Friday, December 01, 2017

Confessions of an Entrepreneur on Kindle Direct Publishing

Kong in Shillong sells #Kwai,
while reading on her Smartphone 
Key Point

The digital platform has changed the way we look at Media per se. If Newspapers are read online, then, why can’t books also be read online? And with a little investment, you are your own boss; you determine your working hours; you decided, to whom your book is targeted to and you can change your audience at any time. You are empowered. You don’t need a hand-holder. You, do-it-yourself (DIY) and you decide what you want to write about, what treatment you are going to give your book, who you will use as your cover designer, your editor, proofreader, beta reader…in short, you are master of your own product. The success is yours!

Graduating from editing School Magazines to the first published article in The Junior Statesman, edited by Desmond Doig, I was already overjoyed and strutting around with a swollen head when I came across my first job as a Copywriter in an agency.

Being in an environment where reading, writing and commercial art was the only thing I did – in those days, we copywriters, artists, visualizers and all, were a protected community) – I found my pen scribbling away at all times. Poems flowed like Coke and stories took birth in my head, faster than I had ever thought, they would. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote until I found a collection had come about. A few books of poems and stories, traveled from one city to another, as part of my belongings. Then, one day, the computer happened. Data operators sprung up from all quarters and I gave my books of stories to be neatly typed and systematically placed together. I always wanted to publish them.

But that too sat in CDs and in my Gmail account! Bless Gmail! Such a fabulous place to store your thoughts and writings, in a folder called MYWRITINGS!

Then, one day, someone asked me, do you have a blog? What’s that, I thought? And right enough, I was soon on one - was the beginnings of my dreams come true. Whoever said, that you had to slog for your money?  The brilliant concept started by Satya Prabhakar and Sangeeta Kshettry, found content without paying for any. Pages upon pages of stories, poems, ideas, discussions on any and every subject under the sun, made one of the most successful companies. All you needed to do was to open a blog and start to write. Needless to say, I was hooked immediately. I wrote as if there was no tomorrow and the feedback was enormous - I got instant high from the LIKE and comments and long discussions ensued between me and the readers. Why do we need the #JaipurLiteratureFestival? I was addicted. Here, I met awesome authors, whose books I would hold and review in days to come.

But that was way back in 2007! By 2009, I saw many authors of, publish their books. But we are talking of 2009 – that is way, way back! Soon, we were going to see a sea change in publishing.

Vanity Publishing, or what was looked upon as a poor cousin of REAL PUBLISHING, like being published by Penguin and Bloomsbury, and the FAT OLD MEN of publishing, was going to see a sea change. As publishers rushed from UK, USA to the new country India, with a colonial past, hoping to get their share of the mullah, Amazon’s Direct Publishing Platform, Kindle Direct Publishing came and slowly started making their presence felt.

Then, success stories started to filter in. Rasana Atreye, a software engineer in the US, of Indian origin, had sent her story “Tell a Thousand Lies” to over 100 agents in the US and got no response. Finally, the story was shortlisted for the 2012 Tibor Jones South Asia Prize. Publishing houses began to chase her, but she chose to go it alone. She chose, KDP, Kindle Direct Publishing as her platform to publish her book, giving all the traditional publishers a rejection slip! She had 17,000 downloads on the day, her book went up for sale on KDP! And downloads continue, unabated.

Writing as a Profession

There are a few things every writer wants – readers, people who buy and read their books, people who review, comment, appreciate their work. And most of all, their book must generate revenue for them.

A writer spends hours of their day or night, invested in their book. They certainly are writing because they have a story to tell, but most of all, they are investing in terms of money and time on these books, which they then want to sell for a living. A book which has been written and put up for sale, with no readers and no downloads, may dry out funds put aside and make the fertile mind a dry desert.

Hence, to sum it up, if one has spent one year to write a book, then one must calculate what one has had to give up to keep writing. The ROI, return on investment must clearly, be enough to generate revenue that can go back as an investment into the next book series.

Bitten by the Entrepreneurial Bug

I look at my books as products of my mind. Hence, I have set aside money for publishing. While I may not follow all the Digital Marketing tools, I would certainly join Facebook and have 1 Page for all my book, have a LINKEDIN profile and join writers groups there, join TWITTER, INSTAGRAM, PINTEREST, and all other discussion forums, that talk of books, book publishing, and marketing. I would also be conscious of trends – more and more, people are reading nano-writes, #TerriblyTinyTales, short stories, and small titles that cost as good as a coffee at Café Coffee Day. So, if your book costs anything between Rs 35 to Rs 150 and can be read on a device like a Handset or Kindle, the better it is. It takes, 45 minutes to travel from HUDA City Centre Metro Station in Gurugram to Rajiv Chowk in Central Delhi – can you give your reader a 40 minutes complete story, point to point, which he has paid only Rs 50 for? That works!

Obsess! Obsess! Obsess!

Hot selling authors need to feel the pulse of the reader, all the time. So they must be obsessed with them. What are they doing? How do they engage? WhatsApp? Whatzup, with them? So, as authors, we need to keep our ears to the ground and remember content is king if you have spoken to that dude in his language (lingo). Last but not the least - size matters!

