Know your Author

says Ashok K Banker, an Anglo-Indian from a Christian family, who has been instrumental in reviving the readers’ interest in Hindu mythology and Vedic literature. What drives this talented author to these he adds the zing to all these texts...finds out Varsha Verma. Ashok K Banker is an internationally acclaimed author of mixed-race based in Mumbai. His Epic India Library is a lifetime writing plan that aims to retell all the major myths, legends and history of the Indian sub-continent in an interlinked cycle of over 100 volumes. This includes The Ramayana series, Krishna Coriolis, The Mahabharata series, the contemporary Kali Rising thriller series and other works. His books have sold over 1.85 million copies in 13 languages and 58 countries worldwide. No wonder he is credited with the resurgence of mythology in Indian publishing.

On mythology as his muse...

Ashok K Banker“As a non-Hindu, I had no knowledge or experience of these stories or mythology. Though there were Amar Chitra Comics and TV serials, they could not amuse me. When I chanced upon the puranic texts as a young boy, I was amazed at the depth and detail and beauty of the original stories. It amazed me that those original tales were almost unknown to even Hindus today. For instance, I have met not even a handful of people in my lifetime who have read the original Valmiki Ramayana (even in translation) or the original Vyasa Mahabharata. Everyone believes they know these epics because they’ve watched Bollywood films or read comics or watched those TV serials, but that’s just a tip of the iceberg. The original epics are great works of world literature. Whether they were mythology or history or something else is for others to decide. To me, these were great stories that deserved to be known by the whole world. I waited almost thirty five years for someone to retell them or even just tell them in all their glorious detail but Indian English writers seemed to be only interested in writing about themselves, their love lives, their marriages...they still are, I guess. So I took the plunge, an Anglo-Indian from a Christian family, and did my best attempt to reclaim these great stories. If I succeeded in any small way, it’s not because I’m talented or a good writer, because I’m neither. It’s because these stories are great stories,” says the mythological writer Ashok.

Quoting an example of his eight-volume Ramayana series...

Everyone says they know the Ramayana. Few do. “When I began reading and gathering insights into the various Ramayana versions, I found that Muslims in Malaysia have their own version, so do people across Asia, even the rest of the world. There are probably more Sanskrit Ramayana scholars in Scandinavia than in Delhi! And more scholars and historians interested in Vedic culture in Russia and Middle Eastern Europe than in Benaras! But in India, people dismiss it as a simple tale of Good versus Evil. Or they use it as a whipping post to project their own insecurities and prejudices. The truth is, that was another age, another era. Were men chauvinistic then? Yes, of course they were. These stories were all written only by celibate men living alone in deep forests – they had no inkling of a woman’s mind or point of view. So definitely these tales are chauvinistic, brahmanically biased, North Indian. As someone of mixed race, mixed culture, with Sri Lankan British parentage, I was fascinated by how worked up people got even today when arguing the merits and demerits of what Rama or Sita or Ravana did or didn’t do in that distant past. Like, get real, people. They did what they did. They lived, they loved, they fought, they died. Deal with it. Move on with your lives! People take it so personally. Why? I think it’s guilt. Brahmanical Hindu guilt because they regard Rama as a God yet can’t accept the fact that he banished Sita. It’s a myth that Gods are perfect. Mythology tells us over and over again that even Gods were not perfect. Just because you consider someone a God, doesn’t mean he lived up to your expectations perfectly. My interest was in the core story, not in all this irrelevant claptrap. I just told the story, as someone with my mixed background and cultural upbringing would have, in my polyglot makapao Byculla Boy Anglo-desi style. The fact that someone actually saw fit to publish it, and well over a million readers (and counting) loved it so much, is amazing. It still remains my bestselling work, with the ebook editions now outselling the print editions ten to one, because new readers are discovering it every day,” tells Ashok proudly.

What more?

