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How to live a sustainable lifestyle the fun way-a chat with Sahar Mansoor and Tim De Ridder

  1. How do you think the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the way industries and individuals are looking at waste generation and sustainability?

-The pandemic created such a large amount of waste from the outset. However, it also rekindled intimacy with parts of our lives that we may have disconnected with. Examples include our kitchen, homes and nature. This reconnection found at an individual level is mirrored by many industries that have grown and/or launched during the pandemic. Specifically, food packaging and e-commerce businesses have developed new ways to operate in a changed world while reducing environmental footprints. In these ways, the pandemic has provided additional perspectives about the things that truly matter on an individual level and what can be innovated and developed at an industry level.


2. The zero-waste life is difficult but as your book has shown clearly doable especially for individuals?  Do you have some tips for larger families especially those with infants since infants do generate a lot of waste such as diapers etc.?

  • One thing that we have focused on in the book is to illustrate that choosing to make a change is the first big step and one that has been undertaken by individuals and organisations across the country. The examples we have used are there to highlight how doable these actions are and what resources are available. For families with infants for instance we have detailed some organisations that retail cloth diapers such as Bumpadum and Super Bottoms. Additionally, In the first two years of life, an average child needs 280 pieces of clothing, most of which are only worn for about two or three months. As a result, a vast amount of kids’ clothing ends up in landfills, losing value and creating adverse environmental impacts. Sharing/circulating clothes among friends and family or at clothes exchanges are ways to reduce waste while making your own gifts for your children and/or involving them in the creation is a unique and memorable way to reduce waste.


3. Capitalism is to a large extent dependent on obsolescence and therefore, on waste.  What message can you send to large business concerns that could inspire them to adopt more sustainable practices?

  • There is no doubt these days that sustainability and reducing waste is the way forward, there is so much research on this now. For businesses wanting to know how to do this make sure to keep it simple by designing out waste from your current system, this could include creating/using high quality products that have a longer life and can be reused in other fashions in the long term. A prime example is e-waste where the core elements of computers, phones and other devices needs to be reused because there is a finite supply of the raw materials. By incorporating models of reuse and refill into business operations each company can make a positive difference for their people, the planet and profit too.


4. Both of you have travelled extensively. Can you describe one incident or anecdote from your travels that really shaped your ideas on sustainability and its impact?

  • Tim: I’ve been fortunate to visit a number of remote and beautiful locations such as the Himalayas. Yet, when I visited there was always waste that polluted rivers and mountain tops. This impact changes the way that people live and needs to be addressed at a systemic level so that the livelihoods of communities and the environment can improve. I’ve witnessed community-based initiatives recently that promote the sale of sustainable and traditional products rather than imported plastic items that was one of the causes of waste in the area. This type of example illustrates a number of benefits of sustainability.


  • Sahar : Throughout my narrative, in our book I speak about my time working in northern Karnataka. This opportunity provided me with the opportunity to spend time in rural India and learn from communities that were choosing sustainable practices, including hand sewing traditional clothes designed to last a lifetime not just to be worn a few times and replaced. This type of practice fills my heart with so much love, it is a perfect picture of how sustainable practices value the environment, rural communities and experiences of travelers who are truly fortunate to visit these locations. There are many lessons to be learnt from people across our diverse country.


5. Bare Necessities has some wonderful recipes and DIYs using easily available ingredients that replace many less environmentally-friendly products. Let’s simplify these even further. Can you name 5 ingredients that you could survive with on a desert island?

  • This is a fascinating case study! I hope I never end up trapped on a desert island but if I did and wanted to create some of the DIY recipes I’d hope to find coconuts, bananas, yellow gram & green gam, along with honey and turmeric. Many of these ingredients form the backbone of the recipes we have shared and could provide sustenance too. For instance, coconut oil/water and the flesh of the coconut can be used for rehydration and if needed for personal care recipes for your skin, hair and teeth. Similarly, bananas, gram, honey and turmeric can be used for nutrition, cleaning and self-care. It’s pretty cool to think about but let’s hope we never get stuck on an island, I much prefer to make these products in Bangalore with my manufacturing team.