Click below to read about : 

Julia Dutta is a digital marketing professional who writes on weekends.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Book Review - Where Love Begins Vibhavari by Dr Joshodhara Purkayastha

Photo credit HERE
The beautiful, soft cover of the book was an instant draw for me, when it arrived at my door step. The mesmerizing face of the cover, and the light pastel colours were soothing to my mind. Naturally, I read the book at almost one sitting. The absorbing content can be clearly seen at three levels.

The first is direct. Vibhavari, a girl from a poor family in Rishikesh, is married off early at sixteen to a man from Dubai. The marriage turns abusive and the young Vibhavari is beaten and sexually abused by husband and brother-in-law. Innocent, shy and beautiful Vibhavati, bears this brunt, including bearing two sons from this marriage. At last, finding a way to escape from this torture, she is back to her own country, the two boys being placed in a boarding school in Panchgani, near Pune, Maharashtra.

After a marriage in which she literally undergoes marital rape, Vibhavari, is however, still looking for love, as she quite understands that there is a distinction between love and sex. She is looking for love, when, on her visit to see her sons, she meets a man, with whom she gets physically and emotionally close. However, when the question of marriage is brought before the man, he quickly retreats, saying the togetherness was more for mutual sexual pleasure and not for making commitment. Vibhavari is shocked and decides to stop meeting him.

Shortly after she meets a man from her own building residence, who is bethropped to  a lady, but does carry on an illicit sexual relationship with Vibhavari. This too meets the same fate – there will be no marriage in future. Vibhavari is depressed, lonely and still searching for that love, when, at the Yoga class she finally meets the man, older and wiser, with whom she is married again, and learns and travels a lot. Vibhavari, however, it seems is unlucky in love, as this last, treasure trove of love, is snatched away from her by death. Vibhavari is left alone, but this time, many things change in her life and lead her to an amazing end, coming the full circle, of life and love.

But, there is a deeper second level to this book and I would like to dwell on that. The perfect abuse story, of marital rape, physical abuse and mental torture would have lead to two consequences – one, Vibhavari would have shied away from society and become a recluse, but in fact, the opposite happens. She celebrates her body, her ability to find sexual gratification and to be engaged sexually with men she isa attracted to, showing the reader that there are two options available to the abused human; they can chose to become a recluse or they can embrace the world with more desire. Vibhavari chose the latter, but was still unfulfilled, because, she was really looking for love.

The third level of the book and story is complex and uplifting.  Desire, deviance and divinity make the third level the most exciting, for the reader with a ‘third eye’ that goes beyond the mundane. It is Freudian in nature – desire is inherent in man. Id,Ego, Superego. But where Freud stops, Indian spiritual therapy begins and so, Vibhabavi, the simple girl from Rishikesh, returns home, physhically, metaphorically and spiritually, back to where she came from and the reader now must travel with her, to Rishikesh to see what love finally is and where it finds its ultimate source and resting place.

Where Love Begins Vibhavari, is a powerful story at all levels, for love, is a primal search that is the be all and end all in our lives, until we know better.

Click HERE to buy the book.

Dr. Jashodhara Purkayastha (Yashodhara) is a professor from the education field with twenty-five years' experience in teaching psychology and philosophy, having done her master's in education from Mumbai University, India. She has completed post-graduate work in economics, this being one of the subjects taught. She has done her doctorate in education also and is giving her time to set up teacher training methods. She has written a poetry book consisting of 105 poems in three languages.You can reach her at: jashodharap(at)

Monday, August 28, 2017

Book Review - The Adivasi Will Not Dance

Photo credit HERE
Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar ‘s book  The Adivasi Will Not Dance, is a collection of articles that make a compelling story of the lives of the Santhals in Jharkhand. It deals with exploitation of the tribe, without getting political and boring in its content.

The book reads like a continuous engagement with different families. Carefully woven into the fabric of these stories are the tales of exploitation by men in power, whether they belong to other so called upper caste, politicians, business tycoons, who will do anything to reap in profits, even if it means displacing the original inhabitants of that place, stealing from them their right to livelihood and not taking responsibility for the displacement or the loss of livelihood. In a way, it is a common story arising out of many parts of India, but with a difference - the story finally leaves the reader with a lot to think about – why must we invade the lives of people in the name of development? Whose development is it anyway? Do we really need to access people’s lives and livelihood, and rob them of all human dignity to satisfy our greed? Do we need to then, put labels on them, for acting in ways that we find objectionable?

When we take away from people or a tribe their right to self respect, we have no right then to pronounce judgment on what they wish to do to make ends meet and to survive.

"Come November, Santhal men, women and children walk down from their villages in the hills and the far-flung corners of the Santhal Pargana to the railway station in the district headquarters. These Santhals—villages, entire clans—make up long, snaking processions as they abandon their lands and farms to take the train to Namal, the Bardhaman district of West Bengal and the paddy fields there. In the month that these Santhal families will spend in Bardhaman, they will plant rice and other crops in farms owned by the zamindars of Bardhaman."

