There is always a light

There is always a light
Don't be afraid if you are alone or surrounded by darkness. In some part of the world, the day has just begun. There is a always a light waiting for you to find your way to touch its radiance.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Oldest Trade

By Deepak Adhikari
Kathmandu, Nepal
In the autumn of 2008, I and a friend working with an NGO run by sex-trafficking victims embarked on a research of sex trade in Kathmandu. Having previously worked on the subject for a cover story at Nepal Weekly magazine in 2004, I had some understanding of the subject. But my second attempt at exploring the dark side of this gruesome trade would prove to be a difficult experience. I met a girl, barely 14, who was trafficked from Dang and was forced to work in a run-down Gongabu restaurant that doubled as a brothel.
After listening to the girl’s harrowing story at a nearby shelter, my friend and I visited the restaurant where the waiters seemed laidback and the tea arrived after much delay. As we sipped our tea and scrutinised the place, the modus operandi started to unravel itself. A young woman who was applying lipstick and carelessly grooming herself seemed to eye us as prospective clients. Pin-ups of scantily clad models adorned the walls. Sitting there, I wondered about the misery the young girl had told us about.

I was reminded of this while reading Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery by Siddharth Kara, the first fellow on human trafficking at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Kara came face to face with the horrors of slavery in mid-1990s when he visited a refugee camp in Slovenia where he saw first hand the refugees living in limbo, and in utter despair. The Slovenian sojourn left an indelible impression on him.

Haunted by that, in 2000 he resolved to put aside his job as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch and began his life’s mission: to unveil the workings of sex trafficking. He visited brothels, massage parlours, sex clubs and met all those involved in this trade. After traversing 18 countries and interviewing more than 500 victims, he has produced a very compelling book.

Sex Trafficking provides answer to one of the world’s most appalling (some would say the oldest) trades: selling sex. The book—which covers India, Nepal, Europe and Africa—analyses in detail the economic aspect of sex trafficking. “Sex slavery is primarily a crime of economic benefit,” he writes. According to Kara, the origin of sex trafficking can be traced to a few phenomena: collapse of the Soviet Union, spread of globalisation and capitalism. “The supply of slave erupted in 1990s concurrently with the havoc wreaked by economic globalisation,” he writes. He suggests: sex trafficking is the most profitable industry because the labour cost is very cheap.

The book opens with the story of Maya, “a gaunt and distressed” 19-year-old from Sindhupalchowk, who spent “four years as sex slave in each of Mumbai’s two main red-light districts, Kamathipura and Falkland Road.” Maya was duped with the promise of a job at a carpet factory in Kathmandu. Once in the Indian brothel, she was raped, tortured, starved and even drugged. Finally, she fled, but only to discover that she was infected with HIV. Even returning home was fraught with stigma. “They (the rescuers) helped me contact my father, but he told me not to come home. He said I can never be married because I have HIV. I can only bring shame,” she tells the author. She had come out of the brothel in Kamathipura that was established in the 17th century for the service of British troops.
Globally, 500,000 to 600,000 women are trafficked every year. The reasons outlined by the author are poverty, bias against the gender or particular ethnicity, lawlessness, military conflict, social instability, and above all, disparities in economic opportunity. Along the shady edge of the huge movement of people and demand for sex and money, sex trafficking thrives.

Kara says factors such as corruption in law enforcement, border control and judicial system allow traffickers to conduct their business with minimal consequences. When he says “police take bribes in every country I visited to allow sex-slaves establishments to operate” it sounds like he is talking about Nepal. “Lack of coordination among origin and destination countries also hampers prosecution of trafficking crimes,” he writes, “…The absence of political will to enforce the law, as well as endemic corruption, allows trafficking…”
At one point, a victim’s mother laments: “So many bad men are hurting young girls. How can we stop them? Is there any end to the suffering of women?” Kara suggests a number of ways to control the trafficking. He urges the UN to create an international slavery and trafficking inspection force; targeted and proactive raids against establishments that have sex-slaves; forming fast-track courts to prosecute trafficking crimes; and imposing stringent laws with massive penalties for traffickers.
As a work of narrative journalism, Sex Trafficking is gripping. It’s erudite, evocative and above all an engaging read. No other work has dealt with the subject as comprehensively. The book deserves a wide readership.
The article was first published in The Kathmandu Post.

