The months that were: Of masks, social distancing and panic.

How much precaution is too much precaution?

I’m running up the stairs with as much speed as I can humanly muster. Pandemic or no pandemic, I’m always a little late. I frantically ring the doorbell, my mother opens the door surprised to see me, I run past her, grab my mask and head down again. They say, do not step out without a mask. Well, it’s going to take a couple of years to get used to that.

We’re in the 5th month of the lockdown. Covid cases are exponentially rising with India becoming the third country to have the highest number surpassing Russia. With the ease of lockdown restrictions, we’ve become complacent, the initial fear slowly losing its intensity, replaced with dispassionate concerns. How long should one be careful? How much precaution is too much precaution? It’s almost like we’re gambling with our lives; leaving everything up to fate, a chance that we might be safe, that even though the virus is inching closer, it cannot touch us. Many might argue wearing masks is a pain, and I’d agree, it is. But I would also like to have more years to look forward to with my family in the pink of their health and I think I can sacrifice my comfort to be able to afford it.

The pandemic has shattered well-built structures, reducing them to redundancy. Schools have transformed overnight to digital platforms. I see my brother half-asleep in his pyjamas, hair dishevelled, barely sitting straight, scrambling to get ready to attend online classes. I wonder if the children retain anything. The stress of homework is exacerbated with getting used to technology. The students who are privileged with fully-functioning computers & access to an internet connection can be part of the ‘new normal’. What about others? If anything, the pandemic has exposed the huge class barrier prevalent in our education system.

Everyone has been left way worse than one could have imagined. I can’t help but laugh( it’s more of a helpless laughter) when I think of the mental plans I had made when the year started. ‘This year just feels right,’ I exclaimed, looking at my friends, drunk on the idea of making a mark. Here I am, trying to get through every day without completely losing it. Loss, seems to be the primary emotion. While I can’t compare this feeling to the thousands of lives lost due to the pandemic, there’s an immense sense of grief for all the things that could be. It’s a collective breaking down of who we were before the pandemic cast a shadow on our lives, and who we’re becoming, transitioning into strangers we can no longer recognise.

The world order, if there was any, has changed. Stepping out of the house requires a mental gymnastics of sorts which includes several layers of protective gear and requires the perseverance & indomitable will to tick off grocery lists. Most of my time is spent aimlessly scrolling through social media, getting infuriated by the government, spending hours trying to find the right mask, looking at various disinfectants, screaming at members of the family to be more cautious, giving in to my mom’s totkas of increasing immunity and questioning the purpose of all of the above activities.

I read the other day that ‘pandemic fatigue‘ is real. I am relieved there’s a name to this restlessness. I wake up tired, dragging myself to pretend to look forward to what the day has to offer. I am usually very excited to hit the bed but falling asleep is another game of hide & seek. It’s a vicious cycle. Things I love indulging in have started to become irritants; nudging and poking and demanding to be dealt with. For someone who heavily relies on social media for work, I seem to have taken a step back. The constant barrage of information, pictures & selfies finally took its toll. The only respite in the midst of a crashing-down-of-everything-I-believed-would-stand-concrete is burying my face in books. But something has shifted in the genre of books I pick up too. I no longer revel in dystopia because real life seems to uncannily resemble what I believed would be restricted to only fiction. I reach for books with a ‘happily ever after’ as its primary objective, actively reading books of hope, of family and anything that does not involve dying.

The venerable pandemic-induced question keeps knocking at the door: What is the point of anything? Was there ever a point? If the new social order looks like this, I wonder if years of feeding off of lies was worth it.

Finding the ‘new’ normal: Dealing with uncertainty and navigating through life in the midst of a pandemic.

I gave myself six months at the start of 2020 to figure out a career plan. I quit my full-time job to pursue writing and editing as a freelancer. Naturally, I was skeptical and uncertain. It’s always nerve-wracking leaving the certainty of a monthly paycheck to dabble in something as shaky as freelancing. But I was convinced of the path I wanted to take, so I took the plunge. Things were going smooth as far as freelancing was concerned and then everything came to a halt. It was as if I was in the middle of a performance where minutes before the end scene, there was a technical difficulty and the lights went off. I’m standing there bewildered, nervously glancing here and there to find answers, surrounded by equally anxious actors on stage, who, just like me, have absolutely no idea what went wrong. Suddenly the lights come back, I can see the relief pass through the faces of my teachers, standing in the wings, frantically waving their hands to go on as if nothing happened, as if the temporary halt was part of the plan. 

