14 Jul 2010

Leave them books alone!

The drums have started beating faster – presumably announcing the death of the ‘physical’ book in the near future. It’s the age of PADS and PODS and everything is hyphenated with an ‘e’ or an ‘i’. Who would want to hold a dumb ol’ book between the thumb and pinky and ONLY read...when one can squint into some screen (held in one hand) and use just a thumb to scroll (same hand if you are deft, other hand if you are daft) and read a novel, download MP3s of Scissor Sisters, shop for the vitamins, upload photos of one’s big toe (that’s the status update for that particular minute) and also tweet about Lady Gaga’s latest wig? Wow! I just framed the world’s longest and incoherent question.

The point is, if you are like me...then we are possibly the minority section that are going into the future kicking and screaming. I don’t hate technology. I just adapt to stuff slowly. More than a decade ago, when broadband was a hair accessory (as far as I was concerned broad band was a type of hair band) and VSNL was the only option for dial-up internet connections, I scoffed at geeks who had an email ID. When potential employers threatened to inform my interview results through emails, I had no option but to log on. Before long, I was an unwilling convert and I became the average-jane IT consultant, responsible for creatively coming up with more bullshit than the environment guys. Finally, just before I completely sold out my soul to Satan, I quit to smell the roses etc. Then, I discovered Facebook...and that all my schoolmates are on Facebook. Now I am back in their lives after 18 years, plaguing them 24/7 across time zones and geos. I am not yet on twitter. I don’t have so many thoughts to qualify for twitter. Besides, brevity has never been the soul of whatever little wit I have. I’ll get there someday. Meanwhile, I love to shop online. I love Print-on-Demand. I love all these technologies that have made me sit on my ass and reach out to the world, without having to meet, touch, or talk to humans who are alive and kicking. BUT! But what I don’t love is reading a book online. Or rather, reading it off a computer screen or any screen for that matter. This invention makes me froth...it’s viler than the nuke bomb if you ask me.

Not that I’ve not tried. There is a website called Project Gutenberg. They have legally published digitised version of thousands of literature classics. This website has saved my life several times; especially during meetings where my brain matter could have oozed out due to the pressure of boredom. During grim meetings where we discussed ‘why something sucked, and why it will continue to suck and why we can’t prevent it from sucking’; I would read Bram Stoker’s Dracula online. I would have a terrified expression on my face, and thoroughly concentrate on the laptop screen – an ideal gesture during sombre meetings. During light-hearted status update meetings which threatened to spill over by 120 billion minutes, I would read Tom Sawyer. The flip side was that I was going cross-eyed staring at the screen (yes the screen came with anti-glare technology). My eyes would puff like a tea bag and go bloodshot like that of an OD’d junkie. Why would anyone go through this torture?

At home, we are collectors of books. I especially love second-hand book stores. Not because the books come cheap...but because each book comes with a history. My father had picked up G.B. Shaw’s Three Plays for Puritans way back in the 1970s. This has handwritten notes in neat loopy handwriting dated sometime in the 1950s! What a journey this book must have had! Wonder which dapper young man of the 1950s must have read and relished this book! Similarly, there is a leather bound book on ‘Essays on English Literature’ – a 1960s edition, which was bought in 1970s for an extravagant sum of Rs.3! This one too has underlined passages and notes written in impeccable handwriting. A Chase novel came with a list of groceries, a collection of Thoreau’s poetry was dedicated to ‘My Queen’ and so on.

Even now, whenever I visit my Dad, I raid his book collection. I love the faint smell of naphthalene that wafts from the yellowed pages – and pleasant memories of lazy summer holidays bubble up. Dried ferns, or the petals of a rose, or the gold foil wrapping of a chocolate were my book marks. Some books stayed in the mind more than ever. The passages were Darcy confesses his feelings for Elizabeth made my romantic soul thrum like a plucked guitar string. These passages were visited again and again, and read out softly. Sigh! Or when the murderer is revealed in the end of an Agatha Christie story...what surprise! And I would read all over again, the passages where the murder appeared earlier on in the story and marvel at the characterisation. So do you get it? I don’t see myself scrolling up and down a foul computer screen to revisit a passage. How utterly senseless and annoying!