The Coke of Life Runneth Over

By Aritro Bhattacharya
Kolkata, India
Ever got hooked on to something? Something like a Jimmi Hendrix number, or a failed love, or one of those stages in Max Payne where the life-serum won't ever suffice, or perhaps that childhood habit of picking your nose, or like putting into mouth whatever you find in your nasal cavities? Ever felt that overwhelming desire to do that 'thing' that would take your life a fermi closer to those pearly gates of Bliss? Ever done that? Ever got deprived of that? Ever stayed up through a night (or nights) waiting for that strum at say 4:15 of the song, or peek-a-booing at the tube-station nemesis, or nourishing a nemesis in your broken heart? If you have, you will know what I am talking about.

Let's clear the fizz,.. er the mist. If there is one thing I would really take to my pyre, it would be a tumbler of the black bubbly I guess. The 7X-ed serum. My sip of nothing-to-do. My swig of this-rajma-is-inedible. My mouth rinse of no-time-to-brush. My kick of more-cola-less-whiskey-else-I'll-puke. My champagne of code-is-running. My fistful can of Maa-am-in-US. My metabolism of acid-in-the-duodenum. My immunity of am-gulping-pesticides. My diversity of cherry-Zero-Diet-Classic.
It’s cliche to be writing in the first person with zillions of narcissistic atoms and dog-eared phrases and hyphenated pseudoChetanism, but then, that's what the cola does to you, I guess. My love affair with the thing started way back in the 90s. When the jerk in me was schooling, the MMS jokes were being brewed, Kapil Dev was sending those moustached express 'uns, the ACDs were just getting coiled up, size Zero meant you flunked (believe me, even the Coca Cola Company was yet to invent the sexy black-and-red cans), SRK was toppling girls from the roof-tops, Sushmita Sen had just earned her tiara, and most significantly, people were not Googling to get the address of their parents' homes. Then, suddenly, as a Sunday Superhit Muqabla (Baba Sehgal anchored it, DD2, 9:00 pm, my first brush with cleavage and midriffs) was belting out those thunder-thigh-ed numbers, a group of people starts singing something like 'Share my dream, share my Coca Cola, always the real thing'. And there you go. The Coke had re arrived. Even through my 14" black-and-white grainy window, I was hooked on. Not because it tasted great. Because ThumsUp (then owned by Parle) was stronger, Gold Spot would you give you that Zing Thing, Limca would heal up your acidogenic mutton rogan josh, and Tree Tops would nourish the kids. Still it hooked me on. And it was that advertisement. Yes, it was something special. Even now, after 15 odd years, I keep rummaging the Youtube and the Orkut for that tune. But somehow it eludes me.
The next stone in the pond was when Coke launched those cans. It was sheer loss of virginity for that cola-worshipper in me. It was like I gave everything to that swish of the can-opening, the red, chilled aluminum, and the aura of chic that it carried. It was pricey, especially to the middle-class happy with the half/one liter monoliths of the overtly grotesque but financially viable glass jerrycans. It was meant for a single use, for a single go and as happens with those pricey prostitutes, once you let loose, there's no stopping. I gave in my heart, and to date I remember all those things I was ready to sacrifice or achieve, as the situation demanded, for 330 ml of liquid sin. And even now I remember those empty cans on my table, kept as trophies of my conquests, jostling for space with those lost pages of innocence. I would trade my right hand for getting back one of those deformed, dented cans, but they are gone forever.
I tried Coke with all sorts of edible, and potable stuff, with mixed results. Like I once heaped in two spoonfuls of drinking chocolate into a glass of stale Coke. Tried dropping two pellets of mint for my own 'refreshing' drink. Contrary to those forwarded videos, my house did not blow up. But my appetite was disturbed for a couple of days. I drank it with tea, dipped slices of bread into it, added it to a glass of milk for color, and, to top all, dissolved a couple of sleeping pills to make the whole idea of popping pills more palatable!!
I can bore myself to death with these Coke-stories. But stop I should, and stop I will, with this last story.
Many nights ago, I was down with jaundice. An acute case of yellow pee. And the doctor sentenced me to three months of despair, uncertainty and a no-Coke regime. Over those moments of solitude and introspection, I had made a couple of promises. One was to get into the US someday, with an I-20 valid for five years, and the other was to grab a can of Coke, after clearing the Port of Entry, to celebrate that. One of the promises was fulfilled. The pain and guilt of the unkept one do haunt me. And then what do I do? Spend a tenner for sure. To get all dizzy as the carbonated liquid sizzles and singes down into my guts. As I kill yet another demon of mine. The joie-de-vivre, emanating from that fizz and sugar and water keeps me alive. To tell another story. To grab another Coke. As they say, the show must go on.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rush of Colour

