Category Archives: Books and Authors

A conversation with author Karan Bajaj

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Karan Bajaj is an Indian American author of three contemporary Indian novels, Keep Off the Grass (2008), Johnny Gone Down (2010) and The Seeker (2015). 

Karan  also works as the Chief Marketing Officer of Aden + Anais in New York . His current novel ” The Seeker” has been creating waves all around and has received fabulous response from people. I came in touch with Karan through Facebook and was quite impressed by the genuineness and  positive approach to connect with his readers . I find his 5 minutes video on meditation and some  important aspects of our lives very useful .

In an exclusive conversation here , Karan talks about his inspiration , his books , his writing process , his deep interest in Yoga and also shares some valuable tips with aspiring authors.

Q) How has been the writing process for you? I have watched your few videos and came to know that you took a break for one year to travel and learn yoga. Does this help you to write better?

Yes – absolutely. In 2013, my wife Kerry and I left our jobs and apartment in New York City and embarked on a year-long spiritual and creative sabbatical. First, we went to a Buddhist retreat in the Scottish Highlands, then traveled from Europe to India by road on buses, trains, ferries and hiking with no particular destination in mind, deciding each day where to stop for the night and where to go next. Once in India, we stayed at the Sivananda Ashram in South India and learnt to become Yoga teachers, then lived in the Himalayas, learning meditation and hiking. En-route the U.S, I spent three months in an artist’s residency in Portugal, researching and writing.

Although I’ve been playing with the ideas in The Seeker for many years, the rugged external adventure of Max, the protagonist was largely inspired by this journey. Even the core philosophy of the book changed as my knowledge of Vedanta and Buddhism deepened during the course of this sabbatical. Throughout the journey, I also spent several months of dedicated full-time writing in isolated spots like the Himalayas and a writer’s retreat in Portugal. I had no cell phone or access to internet, and limited contact with people for weeks at a time. I read the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali over and over while writing. Many readers have told me that they’ve experienced a deep sense of calm while reading The Seeker, and I believe that’s related to my state of mind while writing. I was meditating for two hours a day, practicing yoga for an hour a day and writing with no contact with the noisy, chaotic world.

Q) The tagline underneath your website reads Modern life through yogic prism. Don’t you think Modernity and yoga are at loggerheads? How can they complement each other?

The Yoga Sutras say that man’s purpose is first, evolution, then involution: An eagle in perfect rhythm flaps its wings high, then brings them down gracefully. So must we first push ourselves to stretch, grow and experience the world, then detach from it. I think yoga reveals its full glory in the detachment phase but it does teach you a few lessons in the growth phase as well.

Right now, for instance, I’m balancing the role of a writer, a start-up CMO, a husband and a father and yoga gives me a spiritual framework to try to be completely devoid of ego or a sense of self in all my activities. So I wake up and meditate each morning as if it was a part of my routine, like brushing my teeth. At office, I practice karma yoga – doing the best I can for the company without thought of my own selfish interests. I try not to gossip or engage in petty politics. In the evening when I write, once again, I try to write or promote the book or whatever I’m doing with as much selflessness and honesty as I can. This is not to say I’m perfect. I stumble often but at least striving to live with the yogic ideal of complete selflessness allows a daily framework to approach life.

 Q) You have written three books till now, Keep off the grass, Johnny gone down and the latest one “The Seeker”. How different they are from each other? And do you think while writing these books you have evolved as an author or as a person?

The dominant theme that runs through my three books is how ordinary men reveal their full potential when faced with extraordinary circumstances. They’re all characters crying for the infinite in a finite world and pushing the boundaries of their existence in search of greater purpose. So in that sense, they are similar.

But definitely, my goal as a writer is to grow and become better with each book. So in a sense, I think The Seeker combines what’s worked for me in the past with Keep off the Grass and Johnny Gone Down—a thrilling page-turning adventure—with greater depth and meaning. At its surface, The Seeker is an adventure of a banker who goes from the dark underbelly of New York to a world of hidden ashrams and remote caves in India. But what makes it meaningful is the protagonist’s seeking answers to questions that have bothered all of us at some point or the other—why is there so much pain and suffering in the world, what would a modern day version of the Buddha’s classic quest for enlightenment look like and the end of it all, what makes for a meaningful life?

