Journalist-turned-author Siddhartha Vaidyanathan tells why he decided to take a journey inside the adolescent minds through his new book, What’s Wrong with You, Karthik? (Picador India, Rs 599).
Q: At a time when most authors are using heavy topics like gender equality, racism, violence, etc, you chose to explore an adolescent mind with humour. Why?
A: I am drawn to fiction that engages with serious topics through the medium of storytelling. The writing needs to sustain the reader’s interest. The heavier themes can then glide below the surface. Humour, when done well, can bring the reader onto your side. It is like you are telling her: Trust me, I can make you laugh. You then go about subtly weaving in serious themes like the lasting effects of bullying, the profound relationship kids have with gods, the unreasonable academic pressures that are placed on children, and an education system that tends to reward memory over creativity.
Q. Does comedy come naturally to you?
A: As paradoxical as it sounds, I take comedy seriously. So I am never entirely satisfied with the parts meant to be funny. The challenge is to spring the humour when the reader least expects it. And to make sure the joke is calibrated to fit with the mood of the scene.
Q: The story also talks about hyper-masculinity which is a less discussed yet important side, especially in boys. Why did you feel is it important to talk about this?
A: Many men are at their most relaxed when in the company of male friends. They swear without inhibition, make inappropriate jokes, and talk about their sexual experiences. Teenage boys are similar, though some don’t stay within their limits, especially when fuelled by the male energy around them. Stronger boys dominate the weaker ones, confident boys gang up on those who are struggling to fit in, and there is an obsession with muscularity and other physical attributes. Going deep into this world helps us see why bullies act in certain ways and how the victims try, and often fail, to cope. We hear intimate conversations and realise how sexism and homophobia are easily normalised. To understand the world of boys is the first step in understanding men.
Q: The book also talks about the school system and how the rat race impacts a young mind. Was this angle explored intentionally?
A: Karthik has spent six years in alternative schooling and has only now joined the academic rat race. As an outsider, he sees the contrast. He is also clueless about how to prepare for exams. It is obvious that your grades don’t reveal your intelligence or account for your innovativeness, creativity and sensitivity, but it takes time for a child to come to terms with this. Especially a child whose
parents are as demanding as Karthik’s. Each of us will know someone who has been left broken by the system simply because they didn’t figure out how to cram textbooks and crack exams. I felt it is important to highlight the debilitating effects these exams have on many students.
Q: While reading the novel, one gets a touch of R.K. Naryan’s ‘Malgudi Days’. Who are your favourite authors and why?
A: That is the highest compliment anyone can give this book. R.K. Narayan is one of my inspirations and Swami and Friends was the first book I fell in love with. That book is full of such insights from a child’s vantage. I am delighted to read it even as an adult. I love V.S. Naipaul’s early works. Miguel Street is a rare gem. It taught me that even the best writers have drawn on their childhood experiences in their fiction. And one can never tire of how masterfully Naipaul crafts his sentences. Every word, punctuation mark does its job. And guides the reader along, one step at a time
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BOOKS TO LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEK
A Place in My Heart
Penguin Random House, Rs 499
‘A Place in My Heart’ is a many-splendoured thing. It is a listicle. It is a celebration of the power of storytelling. It is also an account of a life lived in the Bollywood trenches. National Award-winning author, journalist and film critic Anupama Chopra writes about fifty films, artistes, and events that have left an indelible impression on her and shaped her twenty-five-year-long career. Shah Rukh Khan is here. So are ‘Super Deluxe’ and the Cannes Film Festival. ‘A Place in My Heart’ is a blend of recommendations and remembrances, nostalgia and narratives. It is a smorgasbord of cinematic delights, written, as Marie Kondo would say, to ‘spark joy.’ Above all, this book is a testament to Anupama Chopra’s enduring love for all things cinema.