6. Have you noticed any positive impacts on your personal health since you switched to more sustainable personal care products?

  • There are many that I gained from the point where I made the shift to a zero-waste life. I would actually enjoy taking a deep dive into the benefits of the changes to my personal care routine through a longitudinal study now that I use organic face masks among other products. One area that doesn’t need a long-term evaluation is on the impacts in the kitchen. Many of the benefits I gained in my life combined both the decisions in my personal care routines for the things I placed on my body with the items I consumed. Overall my health improved markedly due to this combination of not using products with harmful chemicals while eating more raw and whole foods instead of packaged.


7. Which sector of the economy do you think will experience the most change as more buyers shift to sustainable consumerism in the future?

  • An area that we mentioned a little above with innovations from businesses aiming to reduce their environmental impact. Specifically, the creation of sustainable packaging is an area that is likely to experience significant growth. The use of hemp, mycelium and seaweed for example is seeing the development of alternatives to packaging made out of plastic and styrofoam among other harmful materials. This is an area of exciting change for the future and one that may well revolutionise business and increase the uptake of people involved in the circular economy, thus enabling a transition to a more sustainable/earth-friendly lifestyle.



On writing and politcs: A chat with author Vinay Sitapti

How long was the research process for the book?

This took me three years. But I was also teaching during this period.


Why this subject in particular?

I am a child of the 1990s, and the two biggest political trends of that decade was liberalisation and the rise of the BJP. My first book, on P.V. Narasimha Rao, was a response to this first political trend. This book was motivated by the second trend — the political rise of Hindu nationalism — that I remember from my childhood.


What has been the most rewarding experience about writing this book?

Front cover of Jugalbandi
Jugalbandi || Vinay Sitapati

While writing the book, I immersed myself in the world of Hindu nationalism — talking to people, reading books and articles, going through archives — over its 100 year period. Then suddenly I began to see patterns and trends, for instance their 100 year focus on organisational unity. It was almost as if my vision had suddenly changed from blurred to focussed.

Any criticism experienced? How about any encouraging instances/incidents?

The most encouraging feeling is that even though the topic is so polarising, the book has not been slotted as ‘left’ or ‘right’. The book has not provoked anger, rather I think it has spurred understanding. That’s a lovely feeling. It means that scholarship, if done right, can bring people together. There have of course been criticisms — that I have been unduly harsh on Vajpayee for instance. I only request that the reader looks at my evidence and asks whether my conclusions flow from it.


What should we look forward from you, next?

I haven’t yet decided on what next. But I enjoyed not just the popular reception to Jugalbandi, but also the process of writing it. So whatever else I work on next must not just be interesting to the reader, it should be interesting to me.


Time for some tough questions with Deepak Ramola

50 Toughest Questions of Life invites people to have a conversation about themselves with themselves. Author Deepak Ramola’s quest began after he was inspired by the life lesson of a young girl who said, ‘Life is not about giving easy answers, but answering tough questions.’

Today we ask him some questions, to understand him and his journey a little bit better.

At what point did you decide to write a book with your experiences?

Last year, in February, while standing at the self-help section of a bookstore, I had an epiphany that most books were full of answers. I was curious to find out how people would respond to a book of questions. I had so many of them documented over the years, I started to give them shape and context for the book. I started writing in school for debates competitions and school magazine, I guess the seeds were sown there.

What is your favorite part about this book, and what was the most challenging question for you?

Front Cover 50 Toughest Questions of Life
50 Toughest Questions of Life || Deepak Ramola

Favorite part:

The stories that follow each question, encouraging people to put themselves at the centre of their life without guilt has been my goal with the book. I really love the story about the visually impaired girl who talks about the advantage of being blind along with the Mexican stories about the two trees of harm and healing.

Challenging part:

To keep it simple and honest. I was cautious to never over-impose my answers on to the readers but nudge them just enough to come up with their own. I had to go through a personal emotional roller-coaster with each of the 50 questions. Particularly reflecting on my toughest goodbye, how can someone make me feel loved was hard.

