Saturday, October 12, 2019

Are you young at heart?

This is my article as it was published n the Times of India. 

You may have smooth unwrinkled skin but do you have that spring in your step that carries you easily up a flight of stairs? If you don't, then you may be young in years, but not in your heart.

"The process of blockage of arteries starts at birth, but the speed at which happens depends a great deal on our energy expenditure, besides the genes and diet," says Dr Shantesh Kaushik, cardiothoracic and vascular surgeon.

Two major aspects determine the age of the heart: the health of the arteries and the health of the heart muscle. If you don't move, your heart muscles become flabby. And arteries start getting blocked. You could be just 30, in the prime of your life, but your heart could have aged. Such a heart won't pump sufficient blood and through it, life-giving oxygen. Everything will be fine until one day your heart can't take the load anymore.

Dr A V Ganesh Kumar, chief interventional cardiologist, Hiranandani Hospital says, "The heart has to pump more blood during exertion or some emotional upset, and this can cause a heart attack.' There may be no warning signs before this, as arteries get blocked gradually.

'If the patient has breathlessness and fatigue, these are signs that it's already late, that the blockage has progressed to an advanced stage," says Dr Kaushik.

Lower blockages are common amongst younger people who have heart attacks. 

"Studies show that Indians living abroad suffer from a greater incidence of heart disease than the local population," says Dr Ganesh Kumar. He feels that while lack of exercise could be a factor, the fried food we eat also has an effect. Genetic factors are also present. “There are also indications that our arteries are narrower,” he adds, although more research is being done in this area. However there is no doubt that there is something in the genetic make-up of Indians that make them prone to heart disease. Dr Kaushik believes that 'a shortage of food in the past has genetically programmed Indians to store fat more efficiently than other races.'

The patient who survives a heart attack in time to reach the hospital and gets quick intervention is lucky, because effective treatment needs to be given within three-six hours. "Otherwise the heart tissue can be damaged permanently," says Dr Ganesh Kumar. Damaged heart tissue means a restricted life, akin to living like an old person.

So worry less about that line on your forehead that tells you that 30 is just round the corner, and worry a lot if your body suggests that your heart has touched 40, or maybe 50. You might be able to fix that wrinkle, but fixing a heart means undergoing procedures like angioplasty, by-pass surgery or even an organ transplant. If you're lucky.

Published in The Economic Times  (link to original article)
24 Sep 2006
By Nita Jatar Kulkarni

(The photo is a free photo from Pixabay)

Friday, October 4, 2019

A book launch and reviews!

The days leading up the launch of The Hawa Mahal Murders on the 20th of September were tense as there were public appearances at the Pune lit fest. I am not used to speaking in public or going on stage. It all went off fairly smoothly, thankfully.

The moment when I actually walked on stage for the book launch felt surreal. It still does.

The aftermath wasn't as relaxed as I expected it to be. Yes, the book is launched but what next? People have to know that it's a good book, right? For that I need reviews! I was in contact with several book marketers but hesitated. Couldn't I manage good reviews on the sheer merit of my book? It was an idealistic way of looking at it.

The result of it was that I did not have ready-made reviews on the day of the launch, unlike some other books which were launched around the same time. I heard about the modus operandi of garnering reviews as the days went by. You have to hand over preview (free) copies of the book to selected people so that when the actual launch happens they flood GoodReads and Amazon with reviews. Who would have thought that this is the done thing? I could not help but think that these dozens of "preview" reviews were suspect.

Recently I checked some books by Indian authors which had around a hundred glowing reviews but when I read the sample, I found the writing not up to standard. Either publishers are lowering their standards or people are. It's not surprising that the best-sellers are all foreign authors. No one is really believing these reviews.

My reviews are slow in coming but they are organic. They are coming from people who bought my book after the launch. The reviews are good. The first review I got sent a thrill through my heart. It was from an unknown person who spent her/his money to buy my book. All my reviews/ratings so far are from people who have purchased the books and liked them.

This particular reviewer bought the book from Amazon early on. Even before I started to tell people about the book. I have no idea who it could be but that is exactly why I love the review so much.

Here it is. It was posted barely a few days after the launch. Like the reviewer said, the book must have been finished in one sitting. What I liked about the review was that she/he appreciated the setting. Mumbai.

