English was always my favorite subject in school. Whenever the text books would be bought for the new school year, I would pick up the English textbook and finish reading it in two hours. And the rest of the year would pass, along with examinations, without me ever studying a word of it. I was always so in love with the subject that I never studied for an English Exam and still managed to get good scores, much to the envy of some of my friends who aced through all the Math and Science papers but struggled with English.
My copy of Word Power Made Easy gathers dust somewhere. I bought it in college, the book having been recommended as practice material for my preparation for the Common Admission Test (CAT). I never used it much but I remember a friend who borrowed and sincerely worked on it every day. Now, I have never really ‘learnt’ the English language. Mostly due to my love for reading books, I know when a sentence just doesn’t ‘sound’ right. And I managed to get a 99 percentile in the English Section in CAT and getting through a good B-school (if you can call MICA one). But I still can’t distinguish between a Present Perfect and Past Participle.
I have always found most of the books on Sentence Correction and English improvement quite boring. Being made to ‘learn’ something is always tedious. However, English Bites: My Full Proof Learning Formula, authored by Manish Gupta and published by Penguin India last year, seems to be different from the other books in the genre.
Till recently, Manish Gupta used to work as a Managing Director and Head of Sales for Treasury & Trade Solutions division of a major multinational bank in India. After the release of his book, English Bites, he has now decided to take a plunge in the field of education, training, consulting, and executive coaching and will shortly start working with an organization that works for the underprivileged children at the school level.
For the readers of this website, here is a chat I had with Manish Gupta!
Manish Gupta, author of English Bites: My Full Proof Learning Formula
I ask him, ‘Have you always loved the English language?’
He replies, “To answer this question, we need to get a little bit into my background. I grew up in Rohtak, a small and sleepy town in Haryana in the 1970s and 80s. The only English I spoke was in school and that too to respond to questions of my teachers in the class. I looked down at English as an alien tongue merely suited to the narrow field of academia and with no particular use once someone got into the real economy.
As a result, I was horrible in all aspects of communication. My active vocabulary was extremely limited, pronunciations & spellings were terrible (as I refused to accept English as a non-phonetic language that it largely is), sentence construction was poor, and my fluency was severely compromised.”
I am curious what made him write this book then and he says, “It started with the thought of improving my English in Class XI after facing acute embarrassment in front of my third and final crush (and her family) when I could not speak even one correct sentence of English with a foreigner we met during a family vacation (and she did).
This thought took a serious turn once I landed-up at Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh and came face-to-face with far more fluent and erudite specimens from convent schools from metros and towns much bigger than my hometown. I also noticed how I used to get tongue-tied while attempting to make a small conversation in English with or even in front of the convent educated colleagues and that hurt…really badly.
This thought was further strengthened when I realized to my horror that English had long outgrown the narrow confines of academia and become extremely relevant and in fact an absolute necessity in the real economy. So much so, that I would need to face group discussions and interviews where my proficiency in this language will be put to the real test to get into one of the best engineering jobs offered on campus.
Having lived all my school life in disdain for this alien tongue, the grossly neglected subject of English made me realize its importance, its vastness, its complexity, and my far less than self proclaimed ‘photographic memory’ all at once. I needed something quick and in large doses to beat the convent educated types in their own game and seal the best job offered in the campus in my name and after gaining some industry experience, successfully compete with them once again for admission into a top-tier MBA program.
Hence, I set aside the word lists, my failed attempts at mugging, and started creating interesting stories and anecdotes to make indelible imprints of this foreign language in my mind. This was the genesis of the book. It took a lot of research and creativity, but it was a matter of survivability. It was the only thing that could have rescued me from definite depression and elevated me to think and speak like an erudite gentleman.”
I ask him to tell us more about his book.
“English Bites is the story of my life. It begins when I am in high school and much of the damage to my understanding and grip over the English language has already been done. It ends when, even after spending 20 years as a devoted student of the English language, and having achieved my goals of getting into engineering, securing one of the best jobs engineering has to offer, getting into a top-tier MBA program, a medico wife, kids attending convent school, and a reasonably senior position in a multinational bank, I am stumped by new discoveries every other day. So much so that I find some unfamiliar English words in the nursery rhymes of my kids. My extended student life as far as English language is concerned continues and it’s an exciting journey. Come, join the fun.’