 But when you’re in the middle of a pandemic, the end seems elusive, your part in the play never ending. You’re the audience and the actor. 

 I see my father reading the news or watching as the number of coronavirus cases go up exponentially. I wonder what goes through his head. As a man belonging to the era of extreme hustle & blind commitment to the business, he has never taken a day off. ‘I feel better when I’m at work,’ he’d retort when questioned about putting strain on his health every time he’s sick. The show must go on has always been his way of dealing with life’s curveballs. He switches to another news channel, clutching the remote, as if trying to have some semblance of control. We sit silently in the room, the news anchors yelling obscenities in the background. I have a book in my hand, and my dad is pretending to hear the verbal diarrhea projected on screen. None of us is registering what’s happening but we’re too afraid to address the elephant in the room, too afraid to admit the uncertainty.  

The first week of the lockdown sent us into the pits of anxiety-induced confusion. Every household is built on a system that enables the smooth functioning of everyday lives. But when the system itself is forced to change abruptly without a manual, adapting becomes wearying especially if you’re living in a joint family—where every chore is assigned, and every task is mechanical. We ran around like headless chickens on the first day of the lockdown, trying to put in place an order. What the order was, we didn’t know. My mother took charge as she always does, reassuring us, believing everything would work out. I could see the hesitancy in her eyes, the lines on her forehead telling a different story. 

That’s the thing about the precariousness of life—your carefully crafted plans seem flimsy, as if a strong wind will collapse the very foundations on which you’ve built your life. We unlearned our habits, inculcated new routines albeit forcefully, and started rebuilding what we thought would never break. A new order was soon put in place. 

The second week of the lockdown didn’t seem as taxing. We still didn’t know how things were taking shape but whatever we were doing was working. For now, it was enough. At the back of our heads, we knew the lockdown was necessary and there was a silver lining of things getting back to normal after 21 days. Holding onto this sliver of hope, helped us get through the uneasiness that had spread like wildfire. But soon enough, the inevitability of extension, drew nearer. We rallied through, praying fervently, for the worst to pass. At the end of the day, we had food on our tables, our loved ones safe with us, and a shelter on our heads. It was more than we could ask for.

Days turned into weeks, and we started making adjustments, as many as we could, to find a new normal. Our mornings seem to have fallen into a new rhythm, getting used to having the entire family together at meal times, bumping into each other more often, wondering at the closeness we didn’t think was achievable. Evenings, these days, have a quietness of their own. We indulge in evening snacks, sipping teas and discussing nothing in particular as the world continues to move forward. Board games now dictate our lives as we gather around to pass time, laughing at the madness of it all, letting our competitiveness channel itself in mild banters. Life events are now measured in pandemic terms—pre-pandemic, where our mundane lives were uninterrupted, and post-pandemic, where our pent-up desires will play out in the form of excessive physical interactions and new-found appreciation for the outside world. The middle is where we linger, in the confines of our homes. 

We all go back to playing the designated roles every single day. Whether it’s taking online classes, editing a manuscript, completing the assigned menial jobs and making sure there’s movement in our lives, there’s hope in our hearts. A new order is finally in place, this time, waiting to be disrupted. 

These days my dad passes by my room and stops for a minute, smiling and nodding his head. He then leaves. There is no need to exchange words anymore, we both understand and prefer the silence that is familiar and comforting.

Of losses; big & small

Experiencing loss, one memory at a time.