By Pritha Lal
Springville, Utah, USA


By Shubhomoy Banerjee
Anand, Gujarat, India
I would call him Kaku-the Bengali word for an uncle, younger to one’s father. I however, knew that he was a year or two older than my father was. But I never cared to know what such an uncle would be called in Bengali. Born in Gujarat to a Punjabi father and a Bengali mother, I was more fluent in Gujarati than I was in Punjabi or Bengali. The only bit of these two languages, would be spoken when I was at home, where too, Hindi was the main language of our conversation. Having me call him Kaku was my mother’s attempt to prevent my alienation from her mother tongue and my father did not seem to mind.
Kaku, like my mother was a Bengali. I did not know his name till the time I was about 15. My parents would call him by his shortened surname. He was my father’s friend from college. And as my father would often claim, his best friend. I would meet him every year during Diwali. That was the time when a group of my parents’ friends, from college would gather at our house or we would move to the houses of one of them. Kaku himself did not stay in Gujarat. But he would religiously come down every year to whichever place the friends would decide to meet. I would look forward to those gatherings, mainly for two reasons. The first one was that this was the time, when I would find my parents really happy. Diwali was the time when my mother would be having her vacations in the university at Anand, where she taught and she herself preferred this time of the year for the gatherings. The rigours of their jobs would leave very little time for my parents to really enjoy their lives. In fact, I would seldom hear them talking over matters other than insurance premiums and electricity and telephone bills. But those four days, every year, would present a totally different facet of my parents’ personalities. They would laugh, in fact roll in laughter and fight mock boxing bouts. Most importantly, the love between them would be clearly visible in those four days, before everything went back to square one for the next one year.
Another and probably, a more important reason why I would look forward to those visits would be because of the fact that Kaku would earmark a day exclusively for us kids. That day, which would normally be the second day of those four days, he would take us kids out on a tour of the city. We would have lunch outside, and he would load us with gifts and chocolates. This in fact made him a favourite among the kids and we would look forward to meeting him.
He had not married. Though, I would often wonder, why, I never asked him or any one primarily out of fear of my parents’ rebukes. In fact that fact seemed to work in our favour, because he could take time out for us. He had grown up in Jharkhand, and was equally comfortable in both Bengali and Hindi. He also had a fair amount of command over Gujarati, though he would always insist on speaking Bengali with me. I would enjoy that. He himself was not very fluent in Bengali but spoke better Bengali than I did. He would call me Mamoni, the mother, though my parents had named me Ananya.

Two of his characteristics stand out in my memory. He was a chain smoker and would often take a cigarette break every ten minutes from the conversations which he would have with my parents. The other was his noisy breathing. His breath would be clearly audible even in the din of the conversation between my parents and his friends. He loved home made food and would often pester my mother for various Bengali recipes, which she did not mind preparing. She said it was because of the contentment she would see on his face after the meal. He would arrange for all the preparations, wandering in the markets for that perfect ingredient. He had a sweet tooth and would keep the refrigerators full with different sweets, every time the friends would meet. And he would also smuggle them out both for himself and for the kids. He would tell me stories of his childhood and his college. He was an expert in mimicking others and would make my parents roll in laughter by making faces and sounds. He seemed to have an elephantine memory and clearly remembered many incidents which had happened in his college days, involving my father or his other friends. He had a great love for reading and it was he who introduced me to the world of Ruskin Bond and R K Narayan. He would devour my story books over and over again and would get me lots of them every time he took us out.

