Monthly Archives: May 2011

CONTEST!!!

Down the Road is the latest anthology from Grey Oak Publishers, a book with 28 short stories about those unforgettable, warm, thrilling, and at times embarrassing memories of life in school and college campuses.

Helter Skelter is running a contest for the same.

here’s the link:

http://helterskelter.in/contests/downtheroad/

Give it a try. You could win a copy of Down The Road!

🙂

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The Long And Short Of It

Walk into a book store and you are sure to find a heap of novels lined up meticulously. But how many are anthologies compared to the full length novels? Hardly a few!

I really can’t say what I like reading more – short stories or a full length novel. Though both have equal, if not less, rewards, they suffer their downfalls too.


My love for short stories began (and somewhat ended) during the school days, where in our “Gul Mohar Reader” had simple short stories that, at least I, used to end up reading even before school started for the particular term.  Stories by O.HenryRoald DahlErnest HemingwayGraham Greene, R. K. NarayanMark TwainLeo Tolstoy,Issac AsimovRuskin Bond, and so many other authors always interested me.
 But that affair lasted a short while. Once out of school, it got somewhat difficult to  track a good collection of short stories. Well, I must confess, I really did not try as hard, due to increasing academic pressures. But whenever I could, I would ask around for anthologies rather than novels.
It’s just that short stories are much easier to interpret, digest, and ponder upon. And the beauty lies in the fact that they could be read easily in one sitting. The restless soul that I am, I tend to get a little impatient reading a really long novel. I jump to a lot of conclusions before reaching the climax. Which in a way is good if the novel is exciting. But it just breaks my heart to see shoddy endings that leave me disappointed.

Also, short stories can be read (and re-read) anytime – while traveling to work, (sometimes at work), while enjoying a relaxed afternoon at home in a comfortable bean-bag, or any week night when sweet slumber deserts you.
Another thing about short stories is that you can pick up any story that you wish to read, without having to worry about the sequence. (Oh, but my OCD to follow a sequence is something I can’t help.)

There is a certain connectivity that is established in the very first paragrah usually, (if it is a well written short story) that takes you through the entire life of the character within those few pages. It’s just that the conectivity has to be established. If it clicks, you know you’re going to like it.

Let me not be completely biased. We cannot rule out the fact that in some anthologies not all stories capture your heart. Some do leave you disappointed. But the pain is bearable, as against spending time and getting involved with a lengthy novel only to be disappointed towards the climax. The effort is futile.

Coming to the writing styles, I must say, both are equally hard.
A well defined beginning, a progressive plot and a convincing climax make up for a well structured story. Be it a short one or a mighty novel.

Where a novel gives you the freedom to elaborate and dive in to the depths of a scene and describe even the sharpness of a harmless pin, a short story needs to deliver the same feeling in a few crisp sentences (or words). Come to think of it, short story writing is more of a challenge. It has the constraints of time and space and words and characters. In those few pages, you have to engage the reader so much that (s)he understands the plot, relates and connects with the characters, and doesn’t lose interest till the last word. That’s when a short story is truly acknowledged.
A novel gives the writer the levy of spinning a beautiful and lavish yarn that the reader is comfortable reading for a few pages before proceeding to the next scene.

Loosely structured sentences, clumsy dialogues, weak descriptions not only repulse the reader but also the publisher. Which brings me to one of the very important points – finding a publisher.
No doubt you can self-publish your work. But it would not gain as much visibility in the market. Social networking sites might help you to a certain extent. But that’s all. Promotions on a few blogging sites, sharing it with friends, family and acquaintances and maybe a few random stumblers is all you’d be able to gather. If you do look at the commercial aspect, finding a good publisher would become one of the priorities.

No doubt, India still has a long way to go when it comes to publishing a short story collection or an anthology. For some reason, publishers prefer full length novels over short stories.
It is only recently that new publishers like Grey Oaks Publications are coming out with continuous series of anthologies, giving budding writers a fair chance. Bigger and renowned players likePenguin, Rupa, Cedar, etc. have opened up more with bigger brands organizing short story competitions that publish deserving stories. Recent offerings that I’ve really appreciated include Urban ShotsDown The RoadSome Of The Whole, etc.

Reading the works of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, and other seasoned authors raise your expectations, no doubt, with the kind of presentation, plot and ideation they offered. Their style is what set them apart. And looking for such gratification today, I confess, is a bit difficult. It is a task. A tough one. Budding authors most give it an honest try, and we readers must appreciate the efforts.