I was in school when I first felt loss. I couldn’t find my favorite pencil that had a scented eraser at the back. Before leaving the classroom, I had kept it on my desk. After lunch break was over, I went back to my desk only to find it empty. I was hysterical. I cried, and cried. I asked my friends, who shrugged and then started a search for the missing pencil. We looked everywhere; under the desk, inside the dustbin, I also raided everyone’s pencil box. It had disappeared. This wasn’t the first time I had lost something in class, and this wasn’t the first time I struggled dealing with the loss of something I cherished. As a child, getting attached to inanimate objects was easy. Loss, as a concept, seemed confusing to me, and somehow I still haven’t wrapped my head around it. My teacher complained to my brother one day, annoyed at how sensitive I was. She said, ‘Your sister starts crying every time she loses something,’. I was baffled at my teachers’ lack of understanding. Crying was the only way I could explain what it felt. How else was I to make her believe how much it meant to me? For a seven-year old, it seemed too real, too personal. Sure, it was something I could replace but it was loss nonetheless. As I grew up, the losses took the shape of a lost tooth, of a lost book, of a lost friend, of a lost dream. One day, it was a pet rabbit that didn’t survive, on another occasion, it was a plant I had forgot to water. Each time I lost something, it hurt less but I felt like I had changed. The losses represented something I no longer had, but whose absence felt ephemeral. The losses didn’t stop. They only kept changing shape, presenting itself in unique ways, intensifying in magnitude. The response to these losses also changed.  Grief, somehow, found an outlet. It channeled its way every time I mourned the death of a fictional character, every time I would hear about a child learning to hear for the first time, every time I would cry during movies & every time a person I looked upto passed away. It would mold itself like water; fitting, squeezing, expanding & contracting wherever there was enough space. It ebbed & it flowed. But it kept coming. 

Nobody grows up learning how to mourn. No one teaches you how to weep. Grief is universal. It can be found in every household, in every corner. The death of a loved one, the death of your old self, the collective loss of our identities. Loss makes you confront your worst fears, it brings out everything you hate in front of you, and asks that you dine with it. Your worst fears, your worst self, is suddenly out in the open, staring at you, almost smiling. But somehow, you deal with it. You look grief in the eye, and shake hands. You discuss what must be done. You’ve felt loss before & you’ll feel loss again. You’ll grieve over the things you could have done, the dreams you can no longer dream, the loved ones you can never bring back. But then one day, you feel the sun on your face, the wind in your hair, and you learn to walk freely, you learn to dream big dreams. 

Loss is inescapable—it’s a fair-weather friend that keeps coming in and out of our lives. We just learn to accept it. 

Boredom in the time of Quarantine: Finding comfort in stillness

Embracing stillness and adapting to the mundane.

A few days have passed since the lockdown was announced. We’re all counting days, talking about a life post-pandemic, spending our time making future plans of what we’re going to do once the worst has passed, waiting to see which restaurants will see hordes of people stuffing their faces with anything that’s not home-made food, which companies will witness a spike in sales for things we don’t need. If anything, self-isolation has been unrelenting in its pursuit of teaching us to live without things we thought we needed.

 The current scenario has aggressively dismantled the very structures on which we built systems to keep us going. Our lifestyles are heavily influenced by new-age media, the increasing effect of capitalism, of a desperate need to always be ‘doing’ something. Social media will tell you to never give up, to always keep striving towards your goal, to sacrifice sleep if you ever want to accomplish anything. Ever since college days, I’ve kept myself occupied with more than I could handle. While staying busy in this day and age is a blessing (this is also a man-made construct), I no longer know how to deal with boredom. I do not know what to do with this ennui. People, in order to avoid feeling bored, attempt things that are bizarre as much as they are unnecessary. Our need to always have something to do, whether mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, or binge-watching a show for the 20th time, or killing ourselves over jobs that are impermanent, have created a disconnect from the self. It’s worrying how even during a pandemic we’re supposed to be working, keeping our productivity at optimum levels, making sure we’re still ticking things off our list, that failure to finish said tasks sends us spiralling deep down into an abyss of guilt and self-doubt. Why can’t we sit in our rooms without distraction? How long can we go without checking our phone before we combust into meaninglessness? Why is there a continuous need for incentive? The need to overcome our inherent existential crisis often manifests through over-indulgence in any form of stimulation. Social psychologist and philosopher, Eric Fromm believes boredom to be ‘the most important source of aggression and destructiveness’. According to him, our constant search for thrill, for adventure, for anything to fill this huge hole in our lives, is not a solution but merely a distraction. We’re going around in circles to attain the unattainable. 

 The word ‘boredom’ was used by Charles Dickens, as an emotional state, in his serial, Bleak House. That was the first-time boredom was described as a state of being, although the word ‘boredom’ originated way back. It wasn’t till the 19th century that scientists started taking an interest in this weirdly existential phenomena of nothingness.  The 21st century or the ‘pop culture’ era can shrug this feeling of as ‘meh’. Anything that is dull or tedious or which single-handedly brings down the energy level is MEH. 