You started with around 500 questions, how did you come down to 50?

I followed my instinct on what seemed difficult to me and then, how people over the years responded to certain questions. I shuffled the list quite a bit with each draft. There are so many questions that I am yet to answer for myself, so I pulled them out in hope for a sequel to this book. Lastly, these 50 questions I feel are the ones we all need to answer collectively as the human race to be more kind and empathetic.

Who were the people that inspired these questions?

My mother never went to school but treated life as her classroom was a big inspiration for me growing up. Many questions emerged from our conversations. She taught me that literacy and education were two separate things and if we ask the right questions, we can educate ourselves beyond the infrastructure of curriculums. Apart from that Oprah Winfrey. Maya Angelou. Vishnu Kaushal. My team at Project FUEL. Interactions with Syrian refugees. My sister Deepika. And people I have learnt from and taught over the last 11 years. David Cooperrider once said, “We live in the world our questions create.”

What was the first question you ever wrote? And what is your next question going to be?

First question:

How would you introduce yourself with love?

Next question:

Have you ever given up on something beautiful and why?

Jump into a reading hOle with hOle books!

A Short History of the hOle Books by Sayoni Basu, creator of the hOle books

front cover Chumki and The Elephants
Chumki and The Elephants || Lesley D. Biswas


When Duckbill was starting, and we were doing a systematic market survey to see what the obvious gaps were in the different kinds of Indian books for children being published, it was easy to spot that one gaping hOle was early chapter books for children. There were lots of internationally published ones, from the UK and US, but a dearth of locally published ones. There were many Indian picture books, and many storybooks, but there was a jump in level between them so that there was no smooth, natural transition We wanted a distinctive identity for the early chapter book series—one of the joys of series publishing is that one can think seriously long term—and the best identity is always through design, so we turned to Gunjan Ahlawat. He said he had always wanted to do books with a hole in them, and so the hOle books were born.



front cover The Clockwala's Clues
The Clockwala’s Clues || Varsha Seshan


The hOles on each page have been a great source of joy. For editors, it is fun to come up with concepts where hOles could be incorporated into the story. For illustrators, it was fun to make characters jump from one page to another through the hOle or transform hOles into elements of an illustration. We were very clear that the stories would be contemporary, Indian, and with protagonists who were the age of the potential readers (so about seven till nine), facing dilemmas and challenges which the readers would be familiar with. And while the first few books were commissioned and the series ideas carefully explained to the authors, very soon, we started getting manuscripts which were labelled ‘hOle books’, showing that people had started identifying the central characteristics themselves. Over the years, the hOle books have been shortlisted for or won every major book award in India. Several authors have written mini series within-series, such as the adventures of Petu, Timmi, Maya, Peanut and Chumki, who have appeared in two or more books.


front cover the chirmi chasers
The Chirmi Chasers || Arefa Tehsin



We are really thrilled that there are now twenty-five books in the series. Series publishing is the backbone of children’s books all around the world—and it makes us really happy that this series has sustained itself and taken on new dimensions and is known and loved by so many people. It is truly a moment to celebrate.


Nature, wildlife and adventure: Chat with Deepak Dalal

What drove you to write children’s fiction in particular?  


I have always believed that stories are a great tool for disseminating ideas. When you read a good book, the story grips you and you sponge in the concepts the writer weaves in. Children are receptive, they are open to ideas. Adults are hardened versions of children and stories – as a means for influencing the reader – grow less effective. This is why I find writing for children far more rewarding. 

Apart from this I empathise with children and I enjoy spending time with them. By no means can I call myself youngyet I like to believe that there are a lot of childlike qualities in me. 

Front cover of Ladakh Adventure
Ladakh Adventure || Deepak Dalal


Your books may fall under the broad genre of ‘children’s fiction’, but the themes you highlight deserve urgent attention. What attracted you to these fragile ecosystems?  


The threat to the well-being of our planet is very real. Across land, freshwater and the oceans, human activities are forcing species populations and natural systems to the edge. There have been 5 mass extinction events in the 4.5 billion years that the earth has existed. Each of them due to natural causes. It is the current belief that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction and this one is entirely due to humans and our activities.   