“I am more than halfway, almost two-thirds of the way through my retellings of the major myths, legends and itihasa of the Indian sub-continent. When complete they will all form the Epic India Library, a massive story cycle with interconnected volumes and series. I plan to finish this project in another two to three years and will then move on to writing more personal novels, mainly romances and serious contemporary fiction since those are my two personal interests,” he shares.

The newbie...

More recently, Ashok has released EPIC LOVE STORIES – of Shakuntala and Dushyanta- the love story that gave birth to a nation, Ganga and Shantanu - a love story written on water, Satyavati and Shantanu - a love story made possible by a son’s sacrifice, Amba And Bhishma - a love story that was never meant to be, Devayani, Sharmishtha And Yayati- a love triangle that changed a dynasty. On asking about the response so far, Ashok replied, “The response has been terrific. I believe in a direct line from reader to writer. Anyone can write to me anytime and I always reply. Almost 43,000 readers (out of about 2 million readers total) have written to me and I’ve answered immediately, even corresponding with several for decades. So I have this wonderful sample of readers who help me gauge if a book is being enjoyed or not. The Love Stories are a great concept, they feel. The lovely illustrations by Kunal Kundu and beautifully designed covers by Gunjan Ahlawat play a big role in that, I feel. It’s one of the few covers where I was invited to give input into the concept and I feel very happy with the results. In future titles in the series, I plan to include lesser known stories that readers are less familiar with and I think everyone of all ages can read and enjoy these books.”

What he wants to achieve by writing...

“I want to do justice to the story. The writer should disappear once the story begins: only his voice should remain. I alter my style, syntax, vocabulary, grammar, narrative devices, everything according to the story I’m telling. If you read my Krishna Coriolis, Ramayana Series, Mahabharata, Vertigo, Blood Red Sari, you’ll see they’re all in completely different narrative styles. The story decides how it should be told and the writer must serve the story. I’m irrelevant except to offer my voice, my mind, my very limited and poor skills, to work in the service of the story. I’m just the cobbler who works the leather, not the creator of the hide, nor the maker of the thread, nor the tools or implements...merely the cobbler,” says the humble Ashok.

Hardest part of writing...

“...the preparation, research, thinking, planning, ideating, gestating. It takes my anywhere from ten to thirty plus years to get ready to write a book. It involves a lifestyle change: If you don’t live, breathe, eat, sleep, drink writing everyday you’re only a businessman not a writer. Once it’s in your blood and you do it because you love, it’s like breathing. The actual act of writing is the easiest, most enjoyable part and barely takes any time. If it’s not, then you need to change your profession,” advises Ashok.

Advice to young author...

“Read, Read, Read. Write. In that proportion. Read at least a thousand books for every one you write. Don’t offer everything you write for publication. Be willing to throw away entire novels, even good ones, if you’re not totally happy with them. If you’re not writing better than other writers you read, you’re not ready to be published yet. Work at it. You never become a good author: your entire lifetime is a journey towards that goal. Even after 40 published books, I still feel like I’m learning how to do it all over again with each book. I still get a thrill out of it. I still love it madly. Forget the money, forget fame, forget the PR and the publicity game. It’s all about the writing and that only comes from the heart, the soul, the gut,” he advises.

Unwinding facts...

“Writing is my hobby. Being a husband, a father, a caregiver to my companion Willow, those are my real jobs. I unwind by writing, by reading...and by going to the gym which I really enjoy,” he says.

On a concluding note...

“Be well, read lots of good books (not just mine) and be kind to as many people as you can. Because good people make good readers and good writers,” concludes Ashok.

We all love to read autobiographies and biographies of rich and famous…and we have our favorites too! But if we explore this segment little more we will be taken aback by countless biographies and autobiographies on the shelves of bookstores and libraries…you name it, they have it. Be it a sportsperson, politician, singer, actor, dancer, industrialist, writer…the list is endless. There are millions of books available on their lives and achievements. Here, Smita Dwivedi writes about Pooja Bedi, author of Time Pass – an autobiography of her mother Protima Bedi, Indian model turned Odissi xponent.

