Category Archives: Non Fiction

Some ‘bites’ from Manish Gupta, author of English Bites

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_Author

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.’

English Bites_Front and Back Cover

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.”

eng bites

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’!

You can check out reviews on Goodreads | Flipkart | Amazon India for more information about the book.

Book Review: Hitched – The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage by Nandini Krishnan

The question of marriage hovers threateningly over every woman in India, as much as she may want to avoid it. Every single person in our society thinks it is their duty to make sure every single girl gets married (either that or sympathize with the parents of an unmarried girl). With more girls stepping out of homes and giving equal priority to a career and family life, it gets increasingly difficult to find a suitable boy. Hitched : The Modern Woman and Arrange Marriage is a collection of stories about real life women (and some men) and how they have maneuvered the difficult lanes of arranged marriage. It is also something like a how-to with different women giving advice.

02_HITCHED_KVS_1586275g

The author, Nandini Krishnan (Image Source)

The author has spent a lot of time in talking to women from different backgrounds and religions and with different expectations of the kind of life partner they wanted (and luckily got). It also features stories of women who have not been very successful with arranged marriage which they ventured into for entirely wrong reasons. The author tries to put rest all the worries that a girl might have when contemplating arranged marriage.

What the book says seem very authentic and a reader would connect as it indirectly comes from the mouth of various couples that the author has interviewed. It’s also witty as it talks about funny first meetings and strangely behaving prospective grooms.

The book will make you laugh at some places and encourage you at another. It may seem at some point that women take marriage as something you can’t avoid and make your best with whatever you get. That is because of the wide spectrum in which the author has conducted her interviews, with only one thing in common- they are all modern women who are independent and don’t wish to compromise their happiness any longer for the sake of ever complaining parents-in-laws or the pressures of conforming to standards of society.

About the book: Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage | Nandini Krishnan | Random House India | Non Fiction | 253 pages | Rs. 299.

Note: A copy of this book was provided by the publishers, Random House India, for review.

Readers Recommend #1

Sometime last month, I put up a post on the facebook page (Yes, you need to go and ‘like‘ it otherwise you miss out on all the book related updates!) asking people for their recommendations. So here is the first ‘Readers Recommend’ post. Find below some of the books recommended by readers of this blog:

1. At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

img_0637

Image Source

Abhiroop Banerjee, is reading  At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson. He recommends this book and says, “This book is a rambling, indulgent look at the history of everyday domestic life that sheds brilliant new light on mundane things that we now take for granted, e.g. salt and ice, bathrooms and plumbing, privacy and soap, bedrooms and kitchens, cupboards and chairs, and so much more. While I don’t read much non-fiction, Bryson is a hot favorite because of his insatiable curiosity and the lengths he goes to feed it!”

Quotes from the book:

“I refer of course to the soaring wonder of the age known as the Eiffel Tower. Never in history has a structure been more technologically advanced, materially obsolescent, and gloriously pointless all at the same time.”

“So, if people didn’t settle down to take up farming, why then did they embark on this entirely new way of living? We have no idea – or actually, we have lots of ideas, but we don’t know if any of them are right. According to Felipe Fernández-Armesto, at least thirty-eight theories have been put forward to explain why people took to living in communities: that they were driven to it by climatic change, or by a wish to stay near their dead, or by a powerful desire to brew and drink beer, which could only be indulged by staying in one place.”

Abhiroop lives in New Delhi, loves books and harbors a secret affection for cows. 😛

Buy links for At Home: A Short History of Personal Life by Bill Bryson.

2. I know why the caged bird sings by Maya Angelou

i-know-why-the-caged-bird-sings

Image Source

Maya Angelou is a wonderful poet and one of the greatest voices of contemporary literature. The book has been on my wish list since a long time and I am hoping to buy it soon when I finish with some of the books I have now.

Shreya liked it for the “author’s style of writing making it a great read for an autobiography and her vivid descriptions of her childhood struggle through racism and trauma.”

Quotes from the book:

“Ritie, don’t worry ’cause you ain’t pretty. Plenty pretty women I seen digging ditches or worse. You smart. I swear to God, I rather you have a good mind than a cute behind.”

“But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.”

Shreya Thakur lives in Surat and is currently reading Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

Buy links for I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou:

3. Oh, the Places you’ll go by Dr. Seuss

oh-the-places-youll-go-mommaImage Source

Theodore Seuss Geizel was an American poet and cartoonist, widely known for his children’s picture books, written and illustrated under the name Dr. Seuss. ‘Oh, the places you’ll go’ is the perfect philosophical book but at the same time amazingly simple.

Akshay Jain recommends this book, saying,”It’s an easy, fifteen minute read, which inspires us to explore the unknown and live at the edge !”

Quotes from the book:

“And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!

So…
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!”