Now, talking about full length novels, they aren’t all that easy either. Definitely more time consuming and involving. The plot needs to be reasonable enough to keep the reader hooked till the last page. A couple of main characters with a few minor characters; a main plot with sub-plots around it; ample amount of research; immense effort and patience; all sum up the process of a decent full length novel writing.
Also, length and quality are not synonyms. Quite a few times, an author, in the zeal to increase the word count ends up sacrificing the structure and quality of the plot.

Though getting a publisher is comparatively easy; and signing off as an author of a novel is more appealing than a short story writer, it is the quality that makes a novel a best seller.

Given a choice, I’d pick up a collection of short stories over a novel. To read as well as to write.

What about you- a short story collection or a full length novel?

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Comically Tuned

We all love going through the small comic strips that appear in newspapers. There is something about them that always catches our attention. No, it not just about the instant smile that they bring, but the satire on certain socio-political or other critical issues that hooks us on to the graphical representation. The works of R.K. Laxman and Suraj ‘Eskay’ Sriram are cases in point.

Come to think of it, amongst the first things a baby is taught or shown are pictures.
And right from our childhood, reading comics is one of our greatest indulgences.

Kids would create havoc if their monthly subscription didn’t arrive or wasn’t handed to them. Well, at least that was the case in my house.

I remember, my brother and I had an entire rack full of ChandamamaTinkleJataka TalesBahadur (Indrajal Comics),Chacha Chaudhary and Sabu, Pinky, Billoo, Shrimatiji, Shikari ShambhuAkbar and BirbalTantri the Mantri, Suppandi, Nagraj (snake king) whose powers are based on ancient Hindu tales, and various other characters from Amar Chitra Katha, Gotham Comics and Diamond Comics.


Then came Western comics in the form of Archie’s, TinTinAsterix,Dennis the MenacePopeye the sailorSpidermanSuperman, Batman, X-Men and their ilk.

But as we grew up, comics had to take a back-seat – given the academic overload.

Not to forget the advent of television, followed by umpteen animated series on cartoon channels, which was closely followed by the highly engrossing game consoles and the internet lure. Comics and graphic novels lost their readers almost in a jiffy. And surprisingly, us, readers did not seem to miss our “once-upon-a-time-favorite” characters too. Somehow, Mario and Luigi seemed more interesting and car racing was more fun than reading and laughing over Suppandi’s idiocracy.

And soon, comics almost disappeared.

But just like other things in life that have undergone revamping, comics too seem to have come back in a new rejuvenated form.

A new wave of graphic novelists has emerged, in the recent past, to shake up the art form. We no longer see conventional centuries-old myths and folktales adorning the covers of comic books. The new crossover Indian superheroes have gained popularity and a wider audience amongst the adults as well. And subjects now range from subtle social messages about the environment and society to bolder issues of homosexuality and politics.

New-age artists are looking to create brand new superheroes that are quintessentially Indian to see off competition from the likes of Spiderman and Batman.
Amongst the new-age cartoonists and graphic novel designers, we have Sarnath Banerjee, whose graphic novel “Corridor” is set in New Delhi and delves into politics and sex. Sarnath is known to write and develop comics through his keen observations.

River of Stories” by Orijit Sen, that released around 1994 in black-and-white, dealt with the social and environmental impact of a controversial dam, and prompted changes even among traditional comic publishers in India.

Kari” by Amruta Patil, the writer also known as India’s first female graphic artist, centers on a suicidal lesbian and has been dubbed India’s first gay graphic novel. And another, “Kashmir Pending,” by Naseer Ahmed and Saurabh Singh, seen through the eyes of a reformed militant in jail in the disputed region.

A recent Mumbai based start-up, Vimanika Comics, aims to bridge the gap between historical narratives and graphic novels, giving mythological characters a 21st century facelift.
From what I gather, the company’s “The Sixth” series shows Karna, a warrior from the ancient Indian epic “Mahabharata,” in a modern light. The series starts as a high-flying businessman, suffering from recurrent nightmares, discovers he is the reincarnation of Karna.

Another publisher, Campfire, based in New Delhi, is about to launch “Ravana: Roar of the Demon King,” a graphic novel of a story retold over centuries in India but this time seen through the eyes of its primary antagonist — the demon king Ravana.

Fresh initiatives like Manta Ray, Level 10, Random, Abstraction, World Comics India (an NGO floated by young artists, who pick tales of common man’s heroism) Cartoon Watch, Comix.India, Creative Gaga, and many others aim to offer a platform to new talent. This alone shows the uprising the industry is about to notice soon.