There are other reviews now but this was the first. All the reviews so far are from people who actually paid for my book and they all found my book thrilling.

I am getting more reviews on my whatsapp messages! People are not comfortable with putting up reviews on Amazon but are telling me privately that they loved my book. That they found it thrilling and exciting. And that it was well written. That they admired my craft. All these people paid for my book. I know I am repeating this but I like the sound of it!

A couple of them said they tried putting up the review on Amazon but there was some glitch or the other. Never mind. They liked my book and that's what matters.

Anyway, I am thinking it's time I gave out free review copies. Better late than never. Maybe even hire somebody.

Genuine reviews have a way of making you feel good. In my case, though I always knew I wrote well, I wasn't sure about how well I had handled the suspense. When you read and revise a book so many times, you are never sure about that. Now, doubts have been set at rest. My book, The Hawa Mahal has suspense in plenty. According to one private message: It's a thrilling, exciting enjoyable ride!

Monday, September 23, 2019

Book Launch at PILF19 with Javed Akhtar

My thriller "The Hawa Mahal Murders" was launched at PILF19 with Javed Akhtar. Here he is holding my book!

An extra-large poster of my book. The contest winner which had the privilege of being launched at the inauguration of PILF

Sales of my book at the venue were brisk. Looking forward to some reviews now!

It was an exhilarating moment! More about my experiences at the PILF later!

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Why Buy My Book?

There is a session called "Why Buy My Book?" on the 20th of September at PILF19, the first day of the Pune International Literary Festival. I have about 8 minutes to tell people why my book, The Hawa Mahal Murders, is worth a buy.

It's always a challenge to convince people to buy one's book because one has to be absolutely clear about one's target audience. Once I finish the session I will post my talk here. But one thing I must mention, something I feel I should have done before the first edition was published. I should have had a blurb at the back saying that this was a "winner at the PILF18." Why didn't I think of it? In the second edition, I shall say this and more. "Launched at PILF19." Yes, that's being very hopeful, that there will be a second edition. But there will be. I want to think positive.

Here is the schedule for the 20th of September, at PILF19, the first day of the Pune International Literary Festival.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Hawa Mahal Murders

It's happening. My book titled The Hawa Mahal Murders will be launched at the inauguration of the Pune International Literary Festival (PILF) on the 20th of September 2019. Now everyone is going to be able to read it. That's madly exciting, yes, but also frightening.

People ask: Why Hawa Mahal?

One of the characters in my story has grandiose dreams. He wants to build a modern building on the lines of an ancient castle. And when it came to ancient castles, Hawa Mahal just popped into my head. At the time I hadn't thought of it becoming the title of the book.

The actual Hawa Mahal is an ancient palace in Jaipur, Rajasthan, and the name literally means "Palace of Winds." This is probably because of its 953 windows.

It was designed in such a way that the ladies inside the palace could watch the world go by and yet remain hidden behind the latticework screens. The ladies must have also kept comfortably cool because of the breeze flowing in from the numerous windows.

Hawa Mahal was built in 1799 when the purdah system was flourishing. The Rajput royal ladies were to be kept secluded from the eyes of strangers. They could not appear in any public area. That is why the king built Hawa Mahal. It would allow these royal ladies to enjoy from street scenes and processions without being seen. But the truth is that they could not participate in life.

That there is a radio program of the same name (Hawa Mahal) was something I discovered lately. According to Wikipedia,
Hawa Mahal is a popular nightly radio show in India broadcast on the Vividh Bharati service. It has a skit-format, where stories from various writers were dramatized into plays...
Apparently, this radio program still exists and has been around for years, as a cousin of mine informed me. It says here:

Hawa Mahal is 15 min radio program broadcasted by All India Radio’s (run by Indian government) channel Vividh Bharti. These days there is a FM channel 102.9 MHz where this program is played at 8PM (Mon – Saturday)

Hawa Mahal can mean many things. A literal Hindi translation of "Hawa" means "air" but this word can be used in a sentence akin to saying "castles in the air". Or perhaps it can mean the Palace of Dreams.