But is boredom lethal? I think not. As Jenny Odell, author of, How To Do Nothing, writes, ‘I consider “doing nothing” both as a kind of deprogramming device and as sustenance for those feeling too disassembled to act meaningfully’. Odell’s book aims to disengage people from the attention economy, to curb economic insecurity, and help realize the potential of doing nothing. Being at home, it’s natural to feel bored. It may exacerbate feelings of existential anxiety but doing nothing is as essential as productivity. When you start acknowledging the stillness as equally important to your life without assigning any deep-rooted bias, these feelings wither, they change shape, and you begin to feel as if a weight has been lifted, helping you further to stay afloat.

 We’re going through an unprecedented time where our resources are being stretched, human lives are being lost and put at risk, and our economy is on the verge of collapse. Perhaps, during this time, not doing anything is how we cope. We cope by sitting by ourselves, staring into the night-sky as it transforms into morning light, we cope by watching how our neighbors spend their evenings crowding on their terrace, and we talk to our family—we notice how our parents seem to be drifting into the inevitability of ageing, we watch our siblings, who are still in school, deal with a crisis not part of their curriculum, and we observe. We pay attention to how humans are adapting to change, how the will to keep moving forward surpasses the unpredictability of our lives and we learn. We learn to shed our inhibitions, we unlearn societal constructs of prejudice, of class, of color. We learn to just be. When all this is over, and it’ll be over soon, let’s hope we wear the feeling of nothingness as second skin, embracing it and letting it sit with us. 

Identity: Beyond Borders

The anti-narcotics team had arrived. We were about to go through another rigorous round of security check. Sheru, one of the sniffer dogs, was sun-bathing when he heard his name being called, after which, he jumped excitedly and proceeded towards us. If you’re a fully functional human being with a heart, the sight of a dog in uniform will melt you. We took out our cell phones but were soon rebuked for doing so. This was serious business and Sheru had work to do. Walking in and around our luggage, which were quite a few, Sheru moved on to other passengers. At this point, we were getting late. We had to cross the Wagah Border by afternoon and we hadn’t even boarded the bus that would take us there. To add to our woes, it had started raining. Having grown up in India, watching parades being held on Independence Day at the Wagah Border, always seemed mystical—something out of a movie. Except this was real life, and this wasn’t a drill or an extended joke. My siblings and I had imagined a lot of things we’d be able to witness at the border. It was our first time, it was going be a historic moment for us all. Naturally, we were thrilled. The whole idea of crossing the border by foot is, in my opinion, a little hilarious and maybe unreal. How can a single man-made line divide entire countries? How can the fate of so many people be decided, depending on which side of the line you were in? I guess, my questions were about to be answered.

At one point of time, we were in the no-man’s land— that little space before you step into another country, not belonging to either India or Pakistan. A single step forward would put an official tag of which country I was standing in. It didn’t mean anything, it didn’t deter where I was from, it didn’t take away my roots. Standing there under the biting Amritsar rain, waiting to cross the border, it didn’t feel too magical or heroic. Instead, I was trying to absorb, to understand the seriousness of the situation. I was blown away by the high-rise walls, the beautiful golden dome that you see, with ‘India’s Line of Defense’ written in bold right at the center. In between dragging our luggage and getting anxious about just everything in general, we forgot that our crossing the border coincided with the lowering of the flags’ ceremony, a daily military practice, at the Attari-Wagah border, carried by both India and Pakistan’s security forces ever since 1959. There were people from both sides of the line, who had come with their friends & family, to witness the parade. There were the national flags of both the countries, dancing in the rain, looking at its people, and what had become of it. Despite the terrible weather, the stands were filling up fast. You could see colorful umbrellas forming a canopy at opposite ends, a kind of shield, a form of defiance. Humans have unwavering resilience when they put their mind to something. It was time for us to finally walk our way into another country, passports ready. My grandmother was given a wheelchair, chaperoned by one of the coolies who helped her cross the border at lightning fast speed. 

 It’s a joke in the family now; of us parading in the middle as we dragged our luggage to the other end while the crowd sat at both sides watching us march helplessly. 