A SACRED JOURNEY: THE KEDARA KALPA SERIES OF PAHARI PAINTINGS AND THE PAINTER PURKHU OF KANGRA
Karuna Goswamy & B.N. Goswamy
Niyogi Books, Rs 3,000
The Kedara Kalpa is a relatively little-known Shaiva text; and only slightly better known than it are the two dispersed series of paintings to which this study is devoted. But both raise questions that are at once elegant and deeply engaging. Ostensibly, they treat of a journey by five seekers who set out to reach the realm of the great god, Shiva—walking barefoot through icy mountains and deep ravines, frozen rivers and moon-like rocks, running on the way into temptations and dangers the like of which no man before them had encountered—and, in the end, succeed. The text is visualised with brilliance sometimes by members of a talented family of Pahari painters.
Classified: Hidden Truths in the ISRO Spy Story
J. Rajasekharan Nair
Srishti Publishers, Rs 350
Did you know that the CIA had sabotaged ISRO’s top secret operation to transfer cryogenic rocket technology from Russia to India? Ever wondered what is the real reason why S. Nambi Narayanan does not want the whole truth behind the ISRO spy story to surface? Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was rocked by a spy case in 1994, taking down in its wake six persons, including S. Nambi Narayanan. They were blamed for passing critical rocket technology to a neighbouring nation and booked for the same. Classified exposes the hidden truth behind the spy story and how it highlighted the fractures of our premier institutions. It shows us how the spy case stripped them bare, down to their bones.
Banter and bonding
‘You’re late for work, Kittu,’ Ravi Pant remarked, grave concern on his face, as he took a bite out of his lightly buttered toast. ‘When is she not?’ Shamik added his unsought opinion. ‘Dadu, we should get her married. Get a house-husband for her who would pitch in.’ ‘Because there are not enough duffer men in the house already?’ High BP chimed in calmly. ‘You’re always targeting me, Dadu,’ Shamik whined. ‘Kittu is right. You boys need to start acting your age and take responsibility for yourselves,’ Ravi Pant’s voice assumed a deeper baritone, warning Shamik to curb the nonsense.
‘Hear that, Shamik?’ Kittu glared at the twins, conveying with her eyes that if they helped out a tad, she wouldn’t be so drained. Sometimes she felt like a single mother of four. ‘Better organisation, better planning. Little changes, big rewards. That’s what Kittu Di needs. Learnt that in class yesterday,’ Shamik attempted a wisecrack. ‘I agree, Kittu Di. Better planning is all you need. Otherwise you’re very efficient,’ Nishant didn’t spare her either.
Kittu wanted to punch the boys, but that would be a losing proposition. Instead she opted for a mind game. ‘Nishant, someone called for you while I was cleaning your room. Esha, I think her name was.’ A slice of apple he was about to munch on plopped on to his plate. ‘She said she had accidentally left an important letter in a library book. Said she wanted it back.’ Nishant’s demeanour went from brat-like to pup-like in under a second. A hapless look emerged and stayed put. He pleaded with his eyes to keep his secrets between them. She smiled slightly in agreement, pleased with the dice rolling in her favour. ‘Kittu Di, I know you’re late for work. But could you please stop by the dhobi and check on my trousers?
I need them for a party tonight,’ Shamik was lazy and incorrigible.
‘You want a good spanking?’ ‘Who wants a spanking, ever?’ Shamik mocked. ‘Unless, you know, it was me asking someone on a romantic night,’ he winked and added so softly only she could hear. ‘Shut up. You’re so cheap.’ ‘What? I’m talking about Bark Twain.’ Bark Twain jumped to his feet at the sound of his name. ‘Who’s the bad boy? Who’s the bad boy?’ Woof, came the response. ‘The bad boy is our Mehul Malappa,’ High BP handed out his verdict, helping himself to a generous serving of oat bran cereal. ‘His father should have trained him before allowing him to run for chief minister. And what is all this nonsense he keeps tweeting?’ ‘Bauji, it’s just facetiousness that creates a sensation on social media. Bad leaders the world over are resorting to it.