The biographies of great men and women have been written and rewritten not only to glorify their great deeds, but also to provide great inspirational tales of achievement, sacrifice, courage, commitment and exemplary qualities. To start with, let me ask a question –‘Which is the most inspiring Indian biography?’ To put an end to our instant wilderness of thoughts, let me tell you the answer. It is Shrimad Bhagwad Gita – the autobiography of Lord Krishna. Yes, in India and world over, it is one of the most read autobiographical literature. As per Dr Sonal Mansingh, “It is so amazing that I have read it more than 10 times.”

Pooja’s Time Pass

Out of many famous autobiographical books some are literary masterpieces which contain volumes written about fascinating and famous people and events. So why one more? To which, Pooja Bedi replied, “The book Time Pass is my tribute to my mom – Protima Bedi. She had this wonderful habit to pen down all her emotional, personal and intellectual thoughts which were wandering within her. And she had a huge collection of her writings, which I explored when she was not with us.”

Protima was always known for her outrageous lifestyle. She was quite an icon, defying sexual taboos and challenging hypocrisies. And her nude run on the Juhu beach in Mumbai was her way to condemn society. Living life on her own terms, her death also came dramatically as she would have wanted. On August 17, 1998 while on pilgrimage to Mansarovar, a landslide killed 200 people. Among them was Protima Bedi.

While reading heaps of manuscripts by Protima, Pooja got a chance to know her mom much better. So how was the journey of writing an autobiography of your so called controversial mom? To which she replies, “Well I always stood by mom, she had given us a great lifestyle. I was always given my right to choose my ways. The diary entries and her writings were her own views and opinions about the external world. And these really helped me in knowing her better. I wanted that not only me…but the whole world should know her the way she was. So I decided to compile it in – Time Pass.”

But why such a unique

name: Time Pass? And she explains, “Her life was fun, she lived every moment to the fullest. Whenever we asked her about life, she always replied it’s a Time Pass.” And for Pooja, autobiographies of successful people are quite inspiring.

-“Over the course of my lifetime, something had been changing in India to turn it into the kind of place where reinventions became possible.”

Anand GiridharadasWhat are Papa and I doing here?” Anand Giridharadas got this text message from his mother when his sister was considering moving to India from California. Giridharadas was already working in India. His parents were at their home outside Washington, D.C.

Giridharadas’ parents immigrated to the United States in the 1970s, part of the great Indian brain drain. Giridharadas says he never thought he’d follow the reverse route back to India. “My childhood behavior was wanting to keep India at bay,” he says. “The first thing I learned about India was that my parents had chosen to leave it.” India, for him, meant family trips with suitcases stuffed with gifts—Gap khakis and Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky. In some ways, India was defined by the things one could not get.

“But over the course of my lifetime, something had been changing in India to turn it into the kind of place where reinventions became possible,” says Giridharadas. His book, India Calling, is about that transformation. “It was not just me as a young man going East and reinventing myself. The more important part of the story is that a lot of other people, including Indians themselves, were finding in their country opportunities to reinvent themselves.”

Giridharadas came to India to work for McKinsey & Company. He stayed on to write for the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. That allowed him to have a ringside view of this changing India.

He sees many reasons for this transformation. “A lot of people overplay the singular role that capitalism has played,” Giridharadas says. He sees a subtler but more profound cultural shift. “A lot of Indians are acquiring an idea of self and selfhood, that they matter against the claims of the family, against the claims of their caste, against the claims of the state.”

Some of that has happened through an unlikely medium—television. Giridharadas says in small town India, television “arrives actually as a force of uplift.” It does not just advertise cars and detergents. A young man named Ravindra told him if you saw a man catching an anaconda on the Discovery Channel, you knew that he was probably the best person in the world at catching an anaconda. “In a very small town, the idea of seeing the best person in the world at doing anything is such a revelation,” marvels Giridharadas.