The best end to a day would be curling up in bed all nice and warm and reading an absorbing, thick-as-a-brick paperback till the wee hours of the morning. If you are like me...you’d want to devour the book to see how it ends – but at the same time, you don’t want to stop reading ever, because the book is so good! And so, every time I insert a bookmark, I look at the thickness of the remaining pages and think how many more hours of bliss remains? And to think all this will disappear in the years to come...I can only wish the 2012 doomsday predictions are true!

I imagine myself lying on the proverbial death bed and croaking to my grand children (hopefully, at least one would have inherited the love of reading), “Here is the microchip that contains my book collection. Unfortunately I busted the screen while searching for my dentures...so you will have to buy a new one and insert this chip.” ARRRGGGGHHHH.

So here is a compromise that I suggest. Why don’t you techno buggers shove up all those text books into these *PADS? At least school kids will not have to carry the going-to-Antarctica school bags. And can someone please pass a law banning novels from being digitized?

In any case let me know if you sons-of-Lucifer will still go ahead with this e-thingie and phase out books. I will sell my house and liquidate my savings and buy all possible books and live in a bunker.

12 Jul 2010

Meet Our Author - Vikram Karve

VIKRAM KARVE born in Baramati Pune and educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU Varanasi and The Lawrence School Lovedale Ooty, is an electronics and communications engineer by profession, a human resource and training manager by occupation, a teacher by vocation, a creative writer by inclination and a foodie by passion.

An avid blogger, he has written a large number of fiction short stories, professional, technical and management articles, self help and philosophical musings and creative non-fiction pieces in magazines and journals for many years before the advent of blogging. Vikram lives in Pune with his family and pet Doberman girl Sherry, with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.
Do have a look at Vikram Karve’s creative writing blog at: http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com and his Professional Profile at: http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve

1. How did the idea for the book come about?
I love good food. I love walking. So I love going on long walks exploring, searching for authentic food wherever I go. I got the idea for writing about food while “food-walking” on the streets of Mumbai a few years ago.

2. When do you think you really became passionate about food? Or better yet, when do you think you realized it?
I knew I was passionate about food when I realized that most of the time I was thinking about good food – this happened when I was in college.

3. Tell us why readers will enjoy ' Appetite for a Stroll'?
Appetite for a Stroll is a unique book of foodie adventures breathtaking in its simplicity which surely has something for you – you’ll discover authentic eateries you’ve never been to before, it’s got recipes you’ve never read before, tips on the art of eating, a delicious journey which you can easily identify with, especially if you are a foodie or a wanderlust person.

4. What's your favorite recipe from the book?

5. Do you cook yourself?
Yes, I love cooking as much as I love eating.

6. What was the first dish that you were really proud of?
The first dish I was proud of was CHICKEN DO PIAZA which I improvised during an impromptu dinner for friends who suddenly landed up with a broiler chicken and asked me to cook it for them.

7. What sets you apart from other food writers?
I am a genuine simple earthy trencherman, an ardent foodie, who honestly believes in the maxim “There is no love greater than the love of food”.

8. Could you share a favorite recipe?
Of course I’d love to share my favorite recipe… It’s called EGGS VODKA and a KISS…a story and a recipe…do read it in Appetite for a Stroll on page 117.

9. Do you have any future writing plans?
Yes. I plan to become a full time writer soon. I am planning a novel (on which I am already working) and book for children and dog lovers. Maybe I will write a book on “Teaching Stories” and Wisdom and Philosophy through Humor. I also want to publish an anthology featuring a collection of my short stories written by me over the past 20 years in various magazines and in my creative writing blog and another anthology of my philosophical musings and self help articles. I will continue to write short stories, philosophical musings, food and travel writing and self help articles and continue to blog actively.

10. How was it working with CinnamonTeal Publishing?
Appetite for a Stroll is a well designed and attractively packaged book which makes an easy read and has been liked by readers. The quality of publishing is really good. I wish the book had been advertised, publicized, and marketed well and displayed in prominent bookstores and bookstalls at airports and railway stations and was easily available to readers. Appetite for a Stroll is only available online. Most readers prefer to browse and buy books in bookstores or bookstalls rather than online.