The meetings continued every year and Kaku had by now become an integral part of my life. He was my friend. I shared all my secrets with him and he would never leak them out to my parents. It was he whom I first confided into when I fell in love. That was when I was in Class XII. He promised me that he would never divulge it to my parents. I would, almost everyday, tell him about my boyfriend and the bliss of love which I had started experiencing and which my parents had experienced almost two decades ago. One day, I gathered enough courage to ask him about his marriage. I asked him why I did not have a Kakima. He said that he was waiting for my Kakima to come to him. I did not understand but chose not to probe further as I heard that sudden tinge of pain in his voice. I, for one, never wanted Kaku to be hurt. I thought of clarifying it with my mother someday.

Kaku was the one who finally convinced my parents to allow me to study pharmaceutical sciences. My parents wanted me to become an engineer. But my heart lay in medicinal chemistry. Try as hard as I would, I could not come round convincing my parents to allow me to go for pharmaceutical sciences. But one phone call from Kaku and they agreed. How? I don’t know till today. It is better not to question miracles. I got myself admitted into a pharmacy college at Ahmedabad and that gave me an added advantage of being at home during Diwali, when Kaku would come visiting. My father’s other friends had by then moved to different parts of the country and the world, and the gatherings would now be less frequent, though they always stayed in touch. Kaku had moved too. But, he would still come down every Diwali to our place and celebrate Diwali with us.

By now, I was big enough to gain insights into peoples’ minds. Kaku came across as a lonely person, who would forever want to be surrounded by friends. The excitement he showed in those days during the Diwali vacations, could put any child to shame. In fact, it seemed that he would conserve all his energy for that gathering, a homecoming which he often termed it as.

But he had started showing changes too. He had been losing weight and each year he would look thinner than what he was in the previous year. He now suffered from asthma, “thanks to the smoking”, he would say and his breathing had become more audible. But his sweet tooth and the love for home made food had stayed unchanged. And he was still waiting for kakima to come to him.

It would often occur to me, why he never invited us to his place. Earlier, it was quite matter-of-fact that since all my father’s friends stayed in Gujarat, it would be feasible that he come down rather than we go to his place. But things were different now. Two of my father’s friends had moved to Delhi, one was in Hyderabad and one had moved to the US. Kaku was staying in Mumbai and it was an overnight journey from Baroda, where we stayed. Still, it would always be him who came down to Baroda during Diwali. This was another mystery which I never tried to clarify.

One such Diwali, I had to be in Bangalore for a training programme. I was now working in a reputed pharmaceutical company in Ahmedabad. I was 26, already had had two break ups and had decided to be single for the rest of my life. My parents were not exactly aware of this intention of mine, but they did leave me alone and never pestered me to get married. I frantically searched for an option to be home just for a day when Kaku would come visiting. My parents had not told me that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer and his days were numbered and he might not survive even the Navratri. Unaware of everything, I booked a flight from Bangalore to be at home just for one day. Then began the Herculean task of convincing the authorities in Ahmedabad to allow me the leave. But I did not have to struggle much. A phone call from home on the seventh day of Navratri, made sure that the last Diwali was in fact the last time I had met him. Kaku had lost his battle to cancer. He had given my parents’ numbers as the ICE numbers and the body would be handed over only to them.