Most children live in cities today, entirely disconnected from the natural world. Through stories set in wilderness destinations I try to connect children with wildlife, forests and the great beauty of our planet. My hope is that if at a young age they can be drawn to the natural world, they will help in saving what remains of it. 

Front cover of Ranthambore Adventure
Ranthambore Adventure || Deepak Dalal


How would you describe the wildlife conservation efforts in India at the moment?  


We have some of the best wildlife scientists and conservationists in the world. Several species have been brought back from the brink through their efforts. These include animals like the tiger, the snow leopard, the rhinoceros, and birds like vultures and the amur falcon. But it isn’t all hunky dory. In spite of our best efforts, we are about to lose the Indian bustard and with the shrinking of wildlife habitats many more creatures will disappear. The loss of forests and wildlife isn’t for lack of effort on the part of conservationists. Rather it is the absence of political will and the apathy of our public – for most of whom wildlife is inconsequential – that is at the root of the problem. 



You describe the moments of encounters between human beings and animals with great detail and intimacy. Are these based on your own experiences with animals?  


I spend a lot of time researching my books. I travel to the destination where the story is set and hook up with wildlife conservationists who are studying animals there. This could be people who are studying tigers, or snow leopards, or marine scientists researching oceanic creatures. These researchers take me into wilderness areas where others can’t visit and it is my experiences with them that provide the backbone to my stories and help me describe animals and landscapes with clarity and detail. 


In this moment, do you think it is possible for human beings and animals to really live in harmony without impinging on each other’s spaces?  


One can’t do away with human-animal conflict. It will always exist. But we can significantly reduce the conflict. Today wildlife exists in isolated forests, most of them small and inadequate for species like elephants that roam in search of food. Wildlife scientists are campaigning for building corridors (stretches of jungle) that will connect the forests and allow animals to move unhindered from one forest to another. These corridors are vital for reducing tragic encounters between animals and humans. 

Get to know your author – A factual glimpse into Bilal Siddiqi

Bilal Siddiqi, a shining star among the young authors has authored four novels. His fifth – The Phoenix – is an exciting new release, hot off the press and will transport you into a world of secret missions, uncertain loyalties and retribution.

Siddiqi is a fan of the world of espionage and thrillers. His novel The Bard of Blood has been adapted into a Netflix series.


Upon the release of his new book, we bring you some fascinating facts about the dazzling author who has brought us one nail-biter after another.


1. His first novel was called The Bard of Blood, which he wrote he was 19 years old. It was published when he was 20.


2. It wasn’t only James Bond, Robert Ludlum and Fredrick Forsyth that drew him to the genre of the spy thriller. His interest in studying the patterns of religious conflict and the roots of extremism drove him to write The Bard of Blood


3. He is an avid reader, and loves fiction.


4. Not only did Bollywood actor Emraan Hashmi star in the Netflix adaptation of The Bard of Blood but he also co-authored The Kiss of Life with Siddiqi (bet you didn’t know this one!)


5. Siddiqi enjoyed reading Shakespeare in college.


6. The first and only advance copy that Penguin India gave Siddiqi was presented to him by Shah Rukh Khan.


7. Siddiqi is not bound by genre. He likes to write in different styles. The Bard of Blood was a spy thriller, The Kiss of Life a biography, The Stardust Affair a romantic thriller, and The Pheonix is a fast-paced thriller.


8. He considers author Hussain Zaidi his mentor. He started working with Zaidi after Zaidi had asked for 10 volunteers to help him with research for his novel Mumbai Avengers in 2014. Siddiqi was shortlisted.


Siddiqi says he started writing his novel but getting published was not his goal. He was writing for himself, so that years later, he would have something to look back upon as a piece of himself from the past. Well, he did get published. And the rest is history.


[The Phoenix is out now.  Get your copy today!]

On startups and the post-COVID world

Was there a specific ah-ha moment or an incident that made you realize how necessary a book like this was?