(Readers may note that CinnamonTeal has since begun offering marketing packages, for more details contact shulen @ dogearsetc.com)

9 Jul 2010

The big mystery - where is crime genre in India?

My romance with crime fiction started way back during my childhood. Thanks to Enid Blyton. Holidays, especially summer holidays meant trekking to the nearest library. The library close to my home in Malleswaram, Bengalooru, was actually a hole in the wall. It was a 10 feet by 15 feet window-less shop. Books were piled and strewn around in an organized way. The man who ran the shop had a constant sleepy expression. There was no way one could stroll around the shop and pick up a book they wanted. We had to stand near the entrance of the shop and tell him the book title. And he would find the book within a jiffy. How he did it ...I have no clue. And so, it would be some Famous Five or Secret Seven for me, a James Hadley Chase for my Dad, a Sharat Chandra for my Grandmom, a Jane Austen for my mom and a Tintin for my sister. The books would be retrieved from dark, secret corners, dusted against his trousers and handed over. As far as I remember, there was no return date stamped. My dad would give ten rupees once in a month or once in two months, depending on the number of visits.

From Famous Five, my friends and I slowly graduated to Agatha Christie. Then came the wave of American teen detective fiction – Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. By then, someone had stealthily smuggled their dad’s copy of Forsyth’s Day of The Jackal. The book made rounds – and there were hushed reviews. Why were we wasting time reading ‘crap’ like Nancy Drew? More dads had their book shelves raided. There was someone called Robert Ludlum. Someone called Sidney Sheldon. Someone called Robin Cook. They all wrote ‘mind-blowing’ thrillers.

Decades later, as life has pecked away at much of our creativity thanks to mind-numbing corporate culture, my friends and I somehow managed to retain this single-most passion for crime thrillers. (The latest doing the rounds is of course Stieg Larsson.)

But time and again, I have been puzzled to find that for a country that laps up crime fiction, we don’t have a single internationally successfully author in the crime genre. Another strange fact, crime fiction is very much alive and kicking in regional languages. It is only now that English translations of these are furiously underway (ref: http://www.mid-day.com/specials/2010/may/020510-crime-fiction-agatha-christie-novels-tv-shows.htm). In fact, the leader in crime genre in Asia is Japan apparently! I found this interesting insight from an article in the Guardian. The only Indian author who got a mention is Vikram Chandra for Sacred Games. Check out http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/aug/27/top10s.asian.crime

I can only guess the reasons behind this fact –
1) Thanks to the Booker success (Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai, Aravind Adiga), more and more authors like to follow their footsteps and write similar literature.

2) Thanks to the success of Chetan Bhagat (and I am talking about Five Point Someone), we have a sudden flurry of activity from the ‘intellectual’ class. Management grads, investment bankers, IT consultants are all pounding away on the keyboard writing slim volumes on relationships in modern India.

3) Perhaps the lack of a sophisticated and glamorous law enforcement infrastructure – like the FBI and Scotland Yard in India is another factor. In most of the international crime thrillers the crime detection is as interesting as the crime itself. Authors like Patricia Cornwell have literally built up the CSI legend in USA with her detailed forensic analysis interwoven in her stories. Not that is impossible in an Indian setting. But it would require a detailed, ground-up research into the working of our police force. Going by the books that are getting published as we speak, it looks like no author has the time, or the inclination to put in such effort.

4) Perhaps there are good manuscripts, but they are rejected – the publishers rather put money in a proven genre than try out a new one
All said and done, the Indian publishing scene shows a lot of promise – at least on the author’s front. We have a whole generation of well-travelled, well-read authors, who are unafraid to pen their thoughts. On the other hand, I don’t see the publishing end keeping up with this talent pool. There is no innovation, no creativity to encourage new genres or market good authors internationally. I guess that’s the reason why more and more Indian authors who write on offbeat subjects go through the self-publishing route, or seek out agents abroad.

If you have written a crime thriller, I would really love to hear about your experience with agents/publishers in India!