The picturesque description above is like a poem in prose, flowing through the pen of an author whose veins pulsate with Santhal blood, music, dance and condition. The highly academic, but shy of saying so, professional medical doctor and avid reader and writer, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, writes with passion on a subject close to his heart. He has seen the injustice and is disturbed by it. He must speak it out and write about it.

Sexually violated at most times, the Santhal women have learnt to fend for themselves too. They know what to get out of men in power. Recently, the Jharkhand Government burnt an effigy of the author and threatened to burn and ban the book, on grounds that it contained content that were unacceptable for Santhal women. They did not speak of their own hand in the conspiracy to keep the Santhal community forever hungry, exploited and sexually used. They did not speak of the way the public and private partnership has caused huge portions of Santhal land to be sold to corporate for coal mining.  But the para below, from the last lines of the book are self evident.

"‘Johar, Rashtrapati-babu. We are very proud and happy that you have come to our Santhal Pargana and we are also very proud that we have been asked to sing and dance before you and welcome you to our place. We will sing and dance before you but tell us, do we have a reason to sing and dance? Do we have a reason to be happy? You will now start building the power plant, but this plant will be the end of us all, the end of all the Adivasi. These men sitting beside you have told you that this power plant will change our fortunes, but these same men have forced us out of our homes and villages. We have nowhere to go, nowhere to grow our crops. How can this power plant be good for us? And how can we Adivasis dance and be happy? Unless we are given back our homes and land, we will not sing and dance. We Adivasis will not dance. The Adivasi will not—’"  

The last words could not be finished, because, when you stand against the men in power, your voice is shot down.

How long, will it take for man to realize, that finally you can’t eat money to ease your greed and the hungry Santhal community cannot live on your power over their bodies, their livelihood and their dignity?

The Adivasi Will Not Dance, is available in English, Hindi, Marathi, where it has been serialized and inTamil in print and eBook format.

Click HERE to Buy

You can read more of Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s writings HERE

Saturday, August 26, 2017

It's Raining Cash for Assam Floods

Photo credit HERE
On 12th August, 2017, the present Chief Minister of Assam, Sri Sarbananda Sonowal, had flown to Delhi to ask for fresh funds to save people, in a fresh burst of floods in Assam. Just prior to that, he had received close to Rs 1000 crores out of Rs 2350 crores allocated by Sri Narendra Modi for flood relief to Assam. (click to read here) The Prime Minister was unable to meet him but a high profile committee did. My question is, so, the question is, where has the 1000 Crore gone? Instead of being at the flood affected areas, why is the CM in Delhi instead?

In 1976, returning with my mother from Kolkata to Guwahati, the Kamrup Express was halted in New Bongaigaon, for change from broad to meter gauge, since there were no broad gauge to Guwahati directly. It was August. The rains had been beating down incessantly for weeks. The Borak river had swelled up to the size of a sea, with red water flowing tinted by the red soil. A large steamer, was ferrying the marooned people from one side of the back to the other side. There was no horizon at sight from whichever side of the bank you were.

My mother was as thin as a reed and weak from being a juvenile diabetic. I had to take her on slippery red mud to the ferry launch, holding her tightly so she did not fall over from being pushed by stranded, helpless masses of people eager to go on to the launch. At that time, the handle of the suitcase I was carrying, broke from being drenched by rain. We were all wet and dripping with rain water, but there was no stopping. We had to go on. The army had been deployed and they managed the crowd with their baton. There was no saying when one would land on anyone.

I pulled the suitcase under my arm and grabbed my mother closer. I yelled at people to keep calm and not push my mother. It was the worst hell I had gone through in my life - we were face to face with death, literally, until we reached the ferry launch. I pushed my mother against the railing and covered her with my body. The crowd beat on my back, but I did not let them hurt my mother. The launch started with not an inch of space between us. I was never, in my life, even love-locked to tightly.

The fear of water has not left my mind. Panic takes over, whenever I see water rising, although when we reached the other side, it was clear skies and we all took the waiting buses to Guwahati.

41 years have passed since then! The Brahmaputra and its tributaries continues to rise above danger level, every year the floods come, every year people drown and livestock and man are lost in floods. And every year the floods stop the railways from running smoothly.

41 years and the story is the same! Year upon year, the government allocates money for flood relief in crores! Joint Needs Assessment Report of Assam Floods, 2017 (Click HERE ) is many times better than the cursory on done in 2015 and 2016 too. Joint Needs Assessment Report of Assam Floods, 2015 (  Click HERE for the Report on 2016. Action complete. Report presented.

What then is the action, beyond report writing? Oxfam International have come to help at ground zero, when ministers are flying hither thither for yet more funds to save people from the floods!

Click HERE to see Oxfam in Assam.

Please to note, gateway to Assam, GUWAHATI has been marked out to be one among "100 Smart Cities Mission" by our Prime Minister, Sri Narendra Modi's  to be completed by 2022.