Both these meanings fit in perfectly well with my story in The Hawa Mahal Murders. When the man in my story imagined himself to be a king, he was certainly building castles in the air.

(Both photographs published here are by me) 

Monday, August 5, 2019

My writing journey

Now that my first novel is to be published next month, it's time to look back on my writing journey.

I am not one of those geniuses who published a book at a young age. It's taken time.

For me, writing began with a diary. I was all of ten years old. The diary had nothing to do with the events in my life. It was an outpouring of emotion. Rambling thoughts. Conversations. It was the best writing practice. Diary writing went on for over a decade and I still have a trunk-full of my old diaries.

Writing long letters to friends was something I did with regularity. My dad was in the Army and we moved so often that friends were left behind. The inland letter was not a favourite tool although it was something I used on off and on. Mostly I wrote on reams and reams of paper stuffed into envelopes which wouldn't close properly. Now when I look back, I guess it was writing practice.

There wasn't a day that passed that I didn't write. I guess I was introverted. I read voraciously and I wrote, wrote and wrote. Read everything under the sun. Thrillers, westerns, classics and non-fiction. Biographies, philosophy, literature. I read Lin Yutang when I was 15. I read James Hadley Chase too.

I wrote fan fiction when I was about 11 years old. We lived in Kaduna, Nigeria and I was hooked onto television serials like the Invaders and Mod Squad and Hawai Five-O. I used to hum the tunes, imitate the voiceovers and write short screenplays. I guess they were silly but I was just enjoying myself. Didn't think of myself as a writer. I wanted to be a doctor or engineer.

At the age of 13, I was in the USA for a few months with relatives. I was there for so long that I attended school for a few days (was it that long?) with a girl called Betsy. She was the daughter of a very good friend of my uncle's. They all lived in Seaford, Delaware. Betsy liked a screenplay I wrote for Hawai-Five-O and insisted that I show it to her English teacher. I did. He read it and smiled. I don't remember him saying anything about it. But for some reason, I felt very proud.

Back in school in India, in my mid-teens, I used to take 200-page notebooks and write one novella per notebook. It was either Action, Sci-Fi or Romance. I remember passing around one of these notebook novels to my class-mates in school. My uncle used to read all my novellas. He said I was a born writer. It gave me confidence.

By then, of course, I knew I wanted to be a writer. But was I good enough to be published? I didn't think so.

I studied English Literature but instead of doing an MA in Literature I did Management. It was a fad in the eighties. A craze. And I went into advertising. Followed the herd. And no, I wasn't a copywriter. I was an executive. Suddenly it was all about some fancy career. Writing took a backseat.

I hated my job. And switched several before I gladly gave it up in the pursuit of writing. It started with middles and short stories (my kids were small and I worked from home) and I found that editors liked my work. I was getting published in mainstream newspapers. But could I write a full-length novel?

I took up work as a journalist. Freelanced at first, and then worked as a stringer, part-time and even full-time. I liked my job but not the politics. I worked as a business journalist and my management background helped. It was a relief that it wasn't a total waste but my dream was to write a novel. But I was keeping myself so busy that I had no time to even think about it.

I wrote a draft of a novel and then abandoned it. Well, not totally because I sent it to a renowned publisher (Penguin) and got a rejection letter. That made me feel like I wasn't cut out to be a novelist. I went back to journalism with a ferocity I didn't know I had.

One day my elder daughter, Aditi, told me to finish that novel I had started. Re-write if I felt it was necessary. And she laughed when I told her that I had got one rejection. One publisher? She was incredulous that I had sent it to just one publisher. People got rejected scores of times she said, and eventually, they get a publisher.

I had been so terrified of rejection that I had kept aside my dream. I didn't want to self publish. Self-publishing was becoming common, so common that everyone thought they were good. I didn't want to be one of them.

I re-wrote my novel. I certainly made it better, much better. I liked it so much that I decided I would self-publish if I didn't get a proper publisher. Self-publishing wasn't a bad word anymore. It was all about getting my writing out there.

But I didn't have to self-publish. I won a novel-writing competition and got a traditional publisher. I didn't know why I had doubted myself. But I guess all writers are insecure at heart.

I am now busy writing my second novel. And if there one thing I am sure about it's that I was always a writer and always will be.