Reading Hour with Aruna Nambiar

Aruna and I were published together in 2005, as part of a collection of short stories called Curtains, stories by 9 women. Even in that selection, I have to admit, her stories had its own brand of gentle humour that brought a smile to your face. When her debut novel Mango Cheeks, Metal Teeth came out a couple of years ago, I picked up a copy and of course enjoyed it a lot.

For Reading Hour January, we had Aruna over at Atta Galatta to chat with me and it was a really nice session. Some excerpts from the session for those who missed it.

I brought up how books that have maps or family trees in the very beginning intrigue and intimidate me at the same time, as a reader. It implies that the author has put in a fair amount of effort into mapping all this out and they expect me to be an alert reader because I will need this information later on. As a writer, I find it interesting as a process. I asked her if she mapped out the family tree before she wrote the book or after.

Aruna agreed that having the entire family tree and that too, three of them in this book, was an afterthought. One of her earlier readers suggested that it would be helpful to readers considering the number of characters there were in the book.

I asked her how she came up with these alliterative names like Terrible Tasneem, Koovait kannan, Ration Raman, Meen Mohammed… And she said that it’s typical of a Kerala small town where people do get remembered or called thus.

I brought up the point that there are two threads running in the story… Of Geetha and her middle class family and on the other hand, Koovait kannan and Ration Raman. Both threads are not parallel and intersect most interestingly. But they’re so different from each other. Was there a favourite when she was writing? Which thread did she enjoy writing more?

Aruna said that the Nair family with the cousins converging on the ancestral home for summer vacation was true to her own experiences but the story of the other half, the domestic help and the people like Koovait Kannan etc was different. She said that writing that thread was more interesting and even fun.

Aruna then followed this up with a reading from the book that was quite funny. It made me remember how she’d said once that she wasn’t aiming for humor. But when she wrote this book it kind of crept in. The studied humour that shows a mirror to our lives, set in the 80s is not just a nostalgic trip. There are some painful growing up moments that Aruna deftly weaves in, so that the reader is left with a feeling of, ah, so that’s what the book was about, once they’ve finished it.

We spoke a little more about characters like Geetha who is the protagonist and how it appears that she seems to have grown the most in the book. There were several questions from the audience too, about various situations that arise when you write a coming of age novel.

Overall, it was a really nice event, intimate and yet, blessed with an interested audience.

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Selfie with the author of the month, Aruna Nambiar!
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Reading Hour with Anjum Hasan

There are so many times when you’re reading a book, and you wish you could ask the author something. Right? I’m so happy to be doing Reading Hour because that’s exactly what I get to do. Ask authors questions that play in my mind as I read their work. How cool is that?

So, on 14th November, Atta Galatta was a hub of crazy activity as it was Children’s Day as well. There were kids running around everywhere and we had to wait a while for the place to settle down, for the noise levels to go down. Even then, Anjum and I had one or two kids look down our backs, curiously wondering what we were doing.

Anjum’s latest novel, The Cosmopolitans was the topic of conversation. It’s a remarkably evocative book, filled with sharp insights and keen observation.

I’ve always been fascinated by how authors name their protagonists. Personally speaking I have a tough time naming them. So the protagonist in The Cosmopolitans, Qayenaat has to be one of the most interesting names I’ve seen. I wanted to know if there was some deeper significance to the name but Anjum said that wasn’t so. Qayenaat, aware of her ethereal name drops her second name, Gupta because it’s so plain and real. The drawbacks of this arise later when Qayenaat, tries to claim insurance after her father dies and is declined because she can’t prove she’s her father’s daughter.

Cosmopolitans is filled with such instances of harsh practical reality that intersperse with Qayenaat’s ruminations of life on a higher level. Like the concern with money, which people would consider crass and vulgar but it’s a concern that is real and stares Qayenaat in her face, often as she sees the world around her in a race for it, while she often feels left behind.