Read the latest News HERE

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Cafe Commoners by Ritwik Mukherjee

Photo Credit HERE
When you pick up Rikwik Mukherjee’s  book, published by Partridge India, called Café CommonersDairy of a father for his daughter, you are at once intrigued. The name suggests, the typical Bangla ‘adda’, which is the most favourite pastime for any Bengali, across nations, and naturally you are anxious to read the content, your curiosity at its height. For an adda or what might be best termed as Café Commoners, is the most intellectual hub, where talks of news, politics, business, world affairs, art, literature and even love are the most appetizing concoction of discussions that take place.   

However, Mukherjee’s book is more than that.

Inspired by Pandit Nehru’s book, Letters from a father to a daughter, written from Naini Jail in Allahabad, to Indira Gandhi, then only 10 years old, the collection in Mukherjee’s book, cover a wide range of things which are more to do with human character, daily affairs, things he has seen around him, told in an easy, humourous manner is short 300 – 400 word count little stories. In the foreword, he mentions -  

“My diary features some such hilarious and not-so-hilarious priceless incidents and characters, recollected in tranquility.”

There are approximately 81 really lovely, tiny tales which will leave the reader enchanted. These stories may be read by anyone who enjoys the little ‘adda’ away from the real one in the quietness of their home, or on a travel. And the big plus is some fabulous illustrations by Ajitesh Kar (Sentu)
What struck me most about both books, Ritwik Mukherjee’s and Pandit Nehru’s is the longing to connect with their daughters. While one was in jail when he wrote those letters, Ritwik Mukherjee is a very successful financial journalist with an illustrious career with some of the top line newspapers and online portals. Hence, it might be deduced that like Nehru, he might have very little time with his daughter, which prompted him to write this book, so that she could connect with her father through the written word, which really is his forte. And view the world though his lens as she grows up. Such a noble idea!

What touched me most about the book is the human element there – while the stories are anecdotes and insightful, the ‘being present’ with the loved one, in this case, the daughter, was indeed the emotional aspect that made the book so meaningful to me.

Just 163 pages in all, Café Commoners, is available in in Paperback and eBook format.  
(R) The author Ritwik Mukherjee (L) Ajitesh Kar (Sentu)

Conversation with Ritwik Mukherjee

  1. Was writing Café Commoners a break from the normal daily journalistic articles you write about on business and trade?

    Ritwik: Yes. It is, It is completely different.
  2. How long did you take to write this collection?

    Ritwik: I have been writing these on and off. Normally whenever I come across an interesting character,/interesting event/anecdote that has some lesson to offer....either I write them immediately or after some time, recollecting them in tranquility.
  3. Why did you choose to self-publish when you are already an accomplished journalist?

    Ritwik: The opportunity to get it published by Patridge India just came my way.

To BUY Café Commoners  Click HERE  For eBook HERE

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Chetan Bhagat is like Maggie noodles!

Photo Credit HERE
"Chetan Bhagat is like Maggi noodles; you know you shouldn't be reading his books, but you can't help it." - Samvit Sengupta, aged 20 years.

That really sums up all and everything about what the young generation, who thrive on his books and are crazy about him, feel towards him.

A rave among the youth, roughly around 17 - 25 years and sometimes extending to even 35 years, Chetan Bhagat who started to publish in roughly 2011, has a lot to be proud about. Up until now, he has over 6 titles and sold over 8 million books in 2008 says Wikipedia. He has 3 films already to his credit, which are adaptations from his books. Here, I will talk about Half Girlfriend which has been made into a film also.

Published by Rupa Publications, Chetan Bhagat has made Rupa and himself flush with funds. Fans swoon over him and as soon as his books are out, they go out of order too.

So what is it that makes his books hot favourite among the TG he is addressing.

Vivek Kumar Anand, age 30 years, avid reader and young digital professional says,

"Though his books cannot be termed as great works of literature, but they entertaining for sure, because, firstly, his books are short and simple and secondly, he writes about things you can connect with.”

He is right. The language is simple, in his books and not once have you got to open your dictionary to find a meaning of any word. The pages flow, sometimes with two words conversations throughout, without any paragraph of description. Indeed, the language is so simple, even a ten year old can read and understand it.

Can Chetan Bhagat, who has beaten the track record of Indian authors writing in English, and is a rave among the youth, across the globe – can his work be considered as contributing to English literature? Or does he do some amount of research before he commences to write his next novel? I think not. But he has his fundas right. The IIM -A, Business Management graduate knows his P’s well.

His product, the books are simple, no jargon, indeed, addressing the heart of the people he writes for, youth. He writes from India, so he is in the right place at the right time, when the world is looking at Indian authors writing in English. His publishers keep his book price low and affordable, like spending Rs 100 - 200 at a Cafe in India, over sandwich, juice, cookies, and shakes.  And he wears his CB tag well on Twitter and Facebook with 6,623,692 people like his fan page and 9.32 million FOLLOWERS on Twitter. He does not have a profile in LinkedIn, because he is not that 'sort of guy'. Nothing  'official' about him at all. He markets himself well, daily tweets, FB posts and a well kept 'regular' kind of website, which does not scare the hell out of anyone who is visiting it - it's not that intellectual type in fact. Not at all like a thorough bred 'English type' with élan and polish.