Oh there were hundreds. Between the two co-authors, we have met several hundred start-up founders, and they have all been looking for that elusive manna from heaven, namely funding. But we were surprised at how clueless most of them were about how to go about it. Many of them had no entry barrier – something that investors insist on. Most of them did not have scalable businesses, without which investors would simply pass. In fact many of them had no real business plan – they were simply executing.

We used to advise mentor these founders on all the above issues. And then it hit us. Why not write a book about it. And reach not hundreds, but thousands of start-up founders. And that’s where out book was born.


Co-authoring a book comes with its own asset of challenges but the authorial voice in this is so consistent. How did you manage that?

Right from the beginning, we realized that the style of writing had to be consistent right through. Both the authors provided content – and each one clearly had his own strengths. Both wrote drafts. There were the usual fist fights over some of the material – ending amicably over beer, of course. But the final version was penned by one of us – with both the authors concurring.


Is there a secret sauce for a successful start-up?

Yes there is, but its not secret. It’s a framework that the authors have developed after studying hundreds of start-ups – both successes and failures. And its called PERSISTENT. To explain, P stands for PROBLEM. In other words, are you solving a problem for your customer? E refers to EARNINGS MODEL, or simply, how will you make money? R is the RISKS associated with the business. S stands for SIZE OF THE MARKET. I refers to INNOVATION, which your product or solution must have. The second S implies SCALABILITY. After all, even if you are operating in a gigantic market, you will not get anywhere unless your business is scalable. T refers to the TEAM – starting with the founders of course. E stands for ENTRY BARRIER, or how the business will keep competitors at bay. N refers to NICHE – if you are in a large, crowded market, identify a non-crowded NICHE within it. And the final T stands for TRACTION. You many have everything else, but are you actually getting customers and rupees?

We have found that successful start-ups are PERSISTENT, whereas unsuccessful ones lose out on one or more of the PERSISTENT  parameters. And that’s what we have focused on in our book.

Funding Your Startup Front Cover
Funding Your Startup || Dhruv Nath, Sushanto Mitra

From an investor’s perspectives which sectors do you think would be the best to invest in right now?

We would like to divide sectors into three categories. Those which have been negatively impacted by Covid – such as hotels, restaurants, gyms, movie halls, taxi and bus services, travel, etc. These are a clear no-no for investors right now. After all, why would you invest in such uncertain times?

Then there are those sectors which have not been impacted, either negatively or positively – such as FMCG and agritech. These are evergreen sectors, and will remain so. In fact, Lead Angels has been investing actively in these sectors, even during the pandemic.

Finally, we have the star sectors – those that have been impacted positively by Covid. Sectors that have boomed because people were forced to stay at home and change their lifestyle. On-line gaming is one. After all, what do you do, if you have to sit at home 24×7? You play games, don’t you? Another area is On-line education, all the way from little kids to adults. In fact, several investments that Lead Angels has made in these sectors over the past couple of years, have just skyrocketed beyond our own expectations. And of course there is health. People are getting more and more concerned about health, and that is leading to a surge in businesses in health-tech. As well as businesses which are into organic or natural products. You see, eat healthy, be healthy, and invest healthy is the mantra now.


What kind of impact will the pandemic have on startups?

Apart from the sectoral shifts that we have spoken about earlier, there are two significant impacts. First of all, founders have begun to cut costs dramatically – simply to survive in a low-business environment. Salaries have been reduced, plush offices are being vacated and business are shifting to smaller, lower cost environments. Work from home is becoming a bit of a norm. We believe some of these trends will be permanent – such as the trend in increasing work from home.

The second major impact is that Covid has separated the men from the boys. Here we mean the founders of course. There are those who have simply thrown up their hands and are waiting for God – or the appropriate vaccine – to help. But there are those who are fighting. Those who have pivoted their business model, either temporarily or permanently, to stay afloat in this pandemic. Interestingly, this has given investors a great way to separate out the investible companies from the rest. Namely, look for founders who are fighters. Those who have figured out ways to survive. They are the winners of the future, and they deserve your money, dear investor.


Have you observed some startups that have become successful without funding?

