rose to fame through her videos posted on various social media, often termed as vile, vulgar, and unislamic by those who kept a vigil at the online activities of anyone who didn’t conform. Qandeel Baloch soon started garnering a lot of attention, both nationally and internationally, and she was hated as much as admired for her courage to defy norms, and do what she pleased. Having been on the receiving end of exhaustive threats, and abuses, Qandeel feared for her life. She felt scared. She knew she didn’t have any support, and that her life would end. But no one knew it would be so soon.

In July 2016, Qandeel Baloch, Pakistan’s celebrity by social media was found dead in her house. Her brother, Mohammed Waseem, shamed by her ‘online presence’, and the attention she was getting, strangled her in their family home. He feels no remorse, no sorrow. He believes he has restored his family’s reputation and image. He smiles at the cameras while being interviewed,  often openly bragging about his murder scheme, not letting anyone take credit for his master-plan.  On being asked if he was ashamed, he remarks,’ No. I have no shame. I am Baloch.’  Qandeel’s parents, shocked and horrified, accused their sons of conspiring to murder their daughter and lodged an FIR.

The entire nation of Pakistan was suddenly turned upside down. Qandeel’s death sent shock waves across the country, and there was huge uproar against the bleak legislation that allowed the accused to roam freely after confessing to the murders, and their crime being waived off or forgiven by relatives of the suspect, mostly by accepting blood money as compensation. 6 days after Qandeel’s death the Anti-Honor Killing Bill was drafted and it was adopted unanimously by the Parliament within 3 months. The Criminal Law Amendment Act 2016 ensured life imprisonment as mandatory, unless a judge decided otherwise.

Sanam Maher’s bold account of life in a country which is deeply conservative of its beliefs, and values, and where a woman is not deemed worthy of living a life at her own accord is moving and powerful. Women have long been ostracized, pulled down, and threatened whenever they refuse to conform to a pre-existing patriarchal notion. Through a series of extensive research and interviews with aspiring models, activists, lawyers, police officers, journalists— Maher, has given a detailed narrative of Qandeel’s life. The author’s words flow seamlessly, and her ability to weave facts into a story has been brilliantly displayed.  Sanam’s efforts are commendable, her investigative journalism coupled with her ability as a writer make this debut novel unforgettable. The author’s work has appeared in Al Jazeera, BuzzFeed, The New York Times, to name a few.  Her honest attempt at exposing the hypocrisy and deep-rooted patriarchy, have opened gates for reflection, and debate, of a society whose morals are laced with blind-faith and dogmas, and hate for those who dare to defy.

The Sensational Life & Death of Qandeel Baloch is book that must be read.


Author: Sanam Maher

Publisher: Aleph Book Company

Rating: 4.8/5

Genre: Non-fiction

Pages: 224

Blurb:

Bold’, ‘Shameless’, ‘Siren’ were just some of the (kinder) words used to describe Qandeel Baloch. She embraced these labels and played the coquette, yet dished out biting critiques of some of Pakistan’s most holy cows. Pakistanis snickered at her fake American accent, but marvelled at her gumption. She was the stuff of a hundred memes and Pakistan’s first celebrity-by-social media.
Qandeel first captured the nation’s attention on Pakistan Idol with a failed audition and tearful outburst. But it was in February 2016, when she uploaded a Facebook video mocking a presidential ‘warning’ not to celebrate Valentine’s Day, that she went ‘viral’. In the video, which racked up nearly a million views, she lies in bed, in a low-cut red dress, and says in broken English, ‘They can stop to people go out…but they can’t stop to people love.’ The video shows us everything that Pakistanis loved—and loved to hate—about Qandeel, ‘Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian’. Five months later, she would be dead. In July 2016, Qandeel’s brother would strangle her in their family home, in what was described as an ‘honour killing’—a punishment for the ‘shame’ her online behaviour had brought to the family.
Scores of young women and men are killed in the name of honour every year in Pakistan. Many cases are never reported, and of the ones that are, murderers are often ‘forgiven’ by the surviving family members and do not face charges. However, just six days after Qandeel’s death, the Anti-Honour Killings Laws Bill was fast-tracked in parliament, and in October 2016, the loophole allowing families to pardon perpetrators of ‘honour killings’ was closed. What spurred the change? Was it the murder of Qandeel Baloch? And how did she come to represent the clash between rigid conservatism and a secular, liberal vision for Pakistan? Through dozens of interviews—with aspiring models, managers, university students, activists, lawyers, police officers and journalists, among them—Sanam Maher gives us a portrait of a woman and a nation.

 

You Can Achieve More by Shiv Khera

A self-help book on how to live your life by design and not by default.

Shiv Khera’s latest book You Can Achieve More is a self help book that aims at encouraging the potential within you, and to create a life for yourself instead of being a victim of your circumstances. Mr.Khera is not just an author but an Educator, motivational speaker, entrepreneur and Business consultant. His idea of living a successful life is,”Winners don’t do different things. They do things differently”. His book You Can Win sold over a million copies in 21 languages.