All of those who would be a part of the gatherings were present at his funeral. Probably, the only people he called his own and who in his own words was his family. I felt a sense of loss. The feeling was similar to what I had felt, when Paresh, my second boy friend had finally decided to settle down in Canada and was insensitive enough to invite me to his wedding to a non resident Gujarati Patel in Ottawa. After Paresh, Kaku was the only person, I dared to trust. He was my best friend. And with Kaku gone, I suddenly felt bereft of any friend in this world. Six months after his death, I made clear to my parents my intentions of remaining single. I had thought this would come as a shock for my parents and I had in fact braced myself up for a showdown between me and my parents that would possibly have been a natural corollary to such an announcement. But it was actually my turn to be shocked. They did not show any sense of shock or disbelief at such a big decision. But I chose to leave it at that, since I normally do not question miracles.
But I did ask my mother about this (pleasantly) shocking behaviour of theirs and it was then that I finally came to know about Kakima, the aunt I always wanted to have but never had and the wife Kaku had always wanted but never had. She was with Kaku in MBA school and Kaku had vowed that he would marry only her and wait till his death for her. And that he did. This stubbornness in him was something, which I was surprisingly unaware of.
My mother told me that they would find me to be a replica of Kaku in many aspects, including the way of talking and other idiosyncracies. I had unknowingly, taken up a large part of his nature, which came as a revelation to me that day. And my parents had expected a similar streak of stubbornness in me. Somehow, they did have this inkling that I desired to remain single. And they thought it would probably be very tough to talk me out as I was probably as stubborn as Kaku was, probably more. This was the sole reason why they chose not to argue or convince me about changing my decision despite not being exactly comfortable with the same.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hakuna Matata

By Pritha Lal
Springville, Utah, USA

This is what the web says in the most succinct matter about the Lion King –
“Based on the 1994 Disney animated film, THE LION KING continues to reign as one of the most popular shows on Broadway and around the world. The global phenomenon is the winner of more than 70 major awards worldwide, including the Tony Award® for Best Musical, and the Grammy® for Best Musical Show Album.”
Facts and the fiction of the tale aside, this Tim Rice and Elton John production, is a brilliant spectacle of light, color, music and creative genius. Nothing new there, as far as Broadway goes, especially if you have seen the Wicked at the Gershwin on Broadway from an orchestra seat, you think you have seen the pinnacle of all shows.  Yet, Lion King left me in awe because this is the first time, I saw a two dimension, television screen cartoon, unfold into a three dimensional phenomenon with the vivacity of texture and color that was simply inconceivable.
 I would hate to describe the details of the visuals, simply because it would take away the thrill from those who haven’t seen it, and also because the power of prose in any language is limited. The visuals are impeccable as is the music. Of course you have heard all the songs before and you think you know what to expect. Yet, the melody of the song is only accented and accentuated by what you see in front of your eyes. The frolic of “Hakuna Matata” or the romance of the “Can you feel the love tonight?” or the “life” in “Circle of life” are all just something you have to let your senses take in. Talking about it would be making it trite.  My favorite however was a song “They live in you”, which is not in the cartoon. It plays twice, once when Mufasa explains to Simba, how the “great kings” look down from the skies, and later when Simba, himself makes that realization. For that latter scene alone, I would watch the musical many times over.  I know I am dragging Neel to the Mandalay Bay at Vegas at the first available opportunity, the show has been running there for a while.
The show is on tour in different cities across the world, see it if you can, doesn’t really matter if you have a child to accompany you as an excuse or not. Once the lights dim and the strains of Rafiki wake up the Savannah, you will be one with the visions that will unfold in front of you, and forget the engineering details of lights, camera, actions and an amazing amount of mechanics…

