Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Ekkos Clan: Media Clippings

The Ekkos Clan: Publicity Posters

The Ekkos Clan - Bestselling new release

Top 20 New Release: August 20, 2013

Bestselling  Literature & Fiction: Aug 7, 2013

Bestsellers: August 7, 2013 

Bestsellers: August 13, 2013

Bestsellers: October 4, 2013

Saturday, October 19, 2013

My tryst with co-writers

My tryst with co-writers started long time back, very unexpectedly. It was just a few days before the higher secondary exams. Lately, my problem with writing had aggravated significantly. I'd noticed it for the time first time, perhaps, few years ago, before the secondary exams, when I realized that my pen would suddenly stop moving, how much ever pressure I exerted with my fingers. Later I learned that this is something called writers's cramp, a rare neurological disorder, which can't be cured easily. Certain muscles in our body can suddenly get fatigued and restrict certain actions. In my case, the action was writing. Unknown to myself, I'd given the secondary exams with writer's cramp and continued for two more years. But suddenly, just before the higher secondary exams, I realized that I was no longer able to write even a single line, effortlessly, forget writing a full paper for three hours.

Providence had been always providential to me. She'd always appeared before me at the right time, with the right solution, whenever I had a problem. This time too she appeared in front of me and flashed the solution in a wink of hers. There were a few visually challenged students in our college and they gave all the exams with the help of writers - they dictated the answers and the writers wrote on behalf of them. I went to the principal and requested him to arrange for a writer for me. A whimsical one, the principal took time to appreciate my problem. 'You've to get approval from Vikash Bhavan,' he said, asking me to go to the administrative office of the Ministry of Higher Secondary Education in Salt Lake. My mother and I went there the very next day and met the right person. The officer expected someone with no or broken hand, but was surprised to see me with everything visible in right order and number. 'You're not handicapped!' he exclaimed. The mention of the word handicap reminded me of the seats in buses and trams, reserved for physically challenged people. Was he concerned that I sat in those seats? 'Sir,' I said, 'I've writer's cramp and I can't write.'
'Why can't you write?' he asked, staring irritably at my unbroken and intact limbs.
'Sir, I've writer's cramp,' I repeated. 'The muscles on my hand get fatigued...'
'Okay,' he interrupted, and passed a white paper to me. 'Write an application,' he asked. I knew it was my test. I wrote a few lines in English, stopping at each word, and dragging the pen to the next word, as if I was lifting a heavy weight and dragging it along a rough road. I passed the test - I could prove that I was handicapped.

Next a writer was assigned to me - a stout guy, a year junior to me, who had acted, I recalled, in the role of a fat and funny villain in a mythological drama in school few years ago. The language papers went well, with me dictating the answers to my writer. The problem happened with the maths paper. While I was thinking how exactly I would 'dictate' mathematics to someone, I didn't realize that my writer had already fallen asleep. I turned back as his snores were loud enough to shake me off my contemplation. I jerked him and he sat straight, with an apologetic look. 'I'd to see a movie last night,' he said excitedly, 'and I returned to the hostel quite late. I couldn't sleep much...' He was a big fan, he said, of Ranjit Mallik, an aging Bengali actor whose latest action flick - a genre funnily interesting in Bengali films - had been released the previous Friday. I asked him to wash his face. By the time he returned, I'd already started answering the maths paper myself, struggling to write the numbers and Greek alphabets slowly. Luckily, I realized, I could somehow write the numbers, with some effort.

So, from being a writer, he became a co-writer.

Years later, I'd just completed my first book, The Ekkos Clan, and was working on my second book. I no longer needed to write with pen. Typing into a laptop luckily didn't fall under the jurisdiction of the muscles which would get fatigued in the past. So it was not an issue for me to become a writer, despite the writer's cramp. The Ekkos Clan is a fast paced mystery novel, where there was not much scope for writing about romance, love, passion, sentiments etc. It was based on lots of facts and the events happening one after another, without much break or respite either to the characters or the readers. It was like the jhala, the final movement of an Indian raga recital, where a plethora of notes are played very fast, not giving any time to any note to settle down, or linger languidly. On the contrary my second book was a romantic one where languidly lingering is the key aspect of writing. Love needs time to grow. It needs leisurely moments to appreciate the beauty, feel the passion and swim in the graceful thoughts. If there's no time, no leisure, there can't be love. It's like these lines from Ghalib I'd used in The Ekkos Clan

Fursat-e kar-o-bar-e shauq kise, zauq-e nazzarah-e jamal kahan?
Dil to dil woh dimag bhi na raha, shor-e sauda-e khatt-o-khal kahan?
Thi woh ik shakhs ke tasabbur se, ab woh ranai-e khayal kahan?