No wonder, he speaks to the heart of India and the world, where LCD or (lowest common denominator) is indeed, what sells the most. Every marketer knows that like the back of their hand.

But, shock of all shocks, while well known authors in India, who have etched out their place under the sun, have not been selected for English Literature study under the prestigious Delhi University where as our man CB has made it to the list, among others like J K Rowling and others.

Professor Ratna Raman who teaches English Literature in Delhi University says –

“I usually tell my students that if they read Chetan Bhagat it should remain a closely guarded secret. Why is it on pure syllabus? Because Bhagat is loved by the right wing and university course revisions are done by people nominated to committees headed by people with a vision of Akahand Bharat. Usually it is the students not studying literature Honours but choosing English Credit who will mention Bhagat as part of their reading references. “

I have read two of his books but while I remember the last I just read, I forget the last one. Exactly, the quality of Chetan Bhagat's books - Read it - HooHaa about it - Then forget it!

Half Girlfriend published in 2014, is a story of love between two people, who have both come on a Sport's Quota to be admitted to the elitist St Stephen's College, New Delhi, India. While she is from a super rich business family in Delhi, he is from Dumraon, Bihar. While she, Riya has had a fairly good education and speaks English fluently, he is the "Myself Madhav Jha - types". While her affluent family spread across the world, is not without its bits of shame and guilt which drives Riya the central character of the story to attempt a few mistakes, Madhav Jha we are told comes from a princely background although, the old tradition is long lost, after India became independent. But both characters are basket ball players and it is the game that finally brings the two together, quite early in the book. The book then meanders from off the basket ball court into the love play ground and Madhav Jha is ready to "make Bihar proud" by initiating sex, Riya comes close but finally retreats from actually going all the way. This happens ever so often, that once when she sneaked inside his room in the boys hostel, and refuses to give in to the sexual advances from his end, he threatens, "Deti hai to, varna kat le!" meaning, fuq me or fuq off!  ich The gross right-in-the-face demand, actually makes her leave Madhav and marry the riiya is back ch family friend's son, living in London, Rohan. But the marriage breaks and Riya is back but this time, a new game of hide and seek begins, this time in Bihar, where Riya has taken a job with Nestle and Madhav, obsessed with her, finds her. And again a cat and a mouse game starts between them. Madhav wants a relationship, Riya does not; Riya wants a friendship, Madhav wants more. So, even as the reader arrives at pg 44, Chetan Bhagat has brought out the ambiguity of relationship/friendship, the desire/resistance, the dance of the traditional women v/s the modern girl, in Riya, very well. For Madhav Jha, Riya is his obsession, his passion, he can't let go of. At a certain level, he wants to be the English speaking Riya like, person himself, just like the millions of people living in India, who speak Hindi, but aspire to be as confident as English speaking people, which is a quircky aspiration in their minds.

In that sense, what Professor Ratna Raman says becomes all the more important - allowing Chetan Bhagat in the Credit Course at Delhi University, makes those people who want to tout as English literature Graduates, although not as Honours students, would make non-English speaking students especially from states which are Hindi speaking, feel more empowered over the language. In fact, the author Chetan Bhagat himself says, in pg 149, Half Girlfriend, "And last, reading simple English novels, like, the one by the wo learn Englishriter, what's his name, Chetan Bhagat."

Chetan Bhagat’s TOP TEN TOOLS to learn English (pg 148-9, Half Girlfriend)

  1. YouTube videos of famous speeches.
  2. Watching English movies with subtitles.
  3. English-only days – no Hindi conversation allowed.
  4. Working on speech content in Hindi first.
  5. Recording a English voice diary on phone through the day.
  6. Thinking in English.
  7. Watching television news debates in English.
  8. Calling call centres and choosing the English option.
  9. Reading out English advertisements on street hoardings
  10. Reading simple English novels.

Going back to the novel, Riya once again disappears from Madhav's life and in a series of unbelievable and highly fantacised development of the novel, is found very filmy like, by Madhav Jha at the last minute, in the last day of his 3-month Internship with The Gates Foundation in New York! The reader is much relieved when finally, at last, the two meet emotially and physically inside Riya's apartment in New York and Madhav is able to "make Bihar proud."

Samvit Sengupta explains, "It all began with the TV serials, F.R.E.I.N.D.S and How I Met Your Mother, when people in my generation were and are influenced and want to emulate the life of the people in the movie."

And that is what CB, has caught on to as well. Did I say, Chetan Bhagat does not dive too deep, into researching for his books? I was wrong!

Well done, @chetan_bhagat. You have one more Follower on Twitter and one more LIKE on your I will be checking you out on

Click HERE to Buy Half Girlfriend

And HERE is the Promo of the Film

Monday, May 22, 2017

The shrine of Bhulbhulaiyan, Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki, Mehrauli

Enjoy the Pictures First! Click HERE

Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar was born in Osh (now in Kyrgyzstan), but came to India at the time when the Turks first founded the Delhi Sultanate, in the later twentieth century. He became a disciple of Muinuddin Chisti, who founded the Chishtiya Sufi order in India. Muinuddin Chishti, who had his seat in Ajmer, nominated Qutubuddin his spiritual successor and ordered him to go to Delhi. The latter came to Delhi most likely during the reign of Iltutmish. Delhi, under the protection of the Sultanate had become a major centre of Islamic learning, culture and spirituality after the destruction of Central Asian centres by Mongols under Chengiz Khan.