Book Cover and Back
The reviews of the book say good things about the book. The book is a crazy mix of facts, fiction, and real-life. It is full of amusing incidents, anecdotes, jokes, and a lot of interesting trivia.
I gather the book must not have been easy to write. I ask him and he says, ‘You may find it hard to believe but this manuscript was in the making for over 20 years and this has influenced a lot of content in the book. It started as an idea in my second year of engineering way back in 1989-1990 when two of my closest friends and I resolved to publish a book each before we turned 21. I thought I had written a masterpiece by the time our final placements ended (spoiling my grades in the process) and was still a few months shy of turning 21. My other friends, who were writing on ‘quizzing’ and ‘poetry’, had pulled out of this pledge while they were still in their teens.
My manuscript then hibernated for 20 years as I got busy with my first job at Tata Motors, an MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur, my banking career at a major multinational bank, and family life. Fortunately, the handwritten version (‘manuscript’ in the real sense of the word) had survived well on loose sheets of paper, which I promptly transferred on my PC and started editing and expanding it at the same time. By the time I finished in 4 years (working on weekends), I had landed up re-writing the entire book.
When it came to publishing, I realized that there has been an explosion of books in the Indian market in the past 3-4 years. Thus, a freshly minted author had little or no chance to get his manuscript a fair evaluation with the top publication house, unless the manuscript was, in their assessment, a masterpiece and/or immensely suitable as a script of a block-buster movie. I did send it to a few publication houses directly and their lack of responses despite passionate follow-ups told me it didn’t fit either of these two categories.
Fearing I will exhaust all the top names though this route, I sought the expert intervention of a literary agent. He critically assessed the quality and marketability of the manuscript before submitting it to the select set of publishers that are interested in publishing this genre of books. It took less than 4 months after submission of the manuscript to the literary agent for me to sign a publishing contract with Penguin Books India.
Thereafter, life became hectic as I had to incorporate the extremely valid suggestions of my commissioning editor Shahnaz Siganporia, who made me connect my disparate chapters on different subjects into a single story that started from page 1 and ended at page 334. Then the copy editors Mudita Mubayi-Chauhan and Paromita Mohanchandra took over and made me relearn the rules of grammar and punctuation. Finally, after 9 months of hard labor, the book came to life.
I ask him to tell me of interesting anecdotes of things that happened while writing this book.
“The book is peppered with some of my real life experiences which were either hilarious or embarrassing or both. However, let me share with you something that I had a lot fun creating. I was battling with the word ‘bedraggled’ and knew that it had the structure and the tonal quality that demanded a good mnemonic. Not only did I succeed in making one but it took in its fold some other difficult words (highlighted in the text). The final plot compelled the reader to sharpen his or her knowledge of these words before getting to bedraggle – The meanings of the highlighted words were given as footnotes for the reader’s convenience. Here it goes:
“While sharing a cozy corner with her current heartthrob, Sarah suddenly held John’s hand and looking up, announced: ‘The firmament is azure, let’s go to the shore.’ At first, he was not sure what she was suggesting. And just as they reached the destination, the firmament began to roar, and they were caught in a downpour. While running to find some shelter, she suddenly stopped him and looking into his eyes, said, ‘Let’s get bedraggled.’
Poor John was unable to decide if it really was a flirtatious overture (courtesy the ‘bed’ in bedraggled) or if she meant something else. By a mischance, he decided to go with his initial hunch, and the stinging slap he received, ensured that for the rest of his life he would remember that to get bedraggled is to get drenched in water.”
From the book ‘English Bites’
I ask him next about his future plans.
“I guess when you write a book, you give it your all. My stock of ideas is now empty but it doesn’t mean that I will not write another book. Book sales and readers’ feedback and appreciation are extremely strong motivators in rapidly refilling one’s reservoir and giving new ideas and different perspectives to make more meaningful and interesting books. However, I would like to stick to writing in a similar genre (laugh as you learn) I feel strongly about and need to put in my bit to make sure that that language does not become a handicap for anyone to realize their ambitions and dreams!
In my personal life, I now live by the principle of learning one new skill every year (pity, I understood and adopted this only a few years ago) and have dabbled in adventure sports (like skiing, paragliding, bungee jumping) and getting off the beaten track while travelling. I plan to hone my moderate skills in singing, gardening, and cooking next. I also like to delve into human psychology and waiting for the day when someone will actually pay me for my wise counsel.”
That’s all from Manish Gupta, author of ‘English Bites’!