Akshay Jain is an engineer by education, lives in Ahmedabad and is currently reading Games People Play : The Psychology of Human Relationships by Eric Berne.

Buy links for Oh, the places you’ll go by Dr. Seuss:

I aim to make Readers Recommend a permanent feature on the blog. So, all you need to do is LIKE the facebook page and post a book recommendation along with what you are currently reading on the timeline. If you have a blog too, please do not forget to include the link to your blog! You can also follow me on twitter and tweet your recommendation.

Lady, you’re not a man !

I finished reading ‘Lady, you’re not a man’ by Apurva Purohit, on a journey back from Mumbai.

20130809090632_book cover - hi-res

Image: Source

I went to Mumbai as I was one of the 25 shortlisted persons for Bloomberg TV’s show ‘The Pitch’. The fact that I didn’t make it to the top ten meant that I did not have a return ticket planned and paid for. There was also the possibility of staying an extra day in Mumbai, the next day being a holiday for ‘Rakshabandhan’. It also meant a chance to meet up old friends, make some new ones, spend some time watching the waves lash on to the shore at Marine Drive,most importantly a break from the ‘adult’ world that I suddenly felt thrust into, after my post graduation, which sometimes felt a little stifling after all the freedom I got at MICA. Hence, I was looking forward to spending time in Mumbai. Mumbai, that supposedly safe and sound place. The city that never sleeps.

And while I was re-blogging a poem called ‘Free’ (oh, the irony!) on this website on Independence Day, a journalist was being gang raped in the city that never sleeps. The fact that she was a photo journalist assumes more importance than the person she is. Why? Because, most of the times, our professions define us, some thing without which we’d be quite lost. Your profession gives you independence and a lot of times, it becomes a quiet source from where to derive strength and confidence. But what if our identity gets lost some day? What to do, if it’s just not safe any longer? Do you sit at home, ‘protected’ ? Of course, that would be an equally foolish thing to do, considering the number of rapes that happen AT home.

This was supposed to be a straight forward review of the book ‘Lady, you’re not a man’ and a Q&A with the author, Apurva Purohit, CEO of Radiocity. However, after hearing the news about the recent gang rape in Mumbai, I guess this has turned out to be something more.

The book Lady, you’re not a man by Apurva Purohit is about how women face a lot of challenges both at home and at work. Prime among them, are concerns of the glass ceiling, stereotyping of women, safety of women in the workplace, handling both domestic and professional life at the same time, etc. Apurva Purohit regales you with witty stories which illustrate her reasoning. Her writing is smart, crisp and funny. She tells you how you can succeed even if there are some odds stacked behind you. It’s also how, as a woman, you need to realize that even men face stereotyping and certain things are unfair to men too.

The book is quite relevant to women like me who are working and especially to others who are  both married AND working. If you take me for an example, I work in the FMCG Industry. It being only 4 months since I joined, I am at a Management Trainee position, at a stage where I am expected to learn the in and outs of the market, work in the same way that my sub ordinates would work, till I am deemed ‘ready’ to be given the responsibility of managing people. It’s not a proper ‘corporate’ job (the definition of ‘corporate’ being a job in an air conditioned office), according to my mother, much to her annoyance. It involves  getting your hands dirty handling distributors, salesmen, store owners every day and not to forget, travelling to all sorts of neighborhoods in Delhi. But wait, I like my job. It’s challenging and I get to see lot of places that I would never normally visit. I am also learning things about marketing and consumer behavior which I never would in a class room. To tell you the truth, I get some kick out of trying to prove that I can do it too, in spite of being a female and hence, ‘the weaker sex’, although it’s a little unfortunate that there’s a need to prove this. (Blah 😛 )

After reading the book, I got in touch with Apurva Purohit by email and asked her some questions. Being a true professional, she got back to a lowly blogger (It’s not like this blog is the ‘Time’ magazine) like me, quite quickly.

a2

Apurva Purohit

Image: Source

The first question I posed was, “Somehow, at the workplace, I have felt the need to work harder than the men around, as if to prove that women can also be professional. Isn’t it unfair that stereotypes of women ‘not being serious about work’ and only interested in ‘talking on the phone’ exist and we need to doubly work to overcome them?”

Yes, firstly stereotypes do exist and we all have to work hard to overcome them. So the hysterical female boss, the kitty party attending housewife, the over protective mom are images that we need to deal with. Having said that I think society stereotypes everyone , so even men have stereotypes operating against them. I think we just need to recognize that women haven’t been specifically singled out for this dubious honor!”, she answers.

But at the same time, I face a risk everyday (as do so many women), just because of the fact that I am a female and the next person on the street could be a potential rapist/molester (although I do still have more hope from men that not everybody is bad after all).