Also, a heroine in her fifties, one unencumbered by a husband, children or a marriage is also unusual. Anjum admitted that she wanted someone with a certain amount of experience, a solid amount of life, lived. Qayenaat’s father who makes a mark in the novel through Qayenaat’s ruminations is important and for him to be who he is, a Nehruvian idealist, it’s important for him to have been born at a certain age. It was therefore inevitable that Qayenaat would be anything less than fifty.

Qayenaat’s understanding of Bangalore is spot on. Her assimilation of the different cultures and different worlds that inhabit this city is remarkably insightful. I wanted to know if it was Anjum’s as well and how she managed to create such an intricate picture. Being a writer, I suppose one learns to observe people and surroundings even when we’re not actively aware of it. And Anjum’s experience with working at an art gallery certainly helped.

One of the things I really wanted to know, especially as a writer myself, was why do protagonists sometimes go away to find themselves. Anjum thought it was a relevant question considering how almost all her protagonists have done that.

Honestly, it’s a little difficult to capture the entirety of the event in a blog post. The audience was articulate and asked some insightful questions. But that’s saying neither this nor that. I’ll try and see if we can record some of the future Reading Hour sessions so they can be uploaded here.

Some pics.

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Note:

There is no Reading Hour planned for December. The next session is in January.

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Reading Hour with Anuja

Yes, I know this is nearly two weeks late but I’ve been really busy and there’s been no time to put anything down. Sorry guys! So here’s a quick recap of the event we did with Anuja at Atta Galatta.

Anuja turned up ten minutes before the event, proceeded to sign books and pose for selfies graciously and fans (including me) were thrilled to have her with us for a whole hour.

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So, without any more delay, here’s the gist of the event.

There are some writers whose books you look forward to greatly, knowing that you’re in for a good time. You trust those authors and know that you can count on them to give you hours of reading pleasure. Anuja Chauhan, who really needs no introduction is one such author. Fans wait for every book of hers with huge anticipation. For readers, she’s a storehouse of dreamy heroes, strong wilful heroines and some deliciously complicated storylines. For writers, she’s a huge source of inspiration. I only have to go back to any of her books, just to be stumped at how much detail she invests into the lives of her characters and their worlds. So it was with much delight that I moderated this session of Reading Hour with¬† her on 20th September.

We got talking about how she’s such a popular author and whether she ever thought she’d become this popular. Anuja modestly admitted that she had no idea that she’d get this popular as an author. But she also admitted how she loved writing because one could just get up and without even moving from bed, pull over your laptop and start writing.
I then asked her about her deliciously complicated plots, if she made any chart to organise it. She admitted her methods weren’t very organised or scientific and although she has certain folders in her computer for plot etc, she ends up not using it.

Of course, when you’re talking about an Anuja Chauhan book, you have to be prepared for some really funny dialogues. Hinglish, yes, but even then, she does have an amazing ear for dialogue. So I asked her if she heard a lot of people talking and absorbed it. How did she retain it? How can she remember it all? Her answer was simple. How can you not remember, she asked, when people botch up pronunciations like it’s a perfectly normal thing to do. She recounted numerous incidents that made the audience laugh out loud, and there’s stuff there that I can’t repeat here. What happened in Atta Galatta stays in Atta Galatta. Ahem. Too bad some of you missed it.

When readers ask me where I can find the heroes in my books, I always tell them, in my imagination. When I asked her she said it’s not entirely in her imagination. A little of this, a little of that, and yes, a belief in a cause maybe, and there you have them.

It’s the same with the a spunky heroines in her books. From the first book till the fourth, they’ve certainly evolved. Anuja agreed, and said that though Zoya is the closest to her she’s enjoyed writing about all these new, sassy heroines like Bonu in The House that BJ built.

To wrap up, I asked her about the filmi plots of her books. How does she know when to stop? Where to draw the line? She admitted that her first readers do help her out but she also avoids using the too many coincidences and other elements that make the work ‘filmi’.
All of us, her eager readers are waiting for her next book, which she’s currently writing.