Why blame the poor kid? And please, watch the sugar,’ Ravi pointed at the cereal bowl High BP had just filled to the brim with cold milk and cereal. ‘It’s not just bad leaders. It’s bad journalists too. I read what your respected Mr Verma tweeted on the marginalisation of minorities yesterday. Despicable it was.’ ‘Also the truth,’ Ravi retorted, helping himself to some ketchup, which he smothered on his omelette. ‘He’s your boss, not your god. You can call a distasteful tweet a distasteful tweet once in a while. I’m glad I did.’ ‘I don’t treat him like a god. It’s not like a public sector bank where you blindly worship authority.’ ‘There’s a fine line between worship and respect. It’s definitely not the private company culture where everyone’s on a first name basis. You wouldn’t know.’ High BP was at it between mouthfuls of cereal. ‘Can you pick up a different variety? I don’t like this,’ he ordered Ravi, pointing at his bowl. ‘Respect in the guise of—’ Ravi had developed selective hearing just like his father. ‘Wait, what do you mean you’re glad you did?’ ‘I’m glad I gave your Mr Verma a fitting reply. Will set him straight,’ High BP announced smugly. ‘You gave a fitting reply to my boss?’ The hand that held Ravi’s omelette-laden fork stood frozen in the air. So did his mouth, a few inches away from the fork. ‘Sure I did. It was nasty but fitting. He asked for it.’ ‘On Twitter?’ It was a futile question, but Ravi still posed it, hoping against hope. ‘Arre bhai if he wrote on Twitter where else would I retort?’ 110 Parinda Joshi ‘Bauji! You don’t even have a Twitter account.
‘Bauji! You don’t even have a Twitter account.’ ‘So? The iPad does. I used the Twitter icon on it.’ Ravi buried his red face in his palms, then ran a hand through his hair. ‘That iPad is MINE. It’s got MY Twitter account. Do you realise you just wrote a nasty retort to my boss using my name?’ ‘So what? Tell him it was your father. You wouldn’t dare anyway.’
The excerpt is from A House full of Men (HarperCollins India).
THE HAUNTING TALE OF A GRAND CITY AND ITS WOMEN
‘The Begum and the Dastan’ takes you on a journey. It masterfully develops and conjures the scene, transporting you in time and allowing you to become a part of the lives of its characters.
Tarana Husain Khan, whose book The Begum and the Dastan (Tranquebar) goes back to the year 1897, when in the princely state of Sherpur, Feroza Begum, beautiful and wilful, defies her family to attend the sawani celebrations at Nawab Shams Ali Khan’s Benazir Palace. When Feroza is kidnapped and detained in the Nawab’s glittering harem, her husband is forced to divorce her, and her family disowns her. Reluctantly, Feroza marries the Nawab, and is compelled to negotiate the glamour and sordidness of the harem.
This is a book that takes you on a journey. It masterfully develops and conjures the scene, transporting you in time and allowing you to become a part of the lives of its characters.
Dastangoi has its origins in the Persian language. Dastan means a tale; the suffix -goi makes the word mean “to tell a tale”. In the bazaar chowk, Kallan Mirza, a skilled ‘Dastango’, spins a hauntingly familiar tale of a despotic sorcerer, Tareek Jaan, and his grand illusory city, the Tilism-e-Azam, where women are confined in underground basements. As Kallan descends deeper into an opium addiction, the boundaries of fantasy and reality begin to blur.
And in the present day, Ameera listens to Dadi narrating the tale of Feroza Begum, Ameera’s great-grandmother. Confined to her house because her parents haven’t paid her school fees, Ameera takes comfort from Dadi’s story.
As her world disintegrates, she is compelled to ask herself if anything has changed for Sherpur’s women. The author also mentioned a few crude details about child marriage and love slavery.
Inspired by real-life characters and events, The Begum and the Dastan is a haunting tale of a grand city and its women.