Sure. Unfortunately, funding has become a kind of “In-thing”. You have to get funding because your peers have got it. How else will you hold a glass of beer at the next party and talk nonchalantly about Series A and Series B? Funds should be raised because you need them, and not because it is fashionable to do so. Two highly successful companies mentioned in the book – InfoEdge and IndiaMart – started off over twenty years ago and steadfastly refused to raise funding, except when it was really necessary. They are now both market leaders in their respective fields. Among the recent ones, we have an interesting company called Gadgetrestore, which is into the business of repairing and refurbishing mobile phones. They started just over a year ago, never raised funding, are profitable, and are growing. What more can you ask for? Remember, funding is to be taken when you need it, not when your friend has taken it!


Shahana Raza on translating her grandmother’s memoir

Saeeda Bano was the first woman in India to work as a radio newsreader, known then and still as the doyenne of Urdu broadcasting. Over her unconventional and courageous life, she walked out of a suffocating marriage, witnessed the violence of Partition, lost her son for a night in a refugee camp, ate toast with Nehru and fell in love with a married man who would, in the course of their twenty-five-year relationship, become the Mayor of Delhi. Though she was born into privilege in Bhopal-the only Indian state to be ruled by women for four successive generations-her determination, independence and frankness make this a remarkable memoir and a crucial disruption in India’s understanding of her own past.


Read below an interview with the translator of the book, Shahana Raza:


Q: The seed to translate this book was sown back in the day when your grandmother got her friend to read and record it on to audio cassettes for you. Could you shed some light on this incident/process?

My grandmother wrote the book in Urdu. When I told her, I can’t read or translate it as she has written it in a language I can understand well but can’t read, she asked her friend to narrate and record the entire book on to analog audio cassettes. I had no clue she was doing this! One fine day, 8 neatly marked cassettes were handed to me just as I was leaving for America. The tapes travelled with me – from India to the US and are finally here with me in Dubai. When I decided to translate Bibi’s book, (we all called Saeeda Bano, Bibi) I found Syeda Shan who read the entire book out as I transcribed it word for word. Not only was her Urdu fabulous she also had a huge lughat –Urdu dictionary. Then Urdu

litterateur, translator and writer Zakia Zaheer combed through the entire translation with me to ensure my writing had done justice to the original. My grandmother’s Urdu vocabulary was highly erudite.


Q: Translation requires a certain degree of transparency. How did you manage to indulge and also be detached, especially when this book must have rekindled old memories of your grandmother?

Initially I felt awkward, especially the chapters after her marriage when one realizes her experiences as a wife are not entirely joyful! At this point Bibi quotes Mirza Ghalib,

Phir waza e ahteyat se …. rukne laga hai dum….’

I am so consumed with the anxiety of being discreet, I feel suffocated

I realized this was my grandfather she was talking about! Though he passed away before I was born, everyone who knew him said he was a kind man and a loving father. So, that was not easy. But I strongly believe, people have several sides to their personality, we are not unidimensional creatures. I mean, for example, I may be a better daughter and mother, than a wife or a sister … we can’t judge a person from the perspective of one relationship.  I kept this focus while translating. I saw both her (and him) for who they were – a young couple unable to navigate the complex world of marriage, not from the point of view of my relationship with them. This helped me to flesh out the various shades of emotions Bibi has expressed so beautifully in her memoir.


Q: Is there any section from the book that you look back to in times of uncertainty/adversity?

Several actually, but the main one is the determination with which she leaves behind the life of comfort and familiarity she was used to in Lucknow and comes to Delhi in August 1947, to start working in a male dominated industry as the first woman news reader for AIR’s Urdu service. She chooses to live in a single woman’s hostel (in YWCA) instead of with family friends, experiences communal riots, endures financial hardships and despite tackling occasional bouts of self-doubt, never ever looks back or gives me. I admire the fact that she did what she did without making an apology of the truth, curtailing her innate spirit or bowing down to societal expectations. I am quite fascinated that she could sit and write whatever she faced in life, this candidly.


Q: Which people, other than your grandmother, inspired you while you were growing up?