 Q) Your latest book “The Seeker” has been creating quite a buzz. Is it your own autobiography? What was the force behind writing this book?

In a sense, all novels are emotionally autobiographical since the author’s deepest yearnings form the genesis of the character’s motivations. Here too, Max, the protagonist asks many of the meaning-of-life questions that I have wrestled with.

I’ve also walked many of the same roads as the protagonist. I did a yoga teacher training course at an ashram in the south of India, I meditated in silence for weeks, I hiked through storms in the Himalayas and even crossed a glacier barefoot, just as Max did in the story. Every character in the book has the name of a real person I met at some point in the journey. Every place mentioned is a place I physically visited. As they say, fiction is real life without the boring parts!

 Q) Describe your writing process. Do you conceive the story and then work it around or you just go with the flow? Does the story take it over you after a point?

I start with a broad theme which is of great meaning in my life, then wrap it in a pulsating, page-turning story. Once I have that, it’s just a matter of discipline. I write an hour a day when I’m working and four to six hours when I’m not working—and just keep plugging away.

The bedrock of great writing is one’s ability to create a fictive dream so that a reader is transported to the world the author is creating with his or her words. A very rich sense of detail is needed to create this fictive dream. The moment a detail rings false, the fictive dream breaks and the author loses the reader’s attention. For such meticulous detail, you have to research very, very thoroughly and then keep re-writing until you become just a medium for the story to tell itself.  In order to make the beginning of my new novel authentic, for instance, I read more than fifty books on growing up in the housing projects in the US and visited the Bronx again and again until I could see, feel, and smell the danger in the streets. Only then did Max, my protagonist’s, thoughts, feelings, words and actions become his own. And in fact, I was not intending to visit the Himalayas during my sabbatical – but because Max was going to the Himalayas to find a cave for his meditation in the story, I had to change my plans to also go there!

 Q) How important is promotion for an author? There are so many books coming in the market nowadays, do you think the quality of literature has downgraded?

It depends on your objective. If you measure success by how deeply you’ve touched a few lives with your art, then promotion is immaterial. The book finds the reader. In my case, I truly feel The Seeker is my life’s work. The reviews have been incredibly positive as you can see on Amazon, the Internet etc., and people’s lives are being deeply impacted by the book so I want it to reach everyone. As a result, I’m doing as much as I can to promote it.  In the bigger scheme of things, I’ve spent five years writing The Seeker and less than five months promoting it—the quality of literature would be downgraded if it was the reverse!

Q) What will be your advice to the first time authors? Any Do’s and Don’ts for them?

My only advice is to live a big, interesting life, unfettered by the dictates of convention. Ultimately, a great life isn’t dissimilar from a great story—the hero reaches for a lofty, unattainable goal and gives all of himself to achieve it. Sometimes he makes it, sometimes he doesn’t but at-least he lives a life of meaning because he’s in pursuit of that big goal. The more you do so in real life, the better your stories.

I have also shared 7 Things I’ve Learned in 7 Years of Writing on my blog – your readers might like to check that out too!from a great story—the hero reaches for a lofty, unattainable goal and gives all of himself to achieve it. Sometimes he makes it, sometimes he doesn’t but at-least he lives a life of meaning because he’s in pursuit of that big goal. The more you do so in real life, the better your stories.

I have also shared 7 Things I’ve Learned in 7 Years of Writing on my blog – your readers might like to check that out too!

Thank you Karan for your valuable time. It was such an honor to host you at my blog and it was such an enriching conversation. To know more about Karan Bajaj , visit his website http://www.karanbajaj.com/

Books are my soul and I love reading all genres of work .My blog A Creative Bay welcomes new authors for interviews and critique.I truly believe constructive criticism gives an author new wings for uncharted territories. For getting your work reviewed or for interviews connect with me at my Fb page https://www.facebook.com/ACreativeBay or send an email at reach.shwetaa@gmail.com 

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Maria’s room

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Maria’s room is written by Shreekumar Varma , who happen to be a noted author , playwright , newspaper columnist and poet.