The book tells three parallel stories: Feroza Begum’s life; the Dastan, which is full of ‘Aiyyars and Tilisms, Paris and Princes’, and is narrated by a character within Feroza’s story; and the frame story, which takes place in 2016-17 and attributes the tale of Feroza Begum to a young girl being narrated by her grandmother. One of the book’s standout features is the presence of a ‘Sher’ in each chapter.
You’ll really like to know how Feroza lived her life, her ideas and goals, and her death in this brilliantly researched novel. You’ll be amazed at how much emotional involvement the author has made in the ancient tale.
Apparently, since it was intended as a cautionary story for young girls, it makes you feel stifled and vulnerable at the same time.
The 19th century “Nawabi’ culture has been meticulously researched and presented by the author.
If you try to find out about the metamorphosis of Feroza’s character—how she starts to “accept” the circumstances with the Nawab, and if a modern reader would be comfortable with that, Khan asserts in her book that the protagonist’s options were limited by her predicament. She was confined to the Nawab’s harem and her family had abandoned her.
How did a woman in the late nineteenth century deal with such circumstances?
It might be difficult for the “modern” or “feminist” person to understand her actions. Tarana didn’t want Feroza to be a modern woman dressed in ancient clothes. She also didn’t want to project these sensibilities onto Feroza’s character. In fact, she had to restrain herself from putting her words and thoughts into her persona. She belonged to a certain time in history, and her actions and thoughts had to mirror those times.
The prose is beautiful and almost surreal, and the characters shimmer with such excellence that it’s difficult not to admire them.
The author, who has weaved two timelines into the book, insists that at the core of The Begum and the Dastan is the question of patriarchy.
To begin with, Tarana was focused on writing Feroza Begum’s narrative, but because of her first-hand experience, the issue of the plight of the female child in small-town India had been plaguing her.
Ameera, who lives in the present era, wonders if anything has changed for young girls today.
The author wants her readers to ponder something other than Feroza’s predicament. Feroza’s anguish went unnoticed, and life remained hidden beneath the palace’s grandeur and glitter. The suffering of women, patriarchy, and regressive practises intended towards women, which were prevalent in the period, still exist in society now. It’s structured in such a way in the book that you’ll be overwhelmed with feelings and fury.
Patriarchy has an impact on young girls in Indian households by limiting their image of themselves and placing physical limits on them. As a result, Ameera’s existence is a modern counterpart to the life of the veiled Begums and their limited possibilities. This intertwined tale of women who lived in separate eras and universes but whose fates converged in the same way will undoubtedly make you uncomfortable as well as relatable. The author did an excellent job of writing this piece of history, which many were unaware of in a very profound way.
While reading this novel, you will realise that Feroza’s story is not the only one that has disappeared from the pages of history and whose voices inhabit oral history. There have been women who have had an impact on political decisions and cultural developments but are rarely mentioned in cisgender male histories. This book deals with those characters mostly. Unfortunately, not much has changed for women. To make this a complete book, the author has done an incredible job of combining fiction and history with a delicate hand of imagination. The story lives with you long after you have read it.
Dr Tarana Husain Khan is a writer and cultural historian. Her writings on the oral history, culture and the famed cuisine of the erstwhile princely state of Rampur have appeared in prominent publications such as scroll.in, Eaten Magazine, The Wire and in the anthologies Desi Delicacies (Pan Macmillan, India) and Dastarkhwan: Food Writing from South Asia and Diaspora ( Beacon Books, UK). She hosts and curates a website on Rampur culture and oral history. She lives between Rampur and Nainital with her husband.
Ashutosh Kumar Thakur is a Bangalore-based Management Consultant, Literary Critic, and Co-director of the Kalinga Literary Festival. You can reach him at email@example.com.