The work and popularity of the saint extended to non-Muslims too, and he and other Sufis won over many Hindu followers. Qutubuddin’s popularity meant that he received large donations from the rich, which were then expended on charity. The traveller Ibn Batuta, who visited Delhi about a century after the death of the saint tells us the story behind the nickname of the saint, ‘Kaki’. According to him, the saint was frequently visited by those in financial need, and he helped then out by giving them a biscuit or kaka, of gold or silver, and thus came to be known as ‘Kaki’. After his death in 1235, his shrine continued to be popular place of pilgrimage. It still is, and is visited by many, including, non-Muslims, particularly during the annual celebration of the urs. The urs of a saint, literally ‘wedding’ is the date of his death, the imagery of a wedding symbolizing the union with God.

Women are not permitted to enter the enclosure which contains the grave of the saint. They may look in through the screen windows set into the enclosing wall.” Taken from (pg 209 Delhi 14 Historical Walks by Swapna Liddle)  


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Book Review: The Untold Vajpayee - Politician and Paradox

The 10th Prime Minister of India Credit HERE
Before I begin to say anything about Ullekh N P’s book, The Untold Vajpayee, Politician and Paradox, I have few things to say. These are:

(a)   The India – Pakistan politics is similar to Men’s Cloakroom Politics, that being, mine is bigger than yours. And this then is the cause of war, and moments of so called peace and bilateral talks, which are finally only preparation for the next war.
(b)   If at the rock bottom of one’s religious belief system, one hates a certain religion, it can never be wiped out, because it forms the ground on which the entire socio-political religious beliefs stand upon. So whether it is Ayodhya or Godra or the riots that broke out after that, it all springs from an uncanny  subconscious impulse that causes damage to the other.
(c)    This then sets to motion, an equal and opposite force of reaction which can only be silenced temporarily by a scapegoat. Kashmir, the valley of the gods is one such.
(d)   NOTE:  The above is my opinion, and nobody needs to agree or disagree with them.

In an extraordinary display of finely and exhaustively done research from Newspapers, Television, books, websites and academic literature, Ullekh N P, the author of The Untold Vajpayee: Politician and Paradox, draws upon all these to tell a story of a man, who exactly 21 years ago, became Prime Minister of India, on 15th May, 1996. He had arrived in his Ambassador with his son-in-law, Ranjan Bhattacharya, and a peon, and his driver, to Rashtrapati Bhawan, on being called by the then President, Shanker Dayal Sharma. After his meeting with the President, he returned with an envelope in hand. That was 14th May; next day, he became the 10th Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy, India. He was already 70 years of age, a little wobbly on his knees but his sharp with and poetry, and his soft nature, made him the most respected to take on that role as a BJP (Bharatiya Janta Party, which he founded in 1980). This was his 3rd time in to becoming a Prime Minister, first for 1 day, second for 13 days and then between 1996 to 2004.

The author tells us that Atal Bihari Vajpeye was born on 25th December, 1924 to a school teacher in Gwalior and studied there. He was a good student and studied Political Science. He was attracted first to Arya Samaj but left it to become afull time worker in RSS, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. In 1980 he founded the Bharatiya Janta Party along with L K Advani.

Known to be an eternal bachelor, Vajpayee lived with his college sweetheart, Rajkumari, who was married to someone else in Delhi. Her daughter Namita and son-in-law, Ranjan Bhattacharya were very close to him, often too close even.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was known for his soft skills and his avoidance of ‘confrontational politics’ which Ullekh N P tells us, he disliked. Also, Vajpayee could maintain silence for long durations and respond to a situation at the appropriate time. Yet, with his gentle demeanor, and his characteristic half smile, he could do things who many had avoided.

“Scholars such as Andrew B. Kennedy of Australian national University have outlined the stages when India was on the brink of testing nuclear weapons in the late 1990s and held back because of economic considerations. When the BJP came to power in May 1996, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee made preliminary decision to proceed with testing, only to suspend it pending the results of aconfidence vote, which his government then lost. Deve Gowda then came to power at the head of the United Front coalition and he contemplated testing in early June but ultimately opted against it as well. Like Rao, Gowda seems to have been concerned about the economic fallout. Inder Gujral subsequently succeeded Gowda as the United Front prime minister in April 1997. Gujral later recalled that he, too, weighed the question of testing but was deterred by the thought of the ‘punishment’. (On Kindle Loc: 2473)

But, within a few days of his becoming Prime Minister in 1996, one afternoon, he went ahead with Pokhran II. As if it was some figment of his mind! Needless to say, the act was hugely berated both in India and internationally.