She continues, ‘I see a lot of women today enthusiastically picking up the gauntlet of entering male dominated industries. Working with the organization to neutralize external negative factors is one way to tackle this issue; so asking for pick-ups and drops to ensure safe travel, ensuring the organization is taking necessary precautions in selecting the right travel partners etc are some of the things women in these industries should certainly push for. I think today there are very few jobs that women cannot do because of physical limitations and those jobs in an innovation or knowledge based economy are becoming fewer in any case.”

She is right in what she says. Organizations need to step up the way they treat their female employees and the facilities they provide. And it is probably up to us to demand for them, although in certain cases, it feels stupid doing so. I am not sure whether any grocery shop owner, out of the 20 shops that I visit on a normal day, would take me seriously me if I were picked and dropped at each place. And very unfair to my male colleagues who do the same job and get the same pay. At the same time, I don’t want to be ‘protected’ all the time. Rather than me always worried about how I will reach home late at night, I want the men on the streets to be afraid of me and the police.

My mother has palpitations when she comes to know I am going to come home late. My father conveniently (and very diplomatically) disappears behind the newspaper when we have a fight, as to why I can’t sneak out from work and go shopping with her. She has come to terms with my job now but she is always worried. I don’t blame her but I wish I could allay her fears and wish for a safe place to live and roam around.

My next question is, “Sometimes, parents seem to be the biggest obstacles to a career when they prevent you from doing things which may not be ‘safe’ but are still important for you to do your job properly. How do girls deal with them?”

“I think we all need to co opt our family members into our careers so that they become equal partners in its success and failure . This can happen only if we discuss everything about our jobs with them and ask for help . I see many young girls today don’t want to tell their parents things in a false sense of protecting their privacy and the poor parents are unable to judge what is required to do a job properly . As parents they will worry about safety and such issues especially with girls. It is the women’s job to allay this fear”, says Apurva Purohit.

‘Lady, you’re not a man’ is an interesting and quite apt title for the book. The title feels like an extremely sarcastic male (or female) telling you that you can’t do shit because you’re not a man.

Apurva Purohit explains, “Through this title I am trying to say two things  1 ) I am telling the women that you don’t have to be male like to succeed and 2) I am equally telling society and people who have often taunted women that you can’t do this because You are not a Man, that we women can do equally well just the same.”

I ask her about the hardest part of writing this book. “I have been used to writing a blog which is actually an exercise in saying the maximum in very few words ( 300-400 words) so actually writing a full chapter around one message  which required  more verbosity without becoming boring was the biggest challenge”, she says.

She has managed that quite well. This book says what it wants to say without boring you. There are enough real life stories, in her witty voice, to make you identify with the woman. What I liked most was that she encourages women not to feel guilty about their life choices, whether you are working or not working, having a baby or choosing not to have one, going to the post office party cum networking event or staying home to look after the ‘home’. We are not superwomen and we don’t need to constantly feel bad about not being able to fulfill everybody’s expectations. At the same time, she asks women to behave like true professionals and not expect to be treated with extra ‘care’ something I agree with. How can we expect to be treated as equals if we demand special privileges (passed on as a result of our conditioning in a patriarchal culture) which are not really required?

I tell Apurva Purohit she’s come a long way. To lighten the Q&A, I ask her if there were to be a movie made on her, who would she cast as herself.

She appears to be humble as she says “I don’t think I have come a long way or anything. I got into leadership roles very early in life and as they say you become competent through practice and 10000 hours of doing something.  Having run organizations or departments for the last twenty odd years has made me good at what I do ! I can’t think of  a film being made on something like this but I like the strong Hollywood actresses like Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon and Sandra Bullock .. so possibly them…”

I ask her what she does in her spare time. “I am very  much a homebody and I like spending as much time as I can at home with my family and some very few close friends. I enjoy reading a lot, specially crime fiction which is my passion, and love travelling. My holidays with my family are my one big luxury and I also have a weakness for heritage jewelry.”

This is where I stop talking about ‘Lady, you’re not a man’. Every time there’s a rape, I feel uncomfortable and disturbed. I can only hope that things will be better one day and we won’t have to feel scared most of the time, irrespective of whether we are doing our jobs or having fun roaming around in the streets. At the same time, a salute to all the women who want to make a change by fighting back, whether it is the 22 year old photojournalist or a friend who ‘accidentally’ gives a whack (I am hoping it was at a place where it hurts the most) with her umbrella to the man who passes by and calls her ‘mast’ (nice). Kudos to all the women who brave the streets every day. A change can only come when we go out into the streets instead of ‘safely’ sitting in our homes.

I am hopeful of a change. Till then, as my friend Hirak keeps telling me, ‘Chin up, be brave, be beautiful!’

(Beauty is often a reflection of what you are feeling inside yourself, not your face or your figure.)

Note: A copy of this book was provided for review by the author/Rupa publications.