Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Any Writer Must Also Be A Re-Writer"

Kiran Khalap is an Indian writer and author. He co-founded Chlorophyll Brand Consulting. His travel writing is publishing in Man’s World. Kiran Khalap won the Indo-UK Asian Age short story competition in the year 1995. He has also authored the book Two Pronouns and a Verb.

'Halfway Up The Mountain' is the story of Maya, who hails from a village and belongs to a traditional family. Although she comes across as a simple girl, Maya fights adversities and many-a-heartbreak with conviction and an unassuming courage. The men in her life that she gets the closest to abandon her but she lives through all these trying times as an independent, free and successful human being. What strikes the most about her is the humane side and how she manages to live in a society which doesn't appreciate the integrity of single independent women. While unraveling the story of Maya, the author subtly brings out other elements like homosexuality, sexual politics, painting, poetry and music, and all this in an Indian context. Although we like the idea of a modern India, certain insensitive practices and mind-set still seem to prevail in our society and the book deals with them all in a brilliant story-telling elegance.

To read the full review of 'Halfway Up The Mountain', click here.

Congratulations Kiran for your novel ‘Halfway Up The Mountain’. It was a pleasure reading it, and as mentioned in my review, has all the ingredients to be labeled as a modern day classic. Knowing more about you, and the book would be an added bonus. In case you find any question offensive, you can skip it. I apologize in advance for such instances.

Tell us about yourself – your childhood and your family. 

When I was born (my father told me this story) my parents lived in one half of a 10 feet x10 feet room in Girgaon Mumbai: it was sunless, so he named me Kiran.

I had an enviably happy childhood. Even today, my school friends refer to my home as the Sanctuary of Happiness: my dad had a great sense of humour; my mom was great at cooking coastal food and homemade sweets.

My father was an auto-didact: he became one of the top commercial artists in India without the benefit of school, college or art school. He was my biggest influence, my closest friend.

I studied in a school Chembur, a suburb of Mumbai, then graduated in chemistry from SIES College Sion and then became a teacher in a J Krishnamurti school in Benaras: I was just 20 when I made this decision. 

J Krishnamurti was the second biggest influence in my life.

I taught in Rajghat Besant School, as it was known, for four years.  

As a housemaster, I also looked after students, who were barely five or six years younger to me:-) I taught everything I knew: calligraphy, judo, gymnastics, swimming, rock climbing, English grammar, science, quizzing...

Why and when did you decide to become a writer?

I did not decide to become a writer. 

Writing came as naturally to me as breathing. I think of this ability as ‘not mine’, I am a vehicle for this gift.

My non-fiction articles were published in newspapers and magazines even while I was in college.

But when I won the Indo-UK Asian Age Short Story competition in 1995, I realised that my fiction writing could also connect with readers (at least some of them!).

When I started my own consultancy, chlorophyll, in 1999, there was a sense of entrepreneurship and release...and along with that a need to do things I had left behind. I got back to rock climbing, one of my three passions, and started on Halfway Up the Mountain. 

Today I see the act of writing is an act of sharing.

‘Here is what I have experienced, here is what I have discovered as valuable for human beings, do you want to experience that same sense of liberation?’ 

That is what I want I want my books to say. 

I want to write about light, not about darkness. 

I want to write about the unchanging aspects of man, not about the changing.

How was the entire journey of ‘Halfway Up The Mountain’, right from the inception of the idea to the publication of the paperback?

It began with confusion, as would be the case for any first time writer. 

In 1999 the web wasn’t as rich as it is today, so my attempts to find a literary agent online were fruitless. 

Then my friend N Chandar referred me to Jayapriya Vasudevan, India’s first literary agent. 

She changed my life as an author. I call her ‘the most skilled literary obstetrician’! and joke that she has no other organs in her body except a giant heart! She is passionate about everything she does. 

She liked the book so much she said, “Kiran I want to publish it myself.”

That’s how her firm, Jacaranda, published it first in 2003 in India. I was glad that the launch was done by one of India’s finest writers, the late Arun Kolatkar, who was my father’s hero.

Then in 2005, Marion Boyars, publishers of the famous Ken Kesey book ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, published it in UK and US.

I visited those countries and read from my book: it was a different experience, being interviewed on BBC and ITV New York; explaining concepts of advaita; answering extremely knowledgeable audiences.