Leisure for the workings of passion, who has it? An appreciation for the glance of beauty, where is it?
Not to speak of the heart, even that mind didn’t last, the tumult of the madness of a mole, where is it?
Was in the imagination of someone, but now, that gracefulness of thought, where is it?

Love is all about fursat-e kar-o-bar-e shauq, the leisure for the workings of passion, shor-e sauda-e khatt-o-khal, the uproar of the madness over a small mole on the cheek of a woman. It's like the alaap, the first movement of an Indian raga, where there's no haste of rhythm, no bondage of meters, no laya, speed. Each note is played leisurely and allowed to settle into the depths of the senses. Each note is given enough time to gracefully float around. Each and every minute aspect of the sound is allowed to grow and create a magnificent ambiance. That's when the laya and chhanda, the tempo and the meter, the various forms of garnishing and ornamentation make sense to the listener. And this is where I realized I would falter. My style is like the jhala and what I need is the alaap, which is perhaps beyond my capabilities to create.

That was when I felt I could get a co-writer who would create the alaap for me. I tried to figure out how many such collaborations are there in Indian fiction writing. To my surprise, I realized that there are not many fictions co-authored by two people. But I found it very logical. If collaboration works in corporate houses, why can't the same work in writing? After all, a novel is also a product, like a phone or a tablet, which need diverse skills to create complimentary features all of which add up to the satisfaction of the users. The skill needed to design the attractive casing of an iPhone and that needed to create the touch screen are totally different. Both the skills need creativity and the end product, the iPhone, needs to be a perfect solution with the various solutes seamlessly disappearing in the solvent. How's that different from a novel with complimentary writing elements merged seamlessly into the plot and narration? I would provide the jhala and my co-writer the alaap.

So I started looking for a partner, someone with whom I could collaborate. But how do I go about? I registered into various literary groups in Facebook and tracked each post. Almost all appeared to be too intellectual, most of which I didn't even understand. Suddenly one day I bumped on a post, a very simple one, and I had a feeling this was what I wanted. The post was by a lady, whose name told she's a Bengali. I went to her FB page and read a few other posts. I figured she has the habit of writing something every few days and posting it on her wall. More I read more I realized I needed her to co-write my second book. That leisure, fursat-e-karobar-shauq, that attention to the small things like the tiny black mole on the cheek, that languid playing of the notes of an alaap - she has everything.

I sent her a message requesting her to read my newly released book The Ekkos Clan. 'I only read canonical books,' she said very bluntly. I understood I write non-canonical books. I didn't lose hope. I sent her a friend request. I started communicating with her and in a few days I finally divulged my intention. I believe she was more shocked than surprised with such a proposal. Out of courtesy, I believe, she agreed to check the first draft of my second book. I sent her the PDF. Very soon she said I write quite bad. 'It's cliched,' she said. Still I didn't give up. I kept on communicating with her, discussing about our common admiration for Tagore songs and music in general. But very soon a misunderstanding happened and she blocked me.

So that's what I would say a "writer's block", a nightmare to any writer!

My tryst with co-writers continues.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Lokkhi & Alokkhi

Today is Lakshmi (Lokkhi) Puja, celebrated mainly in Eastern India. "I am proudly an alokhhi", someone said in the morning. "alokkhi" is the antithesis of lokkhi, the symbol of wealth. Conventionally alokkhi is loosely used in reference to anything that's bad. It's an expression of bad luck, a euphemism for loss or lack of wealth, a bad omen. Bengali uses alokkhi as an epithet for a bad girl or a bad thought. So when I heard someone saying, "I'm proudly an alokkhi", it made me think.

The first thing I did was check for the etymology of lakshmi, the Sanskrit word, of which lokkhi is the Bengali pronunciation. I refered to the Monier Williams' Sanskrit dictionary. It says the following:

लक्ष्मी f. (cf. लक्ष्मीक) a mark , sign , token
 (with or without पाप्/ई) a bad sign , impending misfortune
 (but in the older language more usually with प्/उण्या) a good sign , good fortune , prosperity , success , happiness (also pl.)