I couldn’t stop noticing a woman in her late 50s, who was alone, carrying a dozen bags filled with fresh produce, a few belongings that she would be needing and sheer determination on her face. Maybe she was a vendor, making a living selling fruits & vegetables. She painstakingly tried lifting her heavy bags onto the trolleys right after crossing the border. To avoid a crowd, the security was tightened. The woman was struggling to assemble her belongings and she asked my brother for help. We were busy collecting our luggage to be put in trolleys so that we could proceed towards immigration. We looked back to see the woman give her blessings to my brother for his help, smiling, her eyes moist—forming wrinkles that made her look older. She waved at us and went her way. Did she belong to India or Pakistan? It didn’t matter, not at that moment. There were so many like us, wanting to see their relatives, with longing in their eyes & joy at seeing their loved ones after an unsparing journey. 

This wasn’t going to be the first and last time I was to experience human empathy in all its glory. Belonging to a family who suffered the aftermath of Partition, I know well enough, the limitless ways in which people have extended their support throughout. It’s times like these when humans surpass themselves, with only kindness and empathy as their deus ex machina

We may be divided, we may have forgotten true nationalism, but the kindness of our hearts cannot be bought, it cannot be traded or diminished. We may lose everything one day but empathy? It’s embedded in stone and it’s here to stay. 

My Blogging Journey and Celebrating 100 Posts!

Celebrating 100 posts and reflecting on the years gone by.

This is my 100th post.

I don’t know what people write in their 100th post because I sure as heck don’t know. I didn’t think a day such as this one had any possibility of becoming a reality but here we are.

I started my blog when I was in my first year of college. But let’s go back a little further. I started reading a lot more in the 11th standard, and would read in between classes, and on my way to school even though I was always drawn to reading, devouring all the books from the library, and buying books from the Scholastic book fair. But during my late teens, there was this need to read books at all times. I would be lost in the written word, finding solace and excitement and thrill. Naturally, my choices in books were questionable but gradually my reading taste changed and has continued to do so. While in school, I had developed a deep fascination for writing. I also started writing a lot of poems( which were a cringefest) but also short stories. So when I went to college, starting a blog seemed like the right thing to do.

I figured out the logistics (googled it) and created a blog named, ‘The Literary Cat“.

For the longest time, I would write under this blog name and changed it to ‘Books and Teaa’ only recently. I started off with book reviews, short stories, and then slowly went on to writing how-tos, and listicles. However, I was involved in a number of extra-curricular activities in college and my blog wasn’t the highlight at this point in time in my life. Throughout my under-graduation, my posts were sporadic, and all over the place. I didn’t start a blog to make something out of it or to become a full-time blogger—It was created because the thoughts in my head needed a home.

Fast forward to 2016, and I had just finished my post-graduation diploma and was pursuing a Masters degree. At this point in time, two things happened.

  • I was searching for a job, and pursuing an online masters. I had time to spare.
  • I stumbled upon Bookstagram.

Here’s where things started to turn around and by that, I don’t mean I started earning money through blogging. This was never my goal. I always wanted to be known as a writer and someone who likes reading books.

Blogging has been that corner of my life which I can pick up wherever I left. I always write whenever I have an idea that can no longer be contained in my head. Here’s when the words flow smoothly, my mind running at the speed of light spewing idea after idea, and the stories writing themselves.  It’s rewarding and satisfying but at the same time A LOT of work. I still don’t understand how WordPress works and there are so many things I can improve on my site. I would like to be more active, put in more effort, and be consistent. There have also been times where I didn’t want to think I have a blog. To be honest, I still wonder why people read what I write.

If I show you the stats, it’s going to reflect poorly on me, and probably expose me as a ‘fake’ person who only claims to love writing. But wanting to do something and actually doing it are two separate things. I still haven’t figured it all out, I still can’t think of blog post ideas, and I know I will not be able to stay as consistent as I would like to be. But that’s how life is sometimes. I like to think of my blog as a safe space devoid of any obligations. I cannot force myself to do things and I don’t want to make blogging a chore, a checklist I can tick off. And neither should you.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned after all these years of blogging, it’s this:

The results are going to be slow. The views on your posts won’t be too high initially, you’ll have to promote your posts relentlessly, and even then you’ll have days where you won’t see any traffic on your blog. It’s going to get frustrating and you would want to give up. But this is exactly when you shouldn’t. The fact that you’re still sitting at your desk, typing away regardless of whether or not anyone is reading the posts is when you’ll know you’re doing this for yourself. And that’s when it won’t matter. 