BOOKS TO LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEK
AN ATHEIST GETS THE GITA
Galyna Kogut, Rahul Singh
Rupa Publications, Rs 295
‘Will this make us happy?’ This question troubles 25-year-old IIM graduate Anveshak Jigyanshu, an investment banker in Singapore, as he meets his two-decade senior Charan Saket. Their conversation reminds the reader of the dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna. Anveshak, a self-proclaimed atheist, is mesmerised by the compelling arguments put forth by Charan as they both explore the world of science and its limitations, what proof means, the dilemma of ethics and finally, what real and everlasting happiness is. In a way, Charan explains the essence of the Bhagavad Gita. Slowly turning from a disbeliever to one who accepts logic, Anveshak discovers the key to his question.
In a tightly gripping narrative, the authors gently persuade the reader to relook and understand the essence of the Bhagavad Gita in the modern world. This book will change the way one looks at happiness.
THE COMMONWEALTH OF CRICKET
HarperCollins India, Rs 499
The Commonwealth of Cricket: A Lifelong Love Affair with the Most Subtle and Sophisticated Game Known to Humankind is a first-person account of this astonishing transformation. The book traces the entire arc of cricket in India, across all levels at which the game is played: school, college, club, state, country. It presents vivid portraits of local heroes, provincial icons, and international stars.
Cast as a work of literature, The Commonwealth of Cricket is keenly informed by the author’s scholarly training, the stories and sketches narrated against a wider canvas of social and historical change. The book blends memoir, anecdote, reportage and political critique, providing a rich, insightful and rivetingly readable account of this greatest of games as played in the country that has most energetically made this sport its own.
The Happiness Trail:
A Road Map to Success
HarperCollins India, Rs 299
We live in a fast-paced and highly competitive world. The last few years have seen changes not witnessed in centuries. Have all these developments increased our sense of well-being? Data seems to suggest otherwise!
The Happiness Trail shows us an attainable, contextual way to achieve two seemingly complementary goals, happiness and success, that we many a time discover to be contradictory.
In The Happiness Trail: A Road Map to Success, Ramesh Venkateswaran lays down five easy-to-follow approaches to a happy and successful life, which he calls the five I’s: Integrity, Interact, Involve, Imbibe and Impact.
Armed with this road map, the ever-elusive happiness seems within reach and success a natural consequence.
How a teenage girl overcame hurdles and achieved success
We all wish that we would be given a step-by-step instruction guide when our children are born. But, no, we have to learn from experiences, the hard way. Destination is the Journey; we learn as we go along. This book is an account of my personal experience—of how my teenage girl succeeded in the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma (class 12), despite all the hurdles and obstacles and the wall that came up, on her way, and how miracles happened and windows opened when the doors had closed.
The book has overarching messages for all parents and students, who can learn from this journey of a parent and a child. The message to students is: never get dejected by failures and disappointments at any point and make conscious efforts to be strong and positive.
The book tells parents to trust their children and give them freedom of choice. The time and resources you spend are precious investments. If you believe and support your child, everything is achievable and the whole world comes to help your child achieve their goal, like the help we received in the form of guidance and out-of-the-world support from a school principal, an unassuming math tutor, and a divine French tutor and the blessings of a true mentor, to whom we owe all our success.
All parents are with their children in various boats in the journey called Life. Some reach the shore easily, while some will need the guidance of the lighthouse. This book aims to be that lighthouse for many a parent and child. This is a book for surviving in this competition-ridden world and to be a lion in the struggle.
In fact, when we commenced our work after a tumultuous two years, my husband’s client approached him with a problem relating to his son. He wanted to know if any legal action could be taken against his son’s school, as his son was getting into a state of depression. My husband discussed this issue with me. Then he shared our experiences with the boy’s parents and convinced them that they had to support their son in his journey towards success, instead of fighting a legal battle. After the boy’s exams got over, the parents promptly thanked us for our advice, as their son had done well in the IB diploma.
This book is titled Brillianteering, which is a word that describes the final stages of the diamond cutting process, when the star facets of the diamond, along with the upper and lower facets, are polished. This is how life is. The process of life, along with its trials, tribulations and ultimate success, polishes a child into a precious diamond.