Later I also read from the book in Beijing and Singapore, encouraged (and hosted) as usual by Jayapriya Vasudevan.

‘Halfway Up The Mountain’ narrates the life of a woman in the society. What influenced you to take up this topic as the plot of your novel?

My mother used to fall ill intermittently in Mumbai, so our family worked out an arrangement: my female cousins, whose families were in villages, would stay with us to help her with the housework and in the bargain get educated in good schools. 

I used to wonder what happened to them when they returned to the village.

And conversely, what would happen to them if they stayed on? 

Then I learnt the concept of ecological refugees: human beings who had to leave because their own villages and cities could not sustain them. That is how the character of Maya was born.

Since the novel is set between 1936 and 1979, it had to reflect the big shifts in the life of the nation along with Maya’s: India being born; Maharashtra being born; Indian artists going abroad to learn the Western narratives of art and so on. 

So Maya has to bear the brunt of casteist and patriarchal attitudes from those years; though I assume some women even today suffer the ignominy of being treated as chattel.

In Benaras, I had learnt the Atmashatakam by Adi Shankaracharya, and I thought, the very idea of a shloka flowering within a girl as she turns into a woman was unique.

What are your other published works, and what projects are you currently working upon?

My second novel ‘Two Pronouns and a Verb’ (which translates as ‘I love you’ ‘She hates him’ or ‘Who am I?”) was published by Amaryllis in 2012. 

Here I have used ayurveda as a leit motif. Ayurveda says there are three key psychosomatic constitutions, and these affect the way each individual perceives reality. So I thought of three friends, representing three constitutions, interpreting the same reality differently.

I got some heart-warming responses to the book: they are all on www.kirankhalap.com

My third book is ‘Black River Run’: I haven’t finished it yet. Black River refers to the tar road; so the protagonist is a taxi driver, who is influenced by Swami Samarth Ramdas, probably the only human being representing evolution at all three levels: body, mind and spirit.

So Buva, the protagonist, attempts to live like him, but his passengers and his neighbours create circumstances that trap him.

When you are not writing, how do you spend your time?

My day job is a brand consultant; my night job is writing; my weekend job is hiking or rock climbing:-) 

Who are your role models in life?

My only role model is my father: he created his life with what he had; he never complained about circumstances. He was cracking jokes with me even when he lay on death bed, paralysed by Parkinson’s. 

I also have great respect for Babasaheb Ambedkar, whose achievements transcended his life circumstances. 

Had you not been a writer, what would you have been?

Travel writer-cum-photographer-cum-rock climber. Take one large van to live in, two dogs, two cats (one wife if she wants to join in:-)), go to exotic rock climbing destinations, shoot photographs, write about them. (I have written quite a few travel articles of Man’s World magazine).

What would be your message to the aspiring writers?

My identity is not linked to what I do, so inside my head, I am just a human being attempting to reach the next level of evolution, not a writer. 

But the one lesson I know is true for reaching excellence in any activity is practice. 

I had the privilege of having the great painter FN Souza in my home during his last Christmas, and he said, “Kiran, I can no longer draw badly, because drawing is part of my metabolism”. 

My dad filled sketch book after sketch book till he achieved his excellence.

Any writer must also be re-writer. 

Rewrite till the words have the exact sharpness and economy of meaning you want. 

What would you like to say to your readers?

My love and gratitude to you for joining me in this pilgrimage.

Thanks a lot Kiran for your valuable time. Wishing you all the best for your current and future endeavours.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Zest-Filled Life

Life isn’t meant to be fun all the times. There would be time when one would feel down, low and dejected, frustrated with the monotonicity all around. How can one overcome these and get back his moments of shine?

Do what makes you happy, not for others, but for your own self, ‘cause life is short. Why not pass it with a sprinkling of zest?

I too face tough times, like anyone else, which is quite normal. However, I have learnt to stay positive, trying to revive the energy in one way or the other. If I have to list down five factors that add zest to my life, well, they would be as follows:

What better way to unwind than to explore places? Yes, I love to travel, and travel a lot. Mountains or beaches, islands or valleys, anything, just anything would do to quench my thirst of adventure. It’s always a pleasure to learn about the cultures of other places, the process resulting in self-discovery.