Sunday, September 12, 2010


By Anindita Baidya
Anand, Gujarat, India

The name has a tinkle in it, sounds like little rays of light reflecting on some shining little beads...
Her life is not as shining though...!
Chumki, she worked as a domestic help at my cousin’s place.  Chumki, all of 12, she was the sole bread-earner for a family of six.
I met her for the first time during my visit to my cousin's place at Rajabajaar, in Kolkata.  I had thrown up temper and staged protests saying that my cousin has no right to employ a child.  Chumki should go to school and secure her future.  To all that, my cousin only replied that my altercation does not really change Chumki’s reality.  So, if my conviction is not real, what is?
Chukmki was the eldest of the siblings.  She had four sisters and her mother was pregnant with her eighth child.  Five children had survived; two had died one-two months after their birth.  Chumki’s parents had owned a small piece of land in a village in Purulia.  Her father reportedly was an alcoholic who spent most of the time under some tree shed in the village while his wife toiled in her own and other villagers’ land to earn a wage.  They lost their little land in debt and that is when the entire family migrated to Kolkata.  Chumki’s father was not in a position to toil, he suffered from a chronic lung infection and was often irritated and bit up his wife and daughters.  The other siblings were quite small and Chumki’s mother waited for them to grow up enough to get themselves employed as domestic workers as well.
Chumki’s mother, hoping to have a son, went on with her eighth pregnancy and when I met Chumki, her mother was in the seventh month of pregnancy and so had stopped working at the flats; Chumki compensated for her mother’s absence too.
She worked day-long, obediently listening to all the orders her employers had for her; at times she looked at my books with hunger and a tinge of sadness in her eyes.  Whenever there was a delicacy cooked in the house, my cousin would give some to her.  Chumki never had any.  She took her serving to be shared among all her sisters and if possible her ma. 
Chumki had made me feel so helpless.   Her presence challenged and laughed at my theoretical convictions which I had no clue to transform into action.  There I was sitting, looking at her eyes and my heart bleeding and watching her mopping the floor and narrating her mother’s experiences at the small village of Purulia.  She had no tale to tell of her own!
That was about five years back.  After my cousin left Kolkata, we had no clue as to what happened to Chumki. 

Her memory has not faded with time.  I wander where is Chumki now? Is she still working in those flats, is her mother satisfied with a son or is  still trying for one?  Or has Chumki been married off to start her job of procreation while still working as domestic help?

I have no answer! There are questions but no answers...
Will her fate change ever? For that matter, will the fate of the any of the Chumkis we have an answer?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Five Little Indians

Five Little Indians was formed in January 2007 with former members of some well-known Calcutta-based bands. The band merges melodic rock and a heavier sound with singer-songwriter sensibilities. FLI's use of Hindustani Classical vocals as another voice — and not as a 'fusion' ploy — results in a unique soundscape that can only be defined as its own, Neel Adhikari, a band member shares proudly.
What makes this band different from those mushrooming in every nook and corner of the world, Neel claims, is the variety of influences that inspire the music. “Our listening infects our musicality. The goal has been to keep our infections intact instead of sanitizing the music, yet we didn't want to become a fusion band because we're rockers at heart. So the main challenge has been arranging the songs and keeping it true to the song writing.”
The band is looking forward to performing for audience outside India and the release of its debut album. “We plan to release it ourselves. We don’t want to sell our copyrights to some big label that would release the album and then not do justice to the marketing. We have just bought off and the website should be up in a couple of months. We all have home studios, so technically we don’t need the support of a label,” Neel says.
And though Neel agrees that rock music doesn’t earn him or any rocker a living in India as yet and having a double-life is not as uncommon as others might think, we wish him and his team a quick and successful retreat from the world of boring 9 to 5s to the lives of the true Rock icons!
Till then, catch them live when the not so little Indian boys raid your city the next time! 

My Little Magazine

Who they are....

FLI played its debut show at the Eastwind Festival 2008. The same year, the band's single Screaming At The Sun saw a worldwide release as part of Stupidditties 2, a compilation of Indian "un-metal" music from ennui. BOMB. In January 2009, FLI headlined the Campus Rock Idols competition along with Skinny Alley. Along with The Supersonics and Bertie da Silva & Orphic Hat, the band co-organised and played Elektrik Kool Rock Revue I, the first show of a original music concert series that aims to re-establish Calcutta as a blooming bed for rock'n'roll creativity.
Preferring exclusive appearances, FLI headlined the Hornbill festival in Kohima, Nagaland in December 2009 and the Autumn Festival in Shillong in November 2009, apart from playing in Tango and Deja Vu (Shillong) and Dream Cafe (Kohima).
2010 saw FLI performing at the Rock N' India festival in Bengaluru alongside Richard Marx and a host of other international artists. The band has also played at Opus, bFlat and Kyra in Bangaluru. The band was recently featured in the June 2010 issue of Rolling Stone India magazine. Five Little Indians is now working on its debut album.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

From Pandora with love...

By Mithu Chakraborty

This treasure is not one of silver.
This treasure is not one of gold.
The source of this hidden treasure,
Lies deep within one's soul.