Even the virtual world of web-comics has managed to entice readers.
I read this recently and decided to bring it everyone’s notice as well:


Kshiraj Telang has more than a thousand comic strips, many around the middle-class status symbol – a pug puppy on the web. Badmash is created by and aimed at the Indian diaspora. Curry Bear Comics is another popular Indian webcomic that revolves around three South Asian college students and their White friends, taking a dig at the Indian students at odds in America. Fly, You Fools (webcomic) deals with the daily irritants of life in India. Arbit Choudhury, regarded as the world’s first MBA comic character had to be created in India. Though, another Dilbert is what we are waiting for, to comment on our cutely corrupt and jugadu Indian work culture, Sunny Kris, a web comic, focuses on the unique idiosyncrasies of an Indian workplace.

And this is just the beginning.

Bringing back and boosting the fading love for comics, India recently saw the first Comic Con being held in the Nation’s capital, popularizing graphic novels and comics in India.
I heard that the two day convention saw more than 15,000 fans relishing the art in its new avatar. Fans dressed up as various characters, from American superheroes and villains such as Superman, Wolverine, and Harley Quinn to local Indian heroes like Chacha Chaudhary.
The festival had stalls for comics and graphic novels as well as workshops, activities and book launches. Illustrators, cartoonists, designers were awarded and felicitated for their contribution to the world of comics and fun.

Comic Con India also saw many new comics being launched – including “Uud Bilaw Manus: Back with a Vengeance” by young Adhiraj Singh, which shows off a new Indian superhero: a half-otter-half-human from the post-apocalyptic fictional place of “Beehar” in northern India, who fights corrupt officials, among others. That seemed somewhat striking. No matter how modern or western the graphics look; the stories, the subjects and the emotions that it carries is very distinctively local in flavor.
Sumit Kumar’s The Itch You Can’t Scratch, is an adult book, not by common connotations attached to adulthood-sex, but because of its stark honesty.

Amazingly, the sales over the two days at Comic Con spoke volumes about the love for comic books that still exists in a country like ours.

Overall, not just the sales, but the sheer enthusiasm and spectacular attendance and excitement shown by the people stands to prove that comics and graphic novels will never vanish. They had and always will find space in our hearts and bookshelves.

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Book Review of “The Itch You Can’t Scratch” by Sumit Kumar

The Itch You Can’t Scratch

Sumit Kumar



The blurb on the book read:

A Former Writer For Savita Bhabhi, Sumit Kumar Takes The Reader Through His Short But Eventful Life. From The Absurd To The Comical, From Mundane Activities To Mind Blowing Realizations, From Entrepreneurship To Embarrassment. This Is A Self Effacing, Honest View Of The Life Of A Young, Confused Man Suffering From An Acute Case of The Itch You Can’t Scratch.

And rightfully so this book offers all that and much more. Maybe even an itch to read more from Sumit Kumar.

Insanely and extremely funny, witty, quirky, and highly captivating, this book gives a whole new outlook and meaning to “comics” in India. No one can escape Sumit’s radar – not even Sumit himself. Simple plots, tight satire, sarcasm to its max – what more could you ask for!?!

The content, the graphics and the presentation –awesome!

The ideation and the thought behind it all – Legend…wait for it…Ary!!!

It’s expensive no doubt. But then who said humor is cheap.

Go for it. It’s totally worth the money.

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Book Review of “The Boss Is Not Your Friend” By Vijay Nair

The Boss Is Not Your Friend

By Vijay Nair

(A Handbook For Indian Managers To Survive All Things Organizational)

Vijay Nair’s The Boss Is Not Your Friend challenges many theories of self-help management books.

It is more of a good guide to the “real” corporate world and the authorities that somewhat rule it. The book reveals the ugly truth that not many “management gurus” wish to spill. Presenting a collection of true life incidents of people from various corporate worlds, the book takes a dig at the Indian work culture and the people involved. Like: employees are not encouraged to ask questions, but to take orders; it is good to maintain a certain distance from your colleagues and your boss, lest your work gets affected; butter up your boss before the appraisal or be sly in getting a promotion.

Quite refreshing in its style with real life incidents and an interesting set of questionnaire to help classify the different kinds of bosses, and practical advice on how to deal with each type.
The six categories of bosses are quite aptly described, bringing in humor and practicality in dealing with such bosses. The Oily Oyster, The Vicious Viper, The Flattering Fraud, The Crafty Conman, The Burly Bastion, and The Horny Harry.

The narrative is quite funny and contemporary, and highlights latest scams of the corporate world.

The book is definitely unique in approach; offers intelligent pointers; and very realistic in nature. I’d say give it a read to know the truth behind corporate success.

Moral of the book: Beware of your boss. ‘It’ is not your friend.