I am not a versatile dancer, and to be honest, I am blessed with two left feet. But dancing and swinging to groovy beats does give me a high. Dance has the tendency to make you forget about all your tensions, and fills you with positive energy. At least, that’s the case with me.

Staying away from family does add in me the anticipation to meet them. However, due to hectic work schedule, regular meeting isn’t possible. Counting days, and realizing that the time when I will again meet my family is nearing adds a renewed zest in me. This is one important factor that keeps me going, guiding me through across all the ups and downs of life.

4) RUN
As the heartbeat quickens, and the muscles move in sync, I feel free. Running has been an escape route for me from all the negativities of life. Jogging on early mornings and evenings (on weekends) keep my mind focused, and helps me stay rejuvenated.

Unfortunately, this comes just four days a month, but then again, good things are rare. Fridays are like a whiff of fresh air, fragrant and blooming. While Mondays give me blues, Fridays fill my life with colors and hues. Fridays surely are a blessing of the Gods. I have no clue how I, or everyone else, could have coped up with their lives without Fridays.

This post is a part of the #ZestUpYourLife activity in association with TATA Zest and BlogAdda.com

A Few Rays Of Love

a few rays of love
drench this war infested land
I shall be content

This Haiku is shared with

Sunday, July 20, 2014

High 'Five' Zest

Tucked in my bed, welcoming the monsoon with a steaming cup of coffee and a riveting novel, as the clock silently strikes 12, the moon seeping in through my room … yes, that is zest for me. Reading has always given me the pleasure of exploring a new world, unearthing mysteries that are born in the pages of the authors’ imaginations. The best healer, the best lover, and the best friend, books certainly rate high in my world.

Thankfully, organizations nowadays have come up with several activities that keep their employees feeling happy and refreshed, and helps them to relieve their stress caused due to incessant work load. One of the games that I am involved in is Table Tennis. What can I say about it, friends? A round of Table Tennis, and it surely gives me a boost. A winning run, no doubt, heightens the feeling.

The world is adorned in paints. Don’t we all marvel at the sight of a rainbow decorating the horizon? Thankfully, I am blessed with this love of colors. A fluent brush strokes on my canvas, smeared in hues red, blue and yellow, and tinges of red and green, and time stops still. Passion can, at times, not be defined by words, but with these magical shades.

And like most guys, I do love my PS3 (Play Station). Challenging my brother in games such as Counter Strike and FIFA is fun. The contest is evenly matched, with each of us winning almost equal number of games, and that’s what makes this all the more thrilling. The day ends with plans to get hold of a new game, for the upcoming weekend, the battle planned well ahead in our minds, the strategies flowing in the nerves of we hardcore gamers. Yes, exhilarating truly.

I make it a point to keep an hour daily for myself, and my time with God. Closing my eyes, sitting in the puja room, with the divine scent of incense sticks, my mind experiences an altogether different sensation of zest. I feel calm, and at the same time, energetic, feeling all my worries seep away in the embrace of the almighty. Prayers are a vital part of my daily activity, keeping my optimism, and zest alive, and running.

This post is a part of the #ZestUpYourLife activity in association with TATA Zest and BlogAdda.com


How often do we complain about our lives? How much time do we spend brooding over the things that have not been, rather than feeling grateful for what we have? How many of us are keen to ponder over the factors that make us cry rather than delving deeper to find the reasons to smile?

Perhaps, that’s what we humans have got accustomed to over the passage of time, worrying about things that are not in our control. Why can’t we, instead, pay attention to matters that add a zest to our lives?

The best thing would be to note down the things that make us happy, satisfied and energetic. In that way, they would emanate positive vibes that surely would flow towards us.

Strumming Strings
What would life be without music? Solitude serves as bliss when I have my guitar with me, the strings providing a much needed camaraderie. As my heart wanders in search of melody, the ambiance is filled with an unparalleled zest and vigour. Guitar surely comforts, and at the same time, uplifts my mood after a hard day’s work.

Weaving Words
Penning down stories and poems have been my passion. As such, it’s difficult to stay away from the writing zone for too long. Even a few lines provide the much needed zest and zing to life, and completion of a piece of writing, and receiving constructive criticism surely turns out to be a blessed satisfaction.