The next Reading Hour event is in November with Anjum Hasan. Don’t miss it! Details coming soon!

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Reading Hour with Abhijit Bhaduri

In August, the Reading Hour session was held with Abhijit Bhaduri, Chief Learning Officer at Wipro and author of Mediocre But Arrogant and Married but Available and Don’t Hire the Best.

On a cool Saturday evening, we sat down at Atta Galatta for some conversation and coffee. Thankfully it was not raining and the atmosphere was perfect.

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Abhijit is good fun and I developed a really good rapport with him during the course of our conversation where he cleverly tried to steer the questions towards me instead of answering them right away!

Since the topic was about how authors play God with their characters I asked him if he liked it. His answer wasn’t straight but from what I gleaned I think authors don’t have much choice. So there isn’t really a question of liking it or not.

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Then we got talking about his love for the oxymoron as is demonstrated in the names of his books РMediocre but Arrogant and Married but Available. Abhijit joked that if he writes a third one it could be called  Middle-aged but Attractive.

Students are often known to keep derisive nicknames for their professors and he too has kept plenty for his professors as is evident in the book. I wanted to know if he knew what his students had nicknamed him but he didn’t know. Ideally, we should have had a student of his in the audience too!

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We also spoke about the life of students in the 80s as opposed to the lives of students today. One thing that stands out probably is that students today end up treating support staff like furniture and often don’t even know their names.

One of the things we also talked about was his consistent blogging. I wanted to know how he stays motivated enough to continue it from so long. He admitted he started off by uploading his entire novel on his blog at first and then removing it when he realised that that’s not what blogs are about. Abhijit blogs about his work, his interests and reviews movies and books as well. Check out his blog at his website www.abhijitbhaduri.com

Abhijit also gave us some tips on Twitter. He suggested that people who are either useful or interesting get more followers and ideally you should be a little of both. I’m trying Abhijit! I’m trying.

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Reading Hour August was enjoyable and good fun. We hope more people will show up for the next session in September. Just a heads up to everyone. We’re getting Anuja Chauhan for September and it’s on 20th September. Don’t miss that!

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Reading Hour with Samar Halarnkar

If you’re in Bangalore, you must visit Atta Galatta in Koramangala. It’s a lovely book shop and cafe that is also home to numerous cultural events. I’ve held quite a few events for my books here and was invited to be a part of Reading Hour in 2014 with Kavery Nambisan and Nandita Bose was the most gracious host of the event.

Here’s an hour long video of the event in case you actually have an hour to spare. He he! Just kidding.

So, imagine my surprise when Lakshmi who runs Atta Galatta with her husband Subodh called me and asked if I would like to host the event in its new avatar. I agreed almost immediately.

Reading Hour is held in collaboration with the Reading Hour magazine that is run by Vaishali and Arun, and they are extremely passionate about bringing back the culture of reading into our lives.

We started Reading Hour in June and we invited Samar Halarnkar as our first guest. Samar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide to Creative Cooking and the editor of Indiaspend.

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I enjoyed reading his cookbook. Not only did it have unusual recipes, it had some really quirky illustrations.

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Samar spoke to the audience about the economic repercussions of men not cooking and it made for some fascinating listening.

We moved on to talk about the warm and funny elements in his book that perfectly offset the nostalgic overtone. I wanted to know why Samar happily called himself a glutton in this era of Masterchef connoisseurs and his explanation was simple. He calls himself a jugaad or jhatka cook, often assembling ingredients for a meal with the pan on the stove. It was interesting to hear him explain how he managed to conjure meals for his family without being all metrosexual about it.

Samar spoke to us about his love for seafood and fish and of course Old Monk rum as well. We even spoke of how he’s pretty much achieved some sort of foodie nirvana these days.

The audience too wanted to ask him questions about the supposed stigma that’s attached to men cooking for their families as home cooks as opposed to the respect they get by being professional chefs.

It was a perfect June evening for a lovely round of conversation with Samar and a receptive audience who engaged in meaningful conversation.

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