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Book Review of “Jab Se You Have Loved Me” By S R Saha


The book titled “Jab se You have Loved Me” by S R Saha is quite silly I must say.

The backdrop of IIT Madras will remind you of the umpteen other novels based on college campus love and drama.

Atin, the protagonist is a student of IIT Madras. He is a mediocre student and ends up selling cheap Chinese gadgets (after graduating) for a living, in Kolkatta.

He falls in love with a pretty dame named Ujani, a graduate in Bio-Sciences, who ends up working as an airhostess.

Atin’s gang comprises Luv, Iqbal, Russell Raj, and Rumia. Luv starts off to be a CA but ends up working for a stock broker. Iqbal is a Philosophy graduate but now runs a shop. Russel Raj has a Ph.D from an American University but is unemployed. Rumia is a fine electrical engineer but her sad childhood haunts her.

How their life shapes up is supposed to be one story. But I hardly found it.

There seems no concrete flow. It reads like certain humorous incidents penned together to make the readers laugh at some odd places. That too looks forced and lame at places.

The timeline is a major problem with the author I feel. At one point he mentions that Caller IDs were new gadgets in the Indian market and at another point he reveals that Obama is the US President. Dude! What is going on?!?

There’s major confusion. How does he get the new offer letter? How did the riots suddenly happen? And in the three days of him being unconscious, his aunt has already re-married and Luv kinda goes missing. WOW! That’s fast.

Oh, and this hero manages to convince the Americans to use water instead of toilet paper. Yeah sure! Something that hasn’t happened in like a thousand years, our hero does it in one meeting!

There are quite many popular brands mentioned in the book. And I see no logical point to those. I mean really! It is quite filmy and flimsy.

Overall, the incidents are worth reading only for the bit of laughter they bring in. No real story. No real plot. (And by real I don’t mean- real life- I mean no good stuff happening here.)

Btw- bad quality paper and sad cover design too.

Though I got it for a reasonable price, it hurt to spend money on “this”.

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Interview With Rikin Khamar

Not many know about the man whose first book has garnered rave reviews and is topping the bestseller charts steadily. We are talking about a bright new author Rikin Khamar and his first book
The Lotus Queen.

There’s more about this bright author who grew up in London; enjoyed his vacations in India; professionally is a business strategy advisor; a passionate photographer and artist; and a poet by choice.

The Lotus Queen, is the story of the beautiful and spirited Queen Padmini. Based on actual historical events and figures, the novel is a tribute to one of India’s greatest heroines. Set in the backdrop of 14th century Rajasthan, the narrative weaves together a tale of love, friendship, and inner courage.


Tell us something about your growing up years in London – campus life in London and the vacations in India. Was it during your early days that your tryst with writing began? And how did the shift to Dubai happen?

Wow – this question covers my whole life! I guess the short answer is that my life growing up and even now is filled with the people that I love and books that have become as close to me as some of my friends. My early days were filled with memories of being either very British or very Indian activities or surroundings. I guess being in Dubai allows me to have the best of both!
As for writing, I didn’t really set out to be a writer. I have always been an avid reader, and thought unless you can write as well as the greats, you should really bother. Ultimately, however, as with many authors I imagine, my writing has just powered its way through the surface – spurred on by the Legend of Queen Padmini, and my need to create something, something on paper. How good it is, and how it is received only time (and my readers and publishers) will tell!

We read somewhere that you are a senior business strategy advisor for a global real estate and finance company. How do you balance time off to write, given the fact that strategy advisors barely can spare time for family sometimes?
The honest answer is that I can’t. People can choose to be the best in a certain part of their lives, but that usually means trading it off with another part. I imagine great writers often have to sacrifice some part of their personal lives to do what they do best. As for me, I cannot make that sacrifice so fully. I am content to be good at many different areas than great in just one. I have a family, and I have a job that takes up twelve hours of my day, and so writing usually comes last. I would love for that to change in the future but I guess for now it remains a passion that unfortunately occupies very little of my time,

What triggered the passion for photography and painting? How and when did ‘Invisible Horizons’ commence?

I have always loved art – since I could hold a pencil or a brush. For me, I have always been fond of sketching Animals and Nature. I still have sketches of trees since I was four and portfolio of sketches of African animals made during my teenage years. As I grew older, somehow art or love for nature seemed to creep into my life – I found myself working next door to the National Gallery in London, taking my wife on our honeymoon to Cuba, or my holidays in Nepal or Africa.
Since I have no training as painter or an artist, I turned to photography. Invisible Horizons project is just a collection of my favourite pictures that I wanted to see showcased. It is a private project that perhaps is there just to forcing me to search for beauty in the world around me.