So basically lakshmi means a mark, sign, token, which can be both good and bad. Though Monier Williams doesn't give the origin or the root of lakshmi, but mark, sign etc implies it perhaps comes from the root laksh, akin to Latin locus, meaning direction, aim, mark, sign in Sanskrit.

So this is again an interesting aspect in the evolution of languages and words - the same word meaning both good and bad.

Divine and devil both are akin to Sanskrit deva.

Asura is both god and demon. Ahura (asura) Mazda is the supreme God in Zoroastrianism. Even in Rig Veda, Varuna, one of the oldest members of the Indo-European pantheon, akin to Uranus, is sometimes referred to as the King of Asuras, against Indra, the King of Devas.

Lakshmi too means both good and bad. So lokkhi and olokkhi are both lokkhi!

Good and bad are often just two perspectives which can change totally depending on the prism through which you see. A classic example is the case of a terrorist, say a separatist, who's selflessly fighting for, say, liberation of Kashmir. For rest of India she is a terrorist, but for the people of Kashmir she is a patriot, and if she dies fighting for the cause, she would become a shaheed. Bhagat Singh is a shaheed for us, but was a terrorist to the British government.

A conventional thought, that's generally steeped into our society, often has lots of good and bad predefined, mostly without much of logic. This is good and that is bad, this is lokkhi and that is alokkhi, we often hear people saying. Whenever someone says, ki lokkhi meye, what a lokkhi or good girl, you know that the girl in question surely is a virgin, doesn't drink, doesn't go to parties, very likely sits in the first bench in the class, wears a particular type of attire where the visibility of cleavage is out of question, probably would go for an arranged marriage, and may do all compromises in life, for her parents, husband and kids. None of the parameters that would generally make a Bengali girl lokkhi has anything to do with good or bad, but still a certain type of girl is lokkhi. To refer to a particular type of good boy, we don't even bother to apply the feminine adjective lokkhi to a male - ki lokkhi chhele, what a good boy!

A girl with a typical round face without any sharp feature is often called lokkhi-shree, which may translate to good looking in English, replacing lokkhi with good. There's absolutely no reason why just a particular type of face is good. Still, we so often use these terms so casually, that we don't even think what we're saying.

Likewise we also use alokkhi, or lokkhi-chhara, deprived of lokkhi, to denote the antithesis of lokkhi, mostly without much logic.

Lokkhi and alokkhi in colloquial Bengali usage, like many such words depicting good and bad, are symbols of prejudice, orthodoxy and regressive attitude.

I feel the reason behind the evolution of the opposite dual meanings of the same word - lakshmi in this case, which means both good and bad - is perhaps to create a linguistic conscience, which would point fingers to the futility of profiling something as good and something else as bad. It actually says, what's lokkhi is also alokkhi and what's alokkhi is also lokkhi.

Coming back to the comment, "I'm proudly an alokkhi," I feel, perhaps it's her way of saying, "I'm what I am; I don't care what you call me by - lokkhi or alokkhi, I give a damn."

Technically she is correct, both do mean the same!!

Nationalism vs. Fanaticism: Discussion @ Oxford, 9 October, 2013

The newly opened Oxford book store in Connaught Place in Delhi organized a discussion around my book The Ekkos Clan on 9th October. Omair Ahmed, the acclaimed author of the book Jimmy the Terrorist had agreed to be in the panel. Shrey Goyal, the Editor-in-Chief of Mensa was in conversation with me and Omair. Though the attendance was not that great, 9th being a weekday, the discussion was one of the best I've had in any such event. After the customary introduction about my book and the motivation to choose such a topic - ancient Indian history - the discussion moved towards very serious topics.

A strong underlying theme of The Ekkos Clan is actually the futility of racial supremacy. It talks about Nazism, as an outcome of the belief in the supremacy of the Aryan race. The Germans manipulated history to claim that they were the true progenitor of the Aryan race - the term Aryan was wrongly used to actually refer to the ancient Indo-European peoples whose original language is believed to be the mother of Sanskrit, Greek, Persian, Latin, German, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Hindi-Urdu, Bengali and many other major languages of the world. The idea behind the claim of being the true progenitor of the Indo-European peoples is indirectly claiming that the Germans are in fact the forefathers of the great civilizations in Greece, Rome, Persia and India, and hence a superior race whose progeny comprise almost half the world. This feeling of superiority metamorphosed into Nazism, which was perhaps one of the worst forms of cultural or racial fanaticism.