This book I got last year and was planning to read from long time . Finally was able to finish it few days book and I am glad I did it. Maria’s room offers you a heady concoction of goa’s carelessness , the expectancy of monsoon mixed with the impatience of unrequited love . The opening of the book is spectacular and I would rate five stars to the way goa has been captured in monsoon .

The melancholics of local life , the pregnant skies and the rolling waves mixed with the deluge of travelers who want to bask in the glory of  I-care-damn attitude provides an apt background for the love story of Maria and Marcel. The protagonist Raja Prasad , an author from Chennai trying to run from his father and maybe from himself finds refuge in one of the hotels in Goa . Later when he shifts to Maria’s guesthouse , he meets Lorna and falls in love with him . As the book progresses you realize the wretchedness love offers . The expectancy of monsoon and the swelling oceans complements the fidgetiness of  tormented lovers. The two love stories happening at two different points of time differ only in their treatment . Does Raja Prasad can conquer his inner demons ? What happened to Maria and Marcel ? Why the book is called Maria’s Room ?

The book captures the beauty of goa , the sights , smells of the rain. The peculiar habits  which people have , Raja Prasad’s dislike for the non vegetarian food and the intoxication which the monsoon y goa offers . The protagonist blends effortlessly in the carefree ambiance of Feni and music but through peeps the secrets of past keep haunting the present . Does the shadows of past reflect on the present too ?

The vivid poetry of Goa’s languidness and the turbulence of rains  complements the mysticism of man’s desires and love . My only lament was that writer also seems to loose his track of plot while wandering in the poetry of Goa just like a boy left wondering in the toy shop ? Was this a planned diversion , a planned wandering  like a besotted tourist who looses his track of time  ?   I felt that the plot of the book was bit hurried and the author would have spent more time in building the story .But for the love of Goa and the excellent narrative which book offers its readers , i will rate this book 4 out of 5 stars . The poignancy of the forlorn love story seeps into the past and present and makes it a Must Read.

Life ,Odds and Ends.

Today I am in conversation with Anvita Bajpai , a fellow blogger and alumnus of IIMB . She is the author of Life , Odds and Ends , a collection of   four short stories  ( soon to be available in leading bookstore ) by LIFI Publications.  I had great time conversing with the versatile author . Hope you have great time too reading this conversation ( Also My first interview in the “Books and Authors” Series )

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1)    What was the inspiration behind the book ? And how did you come up with an idea to write a book?

I think I am a natural writer. I had been writing for quite some time for technical papers , presentations, journals etc. . My work and my penchant for writing germinated an idea in my mind which has come up in the form of Life, Odds and Ends.

The inspiration behind the stories come from fact that in urban scenario we face different kind of challenges like work -life balance , shifting and overlapping of roles between man and woman . For a working women balancing motherhood and an active career is always challenging . Also the recent  rape incidents and child abuse has helped me to come up with Soul-mates , one of the stories in LOE

2)    Tell me something about the book ? Do you think that you have evolved too while writing this book?

The book is a collection of four short stories . These stories are the reflection of us and the challenges which we face in an urban life . I don’t think that I have evolved as a person while writing this book but definitely I have  transited from my technical writing to fiction world through this book.

 3)   How have you researched for the plot and the characters?

I have always been a keen observant and my technical work also involves observing people behavior in the urban scenarios with the advent of so many social networking applications . The plots and characters are inspired by my imagination , observation and the happening which surround one’s existence

4)    What attracted you to writing ? Is there any routine you follow , any interesting thing you would like to share with the readers?

Writing comes naturally to me. In past, I was more focused on technology work and so was writing more papers, articles etc based on research and understanding of technology and business, and used to have non-technical discussions/conversations during in-person conversations or e-mails. However, as I work in understanding human behavior based on the data available across domains (retail, banking, internet, social data etc). Hence, probably this overlap of understanding human behavior, the inclination of writing, and also a keen observation of people and things around me results into a little more non-technical writing. After all we all live a life – just that a few observe in more details and are able to articulate it. Mostly I write in a silent environment, but given a deadline I have written otherwise too – provided I had already had a thought-out outline for the story.