How and when did you start penning poetry? When do we get to read Voices Of Silence?

How did I start? I am not entirely sure. It just came out of me one day, when I was at an extremely difficult point in my life. Somehow the poetry provided a release for my sorrow. Since then I have begun, extremely fitfully, to write poems whenever I feel the urge to. Sometimes I write three poems in one go – other times years have passed between poems. ‘Voices of Silence’ is an apt title for this collection – the voices of the silence inside of me. I wrote my first poem roughly when I was eighteen.

As for when do you get to read it…as soon as a publisher agrees to publish it! But given my newcomer status, and the limited appetite for poetry, I don’t imagine that will be anytime soon. I am looking for an outlet for my work, for now there are some examples up on my website.


How did you venture into short story writing? 
House in Ali Bagh, that featured in ‘Urban Shots’ is set in Delhi and is about an old house that is about to be pulled down. But the night before a construction worker experiences something extraordinary. How did the ideation of this story come about?
To answer with a metaphor, I honestly no idea where the where meal came from, but do recognise the ingredients. My wife is from Delhi, so the environment and the house itself comes from my various experiences exploring that sprawling paradoxical city. The seeing the supernatural or super-sensorial is one that I have always desired or wished for, and is a theme of one of my favourite authors L Adams Beck. Largely forgotten, she wrote some unique stories about seeing the ‘real’ world behind the veil of our everyday perception. One particular book, the Ninth Vibration, has probably been the strongest influence on me as a writer. Looking back on it, I think the urge is almost universal – don’t we all want to have an experience with the other world? Isn’t that the object of meditation? Of fantasy itself?

However, where and how the story itself came about I am not sure. My dear friend, and fellow author (and now publisher) persuaded me to submit the story to his evaluation team at Grey Oak. That’s how it came to be in Urban Shots.




Talking about Demon Diaries – are those random doodling ventures or are they true thoughts about the sham our real world offers?

Hehe, a bit of both. Demon diaries is my experiment with myself; stripping away my everyday mundane, emotionally-charged thoughts to reveal an undercurrent of my thinking. It sounds very lofty, but I guess it’s something that’s for me allows me to tap into something deep inside myself. Most of it is therefore a good serving of doodles with some side servings of meaningful insight.


Talking about The Lotus Queen –how did the ideation of the story come about? What prompted you to pick a historical figure (Queen Padmini)? What kind of research did this require? How much time did you take to wrap up the book?
The idea of the story first came about during a family holiday in Rajasthan. We were driving to Udaipur, when we took a detour and visited the fort Chittor. It is not an understatement to say, the fort blew my mind. Or perhaps more accurately got me dreaming. Where the rest of my family saw ruins, I saw gleaming palaces, and tragic queens. Finally a year later, I decided to put pen to paper and the result is The Lotus Queen.

Research for the book was conducted through my visits to Chittor, and through books and the internet. Given obscurity of the era, I had to be informed not just about the events, but about the people: what they wore, what was used in warfare, what was the layout of the fort at the time, etc…,. This was crucial to forming my own version of the story in my head. To answer the last question, I wrote very, very quickly; finishing the heart of the book in less than two months. However, for different reasons, the book then stayed on my shelf for almost seven years. Finally, last year I revisited, and rewrote, the book in about four months.

Apart from indulging in the creative world, what do you like doing the most?
Spending time with my daughter and wife – my ‘real’ world! I usually love lounging at the beach near my house, sitting at a shisha bar with my friends, or watching a movie at home.

What next do we see from your desk? A novel? A short story? A different genre?
I am right now trying to finish the planning around the second in the ‘Chittor’ series – which will cover the events of the second siege during the 16th Century. Given my pace, I hope to have a first cut done over the next year. I would love to keep working on some short stories in the meantime – but sometimes I feel it’s harder to write a short story – it has to be extremely well written and to the point, and that something which requires a lot of inspiration, and of course, practice.

In the future I would love to experience with the mystery and horror genres – I am a big fan of books like Dracula and stories with a twist from authors such as Poe, Dahl, Du Maurier and Saki. A collection of spooky tales perhaps?
Would you like share one thing about:

–          Rikin the author that not many people know?
I am worried about my sacrificing my time away from my family and work to write. Isn’t it selfish, isolationist pursuit after all? At the same time, it’s something that I love and makes me happy…go figure!
–          Rikin the person that not many people know? 
Two of my principal mottos are ‘Try everything at least once’ and ‘Don’t be afraid to go the extra mile in any task that you do…’


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