“The year 1999 saw attacks on Christians in tribal areas of various states. It began with Gujarat, and then emboldened by the fact that a Hindutwa party was in power at the Centre, suspected Hindu militants burnt to death an Australian Christian missionary, Graham Stains, and his two sons, ten-years old Philip and six-years old Timothy, while they were sleeping in their trailer. The gruesome murder of the fifty-eight-year-old Stains – who had been working among the poorest of the pooe districts in Odisha and among leprosy patients – and his sons made international headlines.” (On Kindle Loc: 2546-47).

While Vajpayee was shocked by the incident, reports began to emerge, showing that hardliners among BJP workers were behind these killings. He was unable to act on an eye-for-an-eye mode both in Gujarat and in Odisha.

Ullekh N P brings out in the book a face of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who with age had mellowed maybe too much, given the fact that he also suffered numerous physical conditions that made him quite ill to continue his Office, thus losing it to Congress in 2004 elections when Dr Manmohan Singh became Prime Minister.

Yet, one cannot remember Vajpayee only for his soft skills; he managed war and peace and an irate difficult CM in Jayalalitha with equanimity and patience.

The book did not give me the racy literature I love about journalists writing books, which are almost like murder mysteries. But for one time, when the yet again, show of power of my opening lines about Men’s Cloakroom Politics of mine is bigger than yours, when the Indian Airlines flight IC 814 from Kathmandu to Delhi was high-jacked, with 178 passengers on board right after the Kargil War where Pakistan had to surrender defeated by India. The four men who high-jacked the plane forced the pilot to take the plane to Islamabad instead, but were told that there was not sufficient fuel to do that so the plane had to force land in Amritsar.

Ullekh quote from Kanchan Gupta’s writing:

“Desperate calls were made to the officials at Raja Sansi Airport in Amritsar to somehow stall the refueling and prevent the plane from take-off. The Officials just failed to respond with alacrity. …. Exasperated Jaswant Singh grabbed the phone and pleaded with the official, ‘Just drive a heavy vehicle, a fuel truck or a road roller, or whatever you have, on to the runway and park it there….Get your bloody fingers out now. For heaven’s sake, do anything, don’t let the f…g aircraft leave Amritsar.’”(On Kindle Loc: 2791-92)

Our own Prime Minister was airborne at the moment of this high-jack and not for the last time, Deputy Prime Minister, Jaswant Singh had sprung to action once again, giving the reader the impression, that Atal Bihari Vajpayee could have not run the country, without his able right hand man, Jaswant Singh.

Nor could he have managed his private life, without his beloved adopted daughter Namita and his college sweetheart Rajkumari.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Book Review - Chandni Chowk – The Mughal City of Old Delhi by Swapna Liddle

“The royal mind…pays full attention to the planning and construction…the majority of buildings he designs himself, and on the plans prepared by skilful architects, after long consideration he makes appropriate alternations and amendments…..” Abdul Hamid Lahori, chief historian of Shahjahan’s reign. (p.3 Chandni Chowk)

Mirza Shahabuddin Baig Muhammad Khan Shah Jahan, third son of Jahangir, also known as Salim, and grandson of the great Mughal emperor, Akbar, ascended the throne on 14th February 1628 in Agra. Akbar had presided over some remarkable developments in arts, paintings and architecture, but his grandson Shah Jahan, was obsessed with monuments and architecture, like his great grandfather Timur, who built the city of Samarkand.

It is during his reign that Shah Jahan commissioned a number of buildings, best known among them the Taj Mahal for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Once the Taj Mahal was completed, Shah Jahan’s attention went on to build another monument like the Agra Fort, but at a much larger scale. A mission was sent around to find the next spot and Delhi, by the Yamuna River was chosen to be where the Red Fort was to be constructed. On 12th May, 1639, the foundation stone was laid, exactly 368 years ago!

In her book, Chandni Chowk, author and historian Swapna Liddle recounts with vivid detail the making of the historic, now an UNESCO World Heritage Site from 2007, Red Fort , and the growth of the area around it to be known as Shahjahanabad, which is now called Chandini  Chowk.  The book has borrowed from her unpublished Ph.D thesis in some chapters like 4 and 5. The scholar and historian of the 19th Century, Delhi, has in this book, covered the entire period of Shah Jahan’s reign in Delhi and the final take over by his own son Aurangzeb, when Shah Jahan fell quite ill and died on May 9, 1666. Mayhem ruled thereafter, as Aurangzeb beheaded Dara Sikoh, the eldest son and heir apparent of Shah Jahan much to the grief and disgust of the people of Shahjahanabad. Then until 1809, a reign of instability continued till the British take over in 1809.

What I especially liked in the book, is the ‘feel of Shahjahanabad’ and it gave me a taste of the culture of the place and although the Mughal women were much in pardah then as well, when you look at this fact that  the area called Chandni Chowk, was designed mainly by Shah Jahan’s favourite daughter, Jahanara.