A treasure more precious than silver
A treasure more precious than gold.
To find this hidden treasure,
You must look within your soul.

(George Rapanos)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Where can I find God....oops...a literary agent??!

By Abdullah Khan
New Delhi, India

Having finished your first novel, you have polished it to the best of your abilities, got rave reviews from your peer group of ‘wanna be' authors, and you think the most difficult part of your journey, of becoming an internationally published author is over. But, it is not. Before you seek an international publisher in mature markets like London or New York, you have to find a literary agent. ‘Finding a literary agent is akin to finding God…..if you believe in God,' says Anees Salim, whose novel Tales from a Vending Machine is slated for release by HarperCollins India later this year.
Agrees Vikrant Dutta, whose debut novel Dark Rainbow is soon to be published by an Indian publishing major. He says, “We have heard legends about Arundhati Roy. Ms. Roy submitted her manuscript of The God of Small Things to Pankaj Mishra of Butter Chicken in Ludhiana fame, who, at that time, was an editor with a publishing house. Impressed with Ms. Roy's writing, Mishra sent it to a few agents and editors in London; and David Godwin was one of them. The rest is the history we all know.” Vikrant further adds, “But, everybody may not be as lucky to have a Pankaj Mishra vouch for them. For lesser mortals, it is a long and tiring voyage. I have been striving to get an agent for the last fours year, but with little success. Then one fine day I decided to send my manuscript to Indian Publishers, and was fortunate to get an offer.” But he strongly feels that to sustain a long-term writing career, one must find an agent.
Crucial role
Many first-time writers, especially those not familiar with the ‘behind the scenes' of publishing industry, would ask: Why do we need a literary agent in the first place? To answer this question, we need to understand what exactly an agent does. An agent, for an author, is an editorial consultant, a writing coach and a critic rolled into one. She markets your work to the right publishers. She also takes care of your financial interest. Above all, she understands the nitty-gritties of publishing, everything from e-book royalties and permission forms, to movie option agreements. Kanishka Gupta, one of India's prominent literary agents, reflects: “Having a literary agent increases the chance of your manuscript being accepted for publication manifolds. Not only will you be taken seriously by a publisher, but you will also have an advocate with the right connections in the industry, and most importantly, someone who believes in your work.” Moreover, in the West, no publisher will touch your manuscript if it is not submitted by a legitimate literary agent. In India too the ‘literary agent culture' is catching on fast.
Anees cannot agree more. “After being disappointed by the agents abroad, I also started to submit it to Indian publishers, but heard nothing from them. Then I submitted my manuscript to Kanishka Gupta of Writer's Side Literary Agency, and within 15 days my novel was sold in an auction. Ironically, among the bidders was a publisher on whose table the same manuscript had been languishing for last six months. So, being an agented author really helps.”
If finding an agent is such a mammoth task then what should one do? Nothing, but keep trying. Persistence is the key. There is no other way, feels Vikas Swarup, the author of hugely successful Q&A that was made in to the multi-Oscar winning movie, “Slumdog Millionaire”. Vikas himself was lucky to find an agent rather easily. Peter Buckman, a former editor who had just started a literary agency at that time, had him signed on as his first client. For aspiring writers from India, he says, “It is not easy to get an agent, as most of them will take on a new author only if they are 100 per cent sure that the manuscript will sell. Every new writer should get hold of the latest edition of the Writers Handbook and send the first three or four chapters of the manuscript to as many agents as possible and hope one of them will take him on. That is the only way, unfortunately. Alternatively, he should try his luck in the Indian market first with Penguin, HarperCollins, Rupa and Tranquebar and, having been accepted by an Indian publisher, foray into the international arena.”
There are many examples when, after more than a hundred rejections, a writer has landed a very good agent. Even J. K. Rowling had been signed by Christopher Little Literary Agency after collecting dozens of rejection slips. Susan Abulhawa, the Palestinian-American novelist whose novel Mornings in Jenin has been translated into more than 20 languages, had to go through a very agonising phase on the way to find an agent. Narrating her experience she says, “It was a long journey.  I was published first by a very small publishing house that went out of business just before the book was due to be distributed.  So, all my work seemed to be dead on arrival.  But luckily, it was translated by Buchet Chastel in France during that time and, through them, I was able to get an agent.  My editor at Buchet Chastel, Marc Parent, introduced me to Anna Soler-Pont in Barcelona and she agreed to take on my book.  Shortly thereafter, she sold it to Bloomsbury and to about 19 other publishing houses around the world for translation rights.”