Now the question arises, is this feeling of superiority always a vice? Nationalism, someone in the audience pointed out, is fueled by a sense of superiority. Unless I feel proud of my country, my culture, my language, unless I have a feeling that my culture is a superior one, I won't feel the fervor of patriotism, the fire of nationalism within me. Very logically the cultural renaissance that happened during the Indian Independence Movement was a major force behind instilling patriotism into the minds of millions of Indians subjugated by the British rule for centuries. The self esteem of the Indians was at its nadir, thanks to the centuries of humiliation and the well crafted propaganda by the British machinery against anything Indian.

"Charles Grant remarked that a man of real integrity in Bengal was an unusual phenomenon. James Mill wrote a pathetic book, The History of British India, ridiculing Indian culture, history, religions and languages and it was made mandatory for the East India Company officials to read that nonsene before they came to India. Alexander Duff founded a good institution like the Scottish Church College but was very vocal about his dislike for Indians and Indian culture. He ranted that Indians had no liberty, will and conscience of their own. Macaulay wanted to introduce English education in India because he felt that all the Arabic and Sanskrit literature of any value could fit on a single shelf. Isaac Taylor’s The Origin of the Aryans and W. W. Hunter’s The Annals of Rural Bengal were replete with ridiculous assertions about the inferiority of the Indian race and culture."

Under this circumstance, the first and foremost thing needed to inspire the Indians was to make them feel superior. That's where the cultural renaissance played a great role, without which it was impossible to arouse a subjugated nation, unite a fragmented nation. Lot of people wrote about the history and heritage of our country. The idea of looking back was actually to remind the Indians about her glorious past and feel superior.

But then, the same feeling of superiority was also at play behind Nazism. So where is the line between the sense of superiority that instills nationalism and that gives rise to Nazism? I don't think there's a proper line. It's a very thin line that separates nationalism from fanaticism. The Germans were no doubt patriotic. So were the Indians who fought for freedom, strongly feeling that a great nation like India couldn't be but free. But then what differentiated the Germans from the Indians. Perhaps, the Indians were proud of their culture and believed that they belonged to a superior civilization, but they were not envious of an equally superior civilization in their vicinity - that of the Persians.

At this point Omair brought in a very interesting perspective. He said that superiority, when becomes an absolute thought or feeling, leads to decline. What's now superior may not be superior forever, and the moment one realizes this thought, she would always strive to be superior. But when one believes that her superiority is an absolute truth, she stagnates, and that's why, perhaps, both Latin and Sanskrit died, despite having royal patronage. Latin and Sanskrit were no doubt superior languages sometime in the past, but they failed to evolve, grow, because people felt that they were absolute superior languages without any need to grow or evolve.

A very interesting analogy can be drawn from the corporate world. In the recent past Kodak, the company that had invented digital photography and that had been synonymous to photography for hundred years suddenly died. Nokia, which once had 80% market share in mobile phones also died - Microsoft bought them. Blackberry, which had the most secured mailing service for smartphones, is also at the verge of death. In all these three cases, the companies were superior at some point of time, but still died, because, perhaps, they failed to maintain their superiority, which is not an absolute thing. Once superior, doesn't mean always superior.

Now coming back to fanaticism I pointed out the case of linguistic fanaticism rampant in various forms throughout India. Major literary big shots were on roads in Bangalore, few years back, to demand classical language tag for Kannada, as Tamil and Telugu were already classical languages. The people who were fighting for a 'classical language' tag for Kannada, did feel that their language was superior, but at the same time they were envious about Tamil and Telugu. Bengali, my mother tongue, is one of the youngest languages and it's far from being tagged ever as a classical language. But do I've any sense of inferiority for this. On the contrary, I feel that Bengali is one of the best languages. My sense of superiority is irrespective of the status of any other language around. I don't care if Tamil is a much older language than Bengali.

People who were demanding the classical language tag for Kannada were border line fanatics, but of course not me.