You Can Achieve More is a guide on how to take responsibility for your actions, plan and organize your life. It is about evaluating the bad, and appreciating the good. At the end of every chapter, the author has posed several questions to its readers that help them introspect about their behavior, and life. It’s an action plan aimed at a deeper understanding of oneself.  It is more of a self-realization technique that propels individuals to ponder over past situations, and self-evaluate. The questions are well-thought and often point out things one would have otherwise missed. In one of the chapters, the author talks about internal validation. In a world where we live off of facebook comments and instagram likes, it’s important to understand the need to be whole by yourself without an external validation.

However, the book appeared too preachy. Most of the quotes used have become redundant or are no longer applicable. The author’s intentions are very clear but he offers no practical advise on how to live a life by design and not by default.


Author: Shiv Khera

Publisher: Bloomsbury India

Rating: 3/5

Format: Paperback

Pages: 280

Blurb:

A person with a positive attitude cannot be stopped and a person with a negative
attitude cannot be helped. Both success and failure have a limited lifespan. Success
is neither a miracle nor a mystery. It does not depend upon special skills, formal
education or superior intelligence. It is the natural outcome of consistently applying
certain principles on an ongoing basis. The ultimate goal is to sustain success and
eliminate failure.

Acquiring facts is knowledge, understanding facts is comprehension, and the proper
application of facts is wisdom. The principles in this book can help you to:

1. Live by design, not by default
2. Gain confidence and optimize your potential
3. Become proactive and develop a winning attitude
4. Balance your health, wealth and relationships
5. Overcome day-to-day problems and make better decisions
6. Make positive choices and avoid pitfalls

The secret to a meaningful life is in your hands. Through inspiring ideas
and basic values, this book will help empower you to Achieve More and
become unstoppable.

 

 

The Aryabhata Clan by Sudipto Das

Delving deep into the past while concurrently dealing with the present.

The Aryabhata Clan by Sudipto Das is his second mystery novel after The Ekkos Clan, and it gives off a rather Dan Brown-ish feel. Sudipto’s thorough and meticulous research on ancient Indian history coupled with facts and statistics about our history some 1500 years ago are testimony to his great storytelling techniques. The author’s ability to dive deep into the meanings, and produce coherent content from every theme is commendable.

The book has various themes, and deals with a lot of topics that look intimidating at first but eventually start making sense. There’s the Islamic fundamentals who have terrorized the nation, poisoning into the country’s media and academics headed by the mastermind Shamsur Ali, ex-professor of physics at the Dhaka University and former president of the Bangladeshi Academy of Science, who aims to bring about an apocalypse. There are 1000 year old carpets with mysterious motifs, and symbols, manuscripts that are as old as time written in the Prakriti language, with cryptic messages, and at the heart of the book is a verse composed by the mathematician himself; Aryabhata. Not just this, the author has also narrated a fine blend of Indian culture and languages.

Our protagonist, Kubha, a brave and courageous 20 year old, undergoes horrible circumstances to protect her nation from an impending disaster and for the preservation of a beautiful monument. We have her mother, Asifa, a linguistic paleontologist, her grandfather, Faraz, maker of carpets with mysterious motives who was murdered suddenly.

Although I enjoyed reading the book, the information was too much for me to grasp. I was expecting it to be more fast-paced, and quick. Since the book deals with a LOT of topics at the same time, it became dry in some parts. Given the nature of the book, I understand that the technical terms were a necessity. It is an unconventional book; but if you get the hang of it, you will enjoy the read.

The Aryabhata Clan is a richly researched book; spanning across continents, ages, and cultures which emphasis on linguistics, philosophy, Indian history and archaeology. It has a murder or maybe 3, and a protagonist you will admire.


Author: Sudipto Das

Publisher: Niyogi Books

Pages: 468

Genre: Thriller/Mystery

Rating: 3.8

Format: Paperback

Source: Review Copy

Blurb:

The Islamic State has spread its tentacles in India, penetrating stealthily into the academia, media and politics. The mastermind is Shamsur Ali, a physicist from Bangladesh. To destabilize India, he wants to create a sort of apocalypse, which the 21-year-old Kubha must prevent at any cost, come what may.

In a brazen attempt at legitimizing the demolition of one of the most prominent historical structures in India, someone – unbelievably, it could be both Hiranyagarbha Bharata, a radical Hindu outfit, and the Islamic State – resorts to a big deceit. Afsar Fareedi, a linguistic paleontologist, catches the fraud. In the melee, there are three gruesome murders, including that of her father, perhaps to eliminate all traces of a carpet which, Afsar discovers, has a lot hidden in its mysterious motifs. At the centre of all this is a verse composed by the maverick mathematician, Aryabhata, some 1,500 years ago.