For a beginner, it is very important to understand the basics of ‘How to approach an agent'. “You should know whether a particular agent is right for your kind of work. An agent specialising in young adult fiction or romance will never take on a writer of ‘high-brow' literary fiction, even though it is well written. Further, you should follow the submission guidelines of the agent you are submitting to. For example, if an agent wants a query only at the first instance, sending sample chapters to him or her will certainly not help,” says Zafar Anjum, an author and journalist based in Singapore. He further adds, “An author should submit to an agent only a fully polished work. If there is an iota of doubt in the mind about the readiness of manuscript, I would like to advise him to avail the services of a good manuscript assessment agency. They will not only point out the loopholes in the plot but also take care of structure, grammar and give the manuscript a professional look.”
“Ninety-nine per cent of manuscripts are rejected simply because authors approach wrong agents,” says Noah Lukeman, a New York-based agent who represents many big names, including Pulitzer Prize winners.
Good first impression
Writing a well-crafted query letter is the first step to success while submitting to an agent. According to Noah Lukeman, it should be brief and to the point, three paragraphs to be precise. “Don't send a long cover letter, long letters are annoying anyway, unless you are sending it to someone special,” warns Ahmede Hussain, a Dhaka-based author and editor. Siddharth Banerjee, a London based freelance writer and aspiring novelist, adgds, “Most of the submissions are accepted or rejected on the basis of query letters or covering letters. So, they are certainly very important.” Further, your credentials as a writer also help to land an agent. An aspiring author with dozen articles and short stories in prominent newspapers and magazines will always have an edge over the ‘to be' writers who have published nothing so far.
Knowing somebody in the industry is another factor that dramatically increases your chances of finding an agent because in the publishing world, in Susan Abulhawa's words, having a connection works. Take Ahmede Hussein for example. Ahmede's friend introduced him to Pinki Virani, author and journalist, who was kind enough to tell Jayapriya Vasudevan of Jacaranda, a literary agency, that he would be a good catch. So, unlike many first-time authors, his was a smooth sailing.
During last two decades, the success stories of Indian authors like Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai, Aravind Adiga, etc. have inspired many an Indian author to try publishing in the markets abroad. All well known agents are swamped with submissions from India. “Many Indian authors believe that there is a huge demand for books written by an Indian or a novel based in India; which is a wrong notion,” says Siddhartha . “Recently, I attended a writing conference in London and got a chance to interact with a few big literary agents. And they opined that there was limited market for Indian novels in U.K. The market in the U.S. is even tougher.”
Good fiction sells
Noah Lukeman has different views on this issue, “There is always a market for great fiction (and great books, in general), regardless of whether they are set in or outside of the United States (as has been proved by many recent bestsellers set in other countries). There is no reason why your novel's being set in another country (for example, India) should be a deterrent to its sale, or should make it harder for you to land a literary agent. As an agent, I myself was never biased against a particular work because of it being set in another country. Of much greater importance to me was the strength of the writing, the depth of the characters, the richness of the plot, the authenticity of the dialogue. If all of these (and other) elements were there, then the country was of no consequence. What is important, however, is that, artistically, the country (or the setting, in general) be authentically inherent to the other elements, and not forced onto the work simply for the sake of it.”
All great writing has been born of great conviction and relentless hard work. Aspiring writers should focus on creating the best possible work, and then try his/her luck. The key is to keep trying without losing heart. There is no alternative to self belief backed by perseverance and commitment. As Anees Salim says, if someone writes well, he will certainly find an agent and a publisher one day. Susan Abulhawa in her message to all new authors says, ‘Write, write, write, even when rejection letters mount.  The one thing to always have — and this is truly essential — is a core belief that your work will be published.