All the important mosques in the city were built by members of the royal family. Somewhat to the west of Fatehpuri mosque…which was built by Fatehpuri Begam, was Sirhindi Masjid, built by Sirhindi Begam. At the northern end of Faiz Bazar was the Akbarabadi Masjid, built by Akbarabadi Begum. All the ladies were wives of Shahjahan, and were known by appellations that referred to the towns where they came from, instead of having their personal names taken in public.” (p.17, Chandni Chowk)

There was a general hustle bustle around Shahjahanabad, alive from morning to night with activities – jewellery, elaborately embroidered clothing, horses, horse-cart, entertainment halls, rich men’s havelis, and the like. As the Mughal empire weakened over the years more people came from outside and made their living quarters there. It was however, Nadir Shah, who traveled from Turk and decisively defeated the Mughal force. Since Shah Jahan, it really never was the same. Gradually, in 1809, the British wanting to increase their territory came into Red Fort and took the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah and put him in exile in Burma. After many years of ups and downs, an era of stability reigned under the Company’s Rule, to be disturbed by the 1857 Mutiny, which started in Meerat and continued briefly in Delhi at Chandni Chowk. Soon the British were to make their new Capital City in Delhi and they would put a cover on Shahjahanabad as ‘unfavourable’ for their Imperial capital city.

The author, Swapna Liddle, has packed in a lot in this one book and really it must be read, if you love Delhi. But more so, if you want to preserve in your mind and on your bookshelf/Kindle, the history which is fast erasing out as new politics spread across the country.

I quote from a review which best describes what has gone into the book, “Swapna Liddle draws upon a wide variety of sources, such as the accounts of Mughal court chroniclers, travellers’ memoirs, poetry, newspapers and government documents, to paint a vivid and dynamic panorama of the city from its inception to recent times.”(Ref: HERE )

Parting lines, I would so much love to quote from the book –

A famous courtesan of the times was Nur Bai, who enjoyed a rich lifestyle ….Apart from being an accomplished singer; she had a critical taste for poetry, brilliant conversational skills and an extremely sophisticated manner… It is rumoured that many had squandered their fortunes for the pleasure of her company. Those less talented could rely on sensationalism. One courtesan was notorious for her style of dress, for instead of wearing any garment on her lower limbs, she would have her skin painted to mimic fabric. This would then show through her sheer outer clothing, and until closely scrutinized, would give the appearance of a garment.”   (p.59, Chandni Chowk)

Just imagine! She had set up a fashion we are following now, 368 years later!

Publisher: Speaking Tiger 
Pages: 176 with Notes
Price: Hard Cover: INR 300

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Book Review - 100 Paths: A Woman’s Search For God In The City

Photo credit HERE
Aekta Kapoor’s book 100 Paths: A Woman’s Search For God In The City, is an amazing account of the everyday, day to day, struggle of a single mother, who holds a full time job, a busy and full household of two kids, two dogs and a lover, who becomes a husband finally. Someone, who manages all this, in the midst of her own journey to find her spiritual self, more often than not, as lessons learnt and messages read, in every situation, no matter how hard or how funny. Hold your sides and don’t be a prude and think that it happens only to single mothers or fathers, who have dared to take the road less travelled, broken the shackles of the past and forged ahead, holding a smile on their lips and an infectious laugh at themselves. It’s about you too! Finally, was it not Osho who said, that God is found in 3 L’s - Life, Love and Laughter?

Having come out of a toxic marriage, which did not work, despite all effort, the author makes a clean break away from a chaotic mess to start the progress to self reliance and a life dependent on active faith, step by step, with family help at the start but on her own very quickly. There is no venom, regret, or feeling of remorse or self pity in any page; there is only hope and trust and enormous faith, love and joy that touch the heart of the reader as they read on. The gentle journey, often met with many challenges at home and works, is buffered by an active involvement in a 100 Paths that help on the road to self realization. And how to handle day to day challenges with a smile. Be it lines from Vedanta classes, or yoga exercises, reading or subscribing to spiritual websites like, Vipassana, the thread that binds the soul on its eternal search for answer  to the question – Who Am I and Why Am I Here, What is the purpose of my life – all seem to find their answers in the little and big miracles coming her way, every day! Miraculously, most of the author’s situations are also the reader’s!

There are 6 Larger Themes within which there are day and date wise jottings which tell a whole story in the most interesting way and leave a message at the end.  These happenings leave the reader mostly in splits, not only because of the content of the story, but also because; it is so real to life in a city. Things happening in the car park, the beauty parlour, at home, with the neighbours, the driver, the parents and the in-laws, the husband, the dogs, the plants and the trees! Just about every situation anyone may face in life in the city. And of course, much to learn from, for the path breakers, those who chose to be different and celebrate life in its vibrant and different colours!

Read it if you are spiritually inclined (Pssst! We all are, loving Souls treading our own path to enlightenment)

Read it, if you are NOT spiritually inclined – at least you can have a good laugh at mirror images of your own self in different situations which are so alike in a city.

Read it, if you are looking for that daily inspiration, on your way to work, at home or outside, which leave you with diamond like little nuggets of wisdom, you might like to reflect on or use, during the course of the day.

Simply, it’s called finding the miracle in your life, through someone else’s experience of God consciousness. It’s just another of the 100 Paths to God.

“There are a hundred paths to enlightenment and they are all correct.” The Vedas

To Buy Book: Click HERE

Follow Aekta Kapoor's Journey HERE