Most definitely my mother Naushaba. She was quite something herself! Extremely gutsy, loving, fiery, bold, great sense of humour, she could zap boredom out of any experience and make it memorable – from a torturously bumpy rickshaw ride to a formal Parent-Teacher meet. I remember her telling my teachers that they should let me focus on my extra-curricular activities instead of pressurizing me to get better grades! Like all dynamic women she too had several sides to her personality. She is no more, but my aunts and my Mum’s close friends inspire me in many ways to keep focus but not miss the wood for the trees. These ladies have carved strong identities for themselves despite all odds, we have to accept them for the women they are, not just as mothers, aunts and grandmothers.


Get your copy here to get to know about the life and times of Saeeda Bano

Srishti Chaudhary on being a young author, her 90s nostalgia and more!

Who/what inspired Tara Taneja?

The first characteristic that I gave Tara was that she’s great at Maths, and that’s very funny, because I’m not, and it’s like projecting my fantasy of being a maths whiz onto my character. I had this image in my mind of this super sharp, entrepreneurial girl, one of those people you can’t pull one over. She’s always on her feet, boys her age are afraid to mess with her, and all of this stems out of the fact that she’s always felt put down by her cousins and her uncle, so she’s always trying to over-prove herself. It’s justa. mixture of some things I wished I was, some things I am, and also a synthesis of different people I have met in my life.


What is it like being a young author in India today?

I am not sure, because I actually don’t meet that many writers my age. To me it is a way of life and I can’t imagine not doing it. It’s really nice as well because I think India is a country hungry for stories, but also full of them, so I feel like a middleman trying to capture these stories and narrating them. The not-so-nice part is that there is a huge expectation on writers to have a huge following, so I feel many writers focus on that, being ‘authorpreneurs’ which is a bit of a ridiculous term- as a writer, one’s job is to write a good story, everything else should be secondary.


Your first book, Once Upon a Curfew, was set during the Emergency, while Lallan Sweets is set in the 90s. Is the element of nostalgia deliberate and where does it come from?

Once upon a Curfew was a bit more serious because it was a severe, dangerous time. There were great challenges, and it needed a lot of research because it’s so far in the past for me. 90s, however, was a much more fun time- there was all this foreign culture coming in after 1991, candies and food that people before never dreamt of. There was more to watch than Doordarshan, this great Bollywood era of Shah Rukh Khan and Yashraj and the feeling that love conquers all- I think it was a very fun and optimistic time, unencumbered by the limitless possibilities that technology offers, rendering an innocence to the time. I grew up in the nineties, and simply sought to capture my childhood by making it a setting for Lallan Sweets.

Lallan Sweets || Srishti Chaudhary

Lallan Sweets also talks about themes of family and traditions. What do those words mean to you – as an individual and as an author?

Family of course is the most enriching part of being human- there are these four or five humans around you who drive you absolutely nuts, but at the same time are crazy about you. Nobody else in the world is more annoying and more loving, and that is the dichotomy of family- they are there for you all the time (even when you don’t want). Traditions are nice and fun, if taken lightly; if you ask me, traditions are meant to be flouted, just like rules are meant to be broken. Traditions stop being important the moment they curtail someone’s freedom. Lallan Sweets shows that a traditional magic ingredient may be passed down for generations- but in the end, it’s what you make of the journey that counts.


What was the process of writing Lallan Sweets like and what kind of research did you do for it?

I had to find out about different cities since the story goes across Mathura, Agra, Bareilly, Delhi, Chandigarh and Ludhiana. The most fun part was creating my own little small town, Siyaka, which was a mixture of several small towns I have seen, but mostly a manifestation of my own childhood memories, which although was in a big city, yet my world was very small, so it had the feeling of a small town. Since it’s set in the 90s I got to revisit the pop culture of the time, which was honestly so fun- going back to Hum Paanch, Filmi Chakkar, Shaktimaan- all these series we used to watch. The games were different, past times had nothing to do with a screen- research was super fun because it was going back to an old me, like a friend I had forgotten about.


What advice do you have for other young authors aspiring to break out in the publishing space today?