 

 

 

 

Am I happy?

What is happiness?

For the longest time, I believed happiness to be a place where if I enter once, I’d never come out of; like a pandora’s box, a candy shop that never runs out of candy or an endless supply of my favorite things. Little did I know, happiness would be fleeting, coming and going; sometimes staying for days maybe even months, and other times just brushing me by like the winter breeze. It’s hard to describe what happiness means. Everything I know of life has been experienced through trial and error, and everything I knew of happiness has been felt after a series of ups and downs. Happiness does not come from an isolated place. It’s either accompanied before or after sadness, sometimes devoid of emotions. After all, that’s how you really understand what it’s like being happy. When your heart flutters and dances, when the moon looks more beautiful and when your shoulders don’t feel heavy.  If you look closely, it’s just an absence of sadness. So do I look happy? I don’t know, it depends on how you look at it. But do I have happy moments in between moments of nothingness? Of course, I do. I’ve found happiness in the mundane. It doesn’t take much effort but this happiness isn’t conditional. It’s forever giving. And for now, that’s all I need.

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.

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?

 

Tiny Little Flames

In this post, I talk about what it’s like being a teacher, and finding yourself doing something you never imagined doing.

I’m greeted with enormous smiles, twinkling eyes, and expectant faces every time I enter a class. In front of me are 50 odd students waiting to listen to their weekly lecture. Every time, I take a class, the experience is different from the one before. It’s like the children have their own way of steering the class in any direction they please.  For as long as I can remember, I never considered teaching as a career. I want to become a book-editor someday, and plan on writing a book in the future. However, there’s a plot twist. I’m currently working as a personality development trainer in schools and I have a lot to narrate.

On my first day of school, I was overwhelmed. More so because I had to teach students of class 1, who if I may say, are quiet a handful. You see little minions running around here and there, tugging at you, wanting your attention, complaining about a missing eraser or color pencil or refusing to sit in their place unless you promise to play games with them for the next forty minutes. I love kids, and teaching standard one appeared like a piece of cake till I stepped into the classroom.

To say I struggled would be an understatement. Managing a class seemed harder than I had ever imagined.  I wanted to run and scream along with the children.  I left the class feeling defeated. No one wants to be a crybaby at the first day of their job. But there I was. Being a crybaby.

It’s been 8 months since my first day as a teacher, and safe to say, I look forward to it with every passing hour.

So what changed, I ask myself. Have I come to the realization that there’s no hope for me to ever edit a manuscript, and so I’m being complacent and doing what’s being offered or have I developed a strange attachment to the children? I think it’s neither. I’m going to sound extremely cliché but I’m going to say it anyway; I feel a sense of purpose whenever I’m walking up & down the noisy hallway, strolling down the corridor with the air reverberating with a cacophony of “good mornings, and good afternoons” and the occasional smiles passed on by the students. It helps me focus on the bigger things in life. It also helps me focus on the little more significant things in life-like the way a child’s face lights up when they receive a compliment or when asked to rub the board as if it’s the only big responsibility that matters, or the way their faces droop when you stop them from talking or in the way they look at you as if you contain all the secrets of the universe. It’s surprising how such tiny hearts can contain so much love for someone they might not even see in the future.

I often find myself replaying scenarios of what the students told me, their expressions playing vividly in my mind, their gestures striking a chord. I only recently stopped being a student and it’s funny how the roles have changed.  It’s even more strange finding myself on the other side of the spectrum looking at things from a different perspective. Without realizing, I have a routine, one that keeps me on edge most of the time.

Robert Frost in his famous poem, ‘The Road Not Taken’ writes:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I’ve been contemplating on the above stanzas which further led to the realization that teaching has made a lot of difference. It hasn’t been very long but maybe just maybe it’s exactly what I need. I don’t know if I’ll continue being a teacher but what I do know  is that sometimes the road less traveled leads you to places you never expected to go. You experience things you never did before, and you transform into someone you never thought you could be.

And sometimes, tiny little flames, create enough light to kindle your spirits.