The excerpt is from Brillianteering (published by Notion Press).
‘SCRIPT A HIT IS HELPING INDIVIDUALS WITH LACK OF TIME OR RESOURCES TO CONVERT THEIR UNIQUE IDEAS INTO NOVELS’
Jaishankar Krishnamurthy, founder, Script A Hit opened up about how it’s a unique platform for budding writers to realise their dreams of becoming authors or the creative minds behind an audio-visual production—be it a movie or an OTT series, and his debut novel ‘Farside’ co-authored with Krishna Udayasankar.
Q. Can you share a glimpse of your background—studies, previous work experience?
A. I am 54-year-old finance professional with CA and MBA Ricard Ivey School of Business, Canada, with over 25 years of experience working in India, Dubai, and Singapore. My last job was working as Associate Director for Oil and Gas with Ernst & Young, one of the big four audit and consulting firms in the world.
Q. What made you venture into writing?
A. I wanted to be a story writer from the age of 13 and at one point was quite serious about pursuing a career in screenwriting. Somehow, I never could complete penning a single book. Being married to a successful writer, Krishna Udayasankar, who is also the co-founder and who has published many bestsellers, I pitched to her a plot, which she then worked on using her exceptional skills. Now, my first book, Farside, co-authored with Krishna has been published by Penguin Random House.
I have also completed my second novel in collaboration with another writer. The book, Mind Games, is currently being pitched to various publishers by the reputed Redink Literary Agency.
For my third book, I engaged a writer to bring to life his concept of an intriguing financial thriller to life. I now have three complete manuscripts, with a fourth in the works, in a span of less than two years.
Q. When was your new book Farside released?
A. It was released on 22 November 2021 and is available on Amazon and all other leading book stores.
Q. Tell our readers a little bit about ‘Farside’? What inspired you to write this book?
A. I have been more interested in reading crime stories. Secondly, I have always liked books that have a strong female lead. The plot for this story came to me 10 years ago and is something that has stood the test of time because it is a story that can happen to any one of us, and is a testament to what a brave person with intelligence can achieve including uncovering a complex crime that takes place at the highest levels of society.
Q. How much time did it take you to complete the book? When did you start and when did it complete?
A. From ideation to completing the book, it took us two years.
Q. How easy was it to convert your idea into a full-fledged book?
A. It was relatively easy for me. As the book is co-authored with my wife Krishna, an accomplished author with nine books to her credit, she could pitch it to her Editor in Penguin.
Q. How did the book help you with your venture Script A Hit? What is the concept of the platform?
A. Based on my own experience of having an idea but not being able to complete a book for over three decades, I realised that there are several individuals like me who may not have the time or skills to write or the resources to convert their unique ideas into novels. Script A Hit is a unique platform for such individual to realise their dreams of becoming an author or the creative mind behind an audio-visual production—be it a movie or an OTT series.
Q. Since it was your first book with Penguin Random House, how was the overall experience with them?
A. Our experience has been fantastic. We have received great inputs from the Editorial team and great support from their marketing team to help promote the book.
Q. As the book is written by you and Krishna, who is also an established author, how was your overall experience working with your wife and partner? How did her experience in writing contribute to the final product?
A. It has been an interesting experience. We used to have a lot of arguments about the plot and how the story should evolve. The book brings together my strength in creating unpredictable but solid crime plots with my wife’s ability to weave words together and create a sense of the real world we live in and characters that we resonate with and delivers a unique thriller that I hope readers will enjoy.
Q. Is there a message for our society? Any future plans?
A. Our aim is to sign up for 10 stories in FY22 through Script a Hit which we hope to increase to 25 in FY23.
The book brings together my strength in creating unpredictable but solid crime plots with my wife’s ability to weave words together and create a sense of the real world we live in and characters that we resonate with and delivers a unique thriller that I hope readers will enjoy.
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