Moon-lit Roads
Another favourite activity of mine is driving my car on late nights. This is usually reserved for Fridays and Saturdays, and steering ahead on the smooth silvery roads surely gives a pleasurable high. However, to all who love driving, one shouldn’t be rash and not exceed the speed limit.

Yes, Yoga
Health is wealth, and it’s all the more relevant in today’s world due to the cut throat competition all around us. Apart from physical well – being, mental relaxation is important too. Thus, my day starts with an hour of Yoga, a habit that has instilled a sense of positivity in my daily routine, along with a much needed excitement and boost to welcome the new dawn.

And A Best Friend
When you live all by yourself in a distant city, a friendly welcome once you are back from work does add a spark in your mundane life. Same is the case with me. As I unlock the door to enter my 1 BHK apartment, Tuffy, my dear Pomeranian, does add a whiff of freshness, hugging and licking me all over. Love is self-less, and it's so well reflected in his language.

Zest for me can surely be defined in the aforementioned manner. A blessing, a charm, a way of life, filled with fun, optimism and passion.

This post is a part of the #ZestUpYourLife activity in association with TATA Zest and BlogAdda.com.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Rugged Steps

your sole hits the soul
burnt and battered
bruised and tattered
the worn out edges
tell many a tale
of sighs and fears
that envelop the mansion
in brimming despair

will you walk those rugged steps
again, holding on to faith
and the desire to unscramble a happy note
or will you turn away in fury
hurt and dejected, eager to start afresh
'cause you know broken glasses mend
not two hearts, a faint trail scratching through your dreams
urging for a better tomorrow

This Poem is shared with Magpie Tales.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Maharaja In Denims - Review

A tale of love, intrigue, and passion!
Chandigarh: a modern city with all the trappings of the uber-rich – snazzy SUVs, glitzy homes, and fast-paced, decadent lifestyles.
Hari and Suzanne: a young, lusty, college-going couple. While living the life of a normal teenager, Hari starts getting flashes of his past life – which tell him he’s an incarnation of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the mighty founder of Sikh empire two hundred years ago. And when Suzanne attempts to decode Hari’s past life through regression, their lives change forever as many shocking past lives are discovered
Interwoven throughout the unfolding of Hari and Suzanne’s present day story are vignettes of Ranjit Singh’s life and loves, valour and conquests. When Suzanne helps Hari uncover the secrets of his past life, they stumble upon people and incidents that link the present day to the turbulent and disturbing history of Punjab.
The intense story moves to England and then to Mumbai, with an astonishing revelation at the end, which is set in the future yet has a deep historical resonance. A modern tale, Maharaja in Denims is moving, bold, and racy.

Author the Author
Khushwant Singh itinerant writer; columnist ('Punjabi by Nature' in the Hindustan Times); TV anchor; kinnow grower; husband to Harmala; father to Adiraj; connoisseur of the single malt – a life he wouldn't switch for anything.

With a title as interesting as ‘Maharaja in Denims’, you would be tempted to go for the novel. After all, isn't curiosity a major factor that affects a reader’s decision in picking up a book? The cover pic complements the title well, illustrating a jeans clad Maharaja holding a sword. Based on the backdrop of the life of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who reincarnates in the form of Hari, a young college going teen, this book sure promises some adventures and urges the readers to opt for this historical  fiction that takes place in modern world.

Past life regression is what takes the story forward. Hari often sees glimpses of his previous births, which points to the belief that he was Maharaja Ranjit Singh in one of his past lives, the founder of the Sikh empire. Suzanne, his girl-friend, decides to help him by delving deeper into the mysteries of his previous births, and takes the aid of past life regression therapy. However, after each session, the mystery deepens, and flashes of several past lives come knocking into their present, affecting them in ways more than one.

Along with Hari and Suzanne’s love story, the life of Maharaja Ranjit Singh also unfolds, taking us on a tour of the country a couple of centuries back. Not only are his exploits and bravery documented, but his sexual adventures and lust too have been given prominence in this book. Somehow, the flirtatious nature of Hari and his desire to get up, close and personal with every girl he meets and finds attractive has been linked to this attribute of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Often, this hinders the flow and makes the plot drab at places, as the same sexual under currents keep appearing now and again, making it a tad bit monotonous.