5)    What is the hardest and easiest thing about writing? Did you ever encounter writer’s block  while writing your first book?

Not faced the ‘writer’s block’ as such. However, at times I write story with long breaks in between to attend to other professional-personal activities and then it took some time for me to get back to context – as there was a long break in between. First self-editing also was time costuming for these sections of book.

6)    Who are your favorite authors and why ? Any recent book which touched you ?

I read various authors, and subjects – so not one favorite. Recently, I read ‘The difficulty of being good’ by Gurcharan Das, and ‘The holy cow and other Indian stories’ by Tarun Chopra.

7)    Do you proofread/edit your books ? The book cover looks interesting . How did you come up with the design ?

First two iterations, I have done rest were done by editors from publisher’s side. The cover, I worked on the idea of scattered pictures, the final images were selected and placed by the designer though. I have also designed the trailer for the book using my own collection of photographs taken @ http://youtube/7i485G11B3g

8)    Nowadays lot of Indian authors are coming up with their work ? What do you think about this trend ?

People are finding more opportunities for being expressive. Its good as we see the Indian expressions though the people who closely observe it.

9)    What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?

There may be things which may be exceptionally good or bad. Otherwise most of the time reviews may also be based on the perceptions of the reviewer. For example, the movie “Paheli” did run just for a week in PVR in Bangalore – was not rated very high commercial success, but I and many I know like it very much. So, obviously there is an assessment, and rating – but it is relative than being the absolute.

10) Any message you will like to share with your readers ?

Just the following quote that I wrote a few weeks ago.

” Life has four important pulls – live, evolve, create and nurture. The struggle lies in figuring out a way to balance these pulls – that’s what is the common and of interest between all of us – and that’s what is LIFE.”

 Thank you Anvita for your time . It was lovely talking to you. Anvita can be contacted through her facebook page https://www.facebook.com/LifeOddsEnds . She also blogs at  http://anvitabajpailoe.blogspot.in/

An evening with Shashi Deshpande

It was a book reading event at one of my favorite libraries, Easy lib . Easylib is doing great job where they are bringing book lovers , authors and the readers at one roof . The book reading was by eminent author Shashi Deshpande  from her latest book Shadow Play .

Shashi Deshpande is a well known figure in the literary world . She has been writing from many decades , have also won Sahitya academy award and having heard her before , I had made up my mind to attend this event .

The event started with a introduction by Vani Mahesh , founder of Easylib . And after that Mrs shashi Deshpande read few excerpts from her latest book ” Shadowplay” . The crowd was an eclectic mix of writers , editors and book lovers . What followed was an animated discussion on the process of writing , the blurbs from the book and the inspiration behind the book . When one asked her how does the characters in the book start doing or behaving in a certain way and not the other way round , are there any parameters which makes her decide that . She pointed that though she creates the characters but slowly they start doing or behaving  in their own way and she only acts as a medium . I found that very intriguing .

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The discussion then followed through the current indian fiction scene and some of the acclaimed work done by the indian writers . Many present there felt that there has been exponential increase  in  people expressing themselves and many new authors have come in the block but that is not the same case with readership . There was a stimulating discussion that the standard of writing has decreased and there are  books in market with very poor English  or poorly edited . In fact few people felt that the quality of writing has deteriorated in the recent times . What do you feel about the current Indian Writing scene ? And where do you see it going  ?Has any indian book inspired you lately ? I would love to hear your views too .

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The Author , Shashi Deshpande
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Listening with rapt attention
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With Vani Mahesh

The evening ended with people getting signed copy of the book from their favorite author . It was lovely being a part of such thought provoking discussion and listening to one of my favorite author . A decade ago or so reading had really dwindled due to advent of Television and other electronic gadgets . But slowly with a change in indian fiction scene when many acclaimed authors came up with novels incorporating indian sensibilities , there has been an increase in both readership and authors . I feel this is a good sign and it will only get better with time . I am an optimist after all 🙂