Ravindra, son of farm hands, raised in a small town in the middle of nowhere, came from a world that accepted things as they were. But he pulled himself up by enrolling in a slew of coaching academies for conversational English and computer classes. Now he owns his own English language academy and a roller skating rink. When Giridharadas met him, he was conducting a Mr. and Miss Umred Personality Contest for his town of Umred, population 50,000, in Maharashtra. “He has become the ambassador of escape for a young generation craving it,” says Giridharadas.

In that process, the Ravindras of India are becoming more comfortable in their own skin. They eat out at fancy restaurants but are unabashed about preferring ghar ka khana or home-cooked food. At one time, men like Giridharadas’ grandfather held the reins of power. His tweed coats, pucca English and membership in the right clubs all spoke to that. “The old guard is still holding on,” says Giridharadas. “But there is a clear shift away from their rule toward one that looks and feels much more Indian, much more rooted in the soil.”

Its patron saint is perhaps industrial tycoon Mukesh Ambani. Ravindra wants Giridharadas to show him every photograph he has of Ambani on his laptop. Ambani takes business colleagues to the temple, and hankers for real food after a designer meal at Nobu, the exclusive Japanese restaurant in New York.

But ambition and a can-do spirit alone cannot propel millions up the economic ladder. “You have an abundance of workers who cannot find jobs and an abundance of jobs who cannot find workers,” says Giridharadas. “What needs to happen is to develop an educational system to align the two.”

Giridharadas will be watching to see if that happens. He’s back in the United States now, finishing his Ph.D. He says America gave him self-confidence but India gave him “a sense of community.” He hopes to write more books, and not just about India. “But I know that India will be a permanent part of my life,” he says. “I will live there again.”

(Sandip Roy, currently in Kolkata, is an editor with New America Media. Article reprinted from SPAN magazine, May/June 2011 issue.)

You Can win…these three words just flash in my mind every time I hear Shiv Khera’s name. And I am sure this is common to most of us as well. Khera is the author of 12 books including International Best Seller “YOU CAN WIN”, which has sold over 2 million copies in 16 languages. Shiv Khera A book is a condensed capsule of knowledge,” isn’t it a great thought to kickstart, asks Shiv Khera, and I agree, as an avid reader. Khera needs no introduction. Be it as a motivational book author, educator, business consultant or a successful entrepreneur. Besides, he is a much sought-after speaker… internationally. He inspires and informs people, helping them to realize their true potential. His 30 years of research, understanding and experience has helped people on the path of personal growth and fulfilment.

He has been recognised as a ‘Louis Marchesi Fellow’ by the Round Table Foundation, an award given to, among others, Mother Teresa. Lions Club International has honoured Khera with ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ for the cause of ‘Humanitarian Service to Society’. Rotary Club has honoured him with the ‘Centennial Vocational Award for Excellence.’ He has also appeared on numerous radio and television shows.

In a thought provoking conversation with the man himself, Smita Dwivedi (SD) of AABP unravels the myriad shades of his personality while experiencing a never before positivity. Excerpts.

SD: When and how did you start writing?

Shiv Khera: Well I think this goes back to almost 35 years ago, when I left India. That was the time I went through a programme by Dr Norman Vincent Peale, who has written a book The Power of Positive Thinking. He’s a wonderful man and his words had made great impact on my conscience. It was then that I decided to write a book and it would be international bestseller. For many years I researched and collected information before I actually started writing book in 1992. My first book – You Can Win – got published in 1997 in Singapore.

SD: How has been your journey as an author?

Shiv Khera: In all my 35 years, which I spent in North America, I met many influential as well as ordinary people. I feel they all have contributed to my life, especially Mr Peale, who had transformed my overall thought process. Surprisingly, before this I had never read a comic but afterwards I became an avid reader, started reading almost 40-50 books a year, which totally changed my life. And since then I have been busy reading and writing.

SD: What inspires you to be active with your writing?