Just to focus on writing a good story, make your friends read it, get sound feedback, and pitch like there is no tomorrow. Never ever be afraid of rejection- I go by the philosophy ‘fail faster, succeed sooner’ 🙂

Sadguru Patil and Mayabhushan Nagvenkar answer questions on the life of Manohar Parrikar and the process of writing a biography

Over the last two decades, the exploits of one man, an IIT-Bombay alumnus, changed the way mainstream India looked at Goa and the political goings-on in the country’s smallest state. An Extraordinary Life traces the life and times of Manohar Parrikar through the informed voices of his relatives, friends, foes, bureaucrats and IIT contemporaries. The daily battles of a gifted individual are brought to the fore as he encounters love and vices. But more importantly, it showcases his rise in politics from the son of a grocery store owner in a nondescript town, a sanghachalak in Mapusa town, an Opposition MLA and leader, to a chief minister (on multiple occasions) and, finally, to a defence minister.

Read below an interview with the authors:



Writing a biography needs an author to write without bias. How difficult is that and how did you make sure of it?
The battle with bias is a constant one. A biography is less about relaying everything about a person’s life. It involves a process of curating a selection of events, personality traits and portrayal of relationships, so as to convey an account of one’s life, which is as accurate as it can get. The key is of course getting the selection right. It’s like a well curated menu, which has the right balance of hors d’oeuvres, main courses and desserts. You simply can’t make do with desserts alone. 


Could you share a moment while writing this book which made you pause in awe of Manohar Parrikar’s life?
The account in the book narrated by a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh functionary Ratnakar Lele. He talks about a young Parrikar drawing water from a well when everyone else was asleep, using a coir-rope tackle and a pitcher for four hours from 11 pm to 3 am, because an electric water pump malfunctioned at an RSS camp attended by hundreds of swayamsevaks.  After he was told about Parrikar’s feat, Lele even checked the calluses on his swayamsevak’s palms to verify the story. 


To make sure you cover all angles while writing biography involves extensive research; could you share with us the research process?
Manohar Parrikar as a subject wasn’t a new one for us. As journalists we had covered developments involving him and the BJP extensively for our respective media publications. There was a blind spot though; his family. We laid a lot of emphasis to weave his family, including all his siblings and children, into the biography’s narrative. Their stories helped add fresh facets of his personality and familial relationships which were rarely discussed before, to the manuscript. 
The discipline of research involved meeting up with Sadguru and drawing up multiple questionnaires for resource persons we had identified. The questionnaires would be constantly updated ahead of second, third visits. Sadguru did a bulk of the information-gathering for the biography. Every time we met, we would discuss the day’s draft which needed to be written which was my responsibility. This research was complimented with both short and long deadlines to complete the daily quota of writing and for finalising individual chapters and eventually the manuscript. 


Do you have any advice for writers wanting to delve into the biography genre?
If you are diligent enough, the obvious won’t be missed. But one still has to look for the scattered pearls. And sometimes, you need to know which oyster to shuck open to get to that missing pearl. 


The life of a politician involves tremendous sacrifice; which one incident from Manohar Parrikar’s life did you think made him rethink how to balance work and personal life?
Just to set the context right, the word ‘sacrifice’ tends to read with a positive overtone. Something about it does not seem to be in harmony with the word ‘politics’, the way we see it in India in general. As far as Parrikar’s life goes, there appeared to be an imbalance between his family life and his political mission. The latter seems to have overwhelmed his time, leaving little for the former. But there is one incident, where Parrikar, who was rarely known to indulge own sons when they were young, made time during an official trip as Defence Minister to China, to buy a toy excavator and a truck from a shopping mall, for his grandson Dhruv. 


Do you think there should be more representation of youth in positions of power?
For the sheer need to break the status quo of stagnant political thought, yes. 


 You’ve covered politics extensively over the past years; any suggestions for people of this generation who wish to join politics?
If you are looking for tips from writers vis a vis joining politics, then maybe you don’t have it in you to make it there. If you feel you are cut out for it, just take the plunge. You will either learn to swim or be cast ashore by the tide. 


Get your copy of An Extraordinary Life here

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