The story is well researched and it shows in the snippets of information that the author has put through. The struggle and hardship faced by people, and specially the Sikhs, in times past and present, often leaves a deep impression on your mind. The state of Punjab itself has been portrayed as a major character in the story, and one navigates through the turmoil and disturbances that the city has often witnessed.

Hari is the protagonist in the piece. However, more than the characterization, the emphasis has been laid on the story and the plot development, which is a good thing. However, the author has tried to bring in too much of historical information in the book, which at times makes one feel as if they are coming straight from the school books. Perhaps, a bit of trimming would have made the story tighter and crisper.

Khushwant Singh attempts a genre that’s not easy to execute. Bringing history to light often needs a lot of reflection and visual imagery. The author does a pretty decent job in this front. However, I often felt that perhaps a better work could have been done with the book. As mentioned before, too much of sexual references and historical information stall the pace of the narrative, and better handling of these matters would have resulted in a tighter script.

Nevertheless, for all lovers of historical fiction, this book will serve its purpose in keeping them engaged. If you fall into this category, then you can surely pick up a copy and have a go.

Title: Maharaja in Denims
Authors: Khushwant Singh
Publisher: Amaryllis
Publication Year: 2014
Language: English
Binding: Paperback
Genre: Fiction, Literature, Historical
No. of Pages: 184
Price: Rs 250
My Rating: 3/5

This book review is a part of The Readers Cosmos Book Review Program. To get free books log on to http://thereaderscosmos.blogspot.com.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

So Little Time, So Many Books

(Image Source: http://www.factmonster.com)

"So many books, so little time" - Frank Zappa.

Now, if we reverse the statement, we get to the scenario that's persistent among the modern youth - "So little time, so many books."

Let us be pretty frank about it. The generation of today is no longer a voracious reader. True, there are book lovers around us, but again, if you compare the readers-non readers ratio that was prevalent, say, a couple of  decades ago, with the number today, you will notice a wide disparity.

The question to ask here is, why is reading a hobby limited to only a fragment of the society today?

When I was in junior and middle school, the internet hadn't made in-roads into households. There were no smartphones, no computer, no Facebook and Whatsapp to keep us glued to these devices. Thus, the sources of entertainment were limited to watching shows on Doordarshan, playing outdoor games with friends and of course, reading books. Hence, from the very beginning, book reading was inculcated deep into the system, the hobby gradually turning into a passion. Libraries were in full flow and people used to display their memberships with pride and elan.

Switch back to present day and you would find that the world has experienced a major shift. Books are no longer the preferred pastime. Boys and girls while their time away chatting with friends over social network, or chilling out with companions in the numerous hangout zones. Also, the rise in competition in every field, be it studies or jobs, have lead to a higher level of stress among the common people. The degree of patience and the availability of 'free' time has reduced. This again fails to give rise to new readers, since book reading requires a fair bit of concentration. Why would someone, having struggled ten hours in his workplace, or a student burdened with studies, spend an extra level of concentration reading books? They would surely resort to the internet and social networking to act as their stress busters.

However, as I stated earlier, there are definitely some people for whom reading is an addiction. They pick up one book after another, experiencing nirvana in the process. Unfortunately, they run the risk of being labeled as 'socially incapable nerds'. A non-reader would never realize the high that a reader savors while ruffling through the pages, but then, that's how it is.

We live in a free world where people have the option to pursue whatever hobby they want to. Reading is relaxing and therapeutic for the book lovers. At the same time, the others opt for avenues that suit their interests. We can never force people to read, but at-least we can show them the value associated with it. Books are not just a mean of gathering stories, but they also impact our knowledge in a positive way. We know about history and the current trends. Books transport us to places where we may not be able to go for real, and makes us witness several facets of the world we live in. Surely, reading books is rewarding, nourishing and cherishing, as well as relaxing.

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” - Charles William Eliot.

I agree.

This post is my official entry to IndiSpire - Edition 20: Reading books has reduced dramatically in today's youth. Kids who read books are treated as socially incapable nerds. What is your take on this topic? #BookWorm

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Our Hearts, Sync And Rhyme

let silence frame our words
as we hold on to time
the world obeys, for once
our hearts, sync and rhyme

This Poem is shared with Prompt # 62 - Mamihlapinatapei.