Shiv Khera: The one and only motivation was that if somebody has contributed to my life, which changed my life personally, professionally and socially…so it is my time to pay back to society. If they had not contributed, I would not be there where I am. So I just want to give it back to the community and next generation. And when I realised that, it was almost 23 years ago in late eighties. It was at that time I started volunteering my time in maximum security prison in United States. I went there to conduct attitude and self esteem programs and I saw maximum behavioural change in inmates. Maximum security prison inmates are real hard core criminals. The experiences I had in the Jail of US years ago still motivate and inspires me.

One more interesting experience I would love to share. One day as I was leaving out of the session from the jail, I was stopped by an inmate, so I asked him ‘What have you learnt in the past few weeks’ and he replied…I feel good and also started reading my Bible. At that moment I felt that when I would leave the jail I would be a contributing member to the society and that was the biggest clarification of my mission. As a volunteer, I was not being paid but such experiences were the biggest pay off.

And I saw lives changing; I decided to go to the corporate world as well. And it was really big transition for me and my career.

SD: How and when did the idea to author You Can Win actually emerged?

Shiv Khera: The big question was ‘why one more book’ when there were a number of motivational books available. Why would anybody buy my book? And my answer was that my book would be different. You Can Win addresses life with a very positive perspective. It is very down to earth, written at fifth grade level and filled with real life experiences, so people can easily relate to it and the obvious reaction while reading goes like ‘Oh that happened to me’ or ‘I went through that’ or ‘I heard that’. The book appeals both to the head and to the heart…it has both logic and feelings. So that is why when people buy it, they say yes it makes sense and their lives change.

SD: How did you decide the title?

Shiv Khera: I was in Singapore with a person who was in part editing with me. While we were brain storming, the first thing that came to our mind was the title. And we both were of same opinion that this is a book for winners. And so we came straight to You Can Win. If a person could be a winner after reading a book… so, the title was apt.

SD: Who are amongst your favourite authors and what books have you read?

Shiv Khera: At a given time...I read 8-10 books simultaneously...I read 5-10 pages of one book then start reading the other and so keep on reading simultaneously. I certainly read what I want to at a moment. I love to read non-fiction books but don’t like fiction. These books basically give another perspective and keep me motivated as well. Napoleon Hill - Think And Grow Rich; Dr Thomas A Harris - I’m OK - You’re OK; and Norman Vincent Peale - The Power of Positive Thinking are amongst my most favourites.

SD: Are there any challenges you face as an author?

Shiv Khera: The biggest challenge and concern in India is piracy. There are not many authors whose books have sold over 2 million copies. I am being paid royalty for that but the numbers could be much more, if we put a check on piracy.

SD: What are your favourite activities besides writing?

Shiv Khera: Whatever little bit time I get, I love to spend it with my family. I am very fond of dogs. I have four Rottweiler, all are huge, and I love playing with them. I have two grandsons; I just love their company and have fun with them.

SD: What can our readers expect next from you?

Shiv Khera: I am ready with my next book on positive parenting. I never thought earlier that parenting is such a big issue, but today all around the world, the biggest concern is positive parenting. Now parents are more concerned about their children values and principles. And what I found is that the problem is not with the child but is with the parents. So, it is definitely going to help people.

SD: Any message you want to share?

Shiv Khera: The only thing I want to say is that there’s no substitute to good reading. A good book gives you the wisdom of ages in a capsule format. I feel if behaviour has not changed learning has not taken place. I would like to end with Henry Ford’s quote: “Whether You Believe You Can, Or You Can’t, You Are Right.”

told Dr Raghunath Mashelkar, the eminent scientist and recipient of Padma Shri (1991) and Padma Bhushan (2000) awards in recognition of his contribution to nation building. But this interview has nothing to do with his achievements as a scientist and achiever but as an author whose latest book on Gandhi has made him part of an Indian’s everyday conversation. Excerpts. Dr Raghunath Mashelkar Dr Raghunath Mashelkar’s Timeless Inspirator – Reliving Gandhi has been creating waves across the country. Ritu Goyal (RG) caught up with Dr Mashelkar (Dr M) at his office on a sunny afternoon where he spoke about what Gandhi meant to him, how the book originated in his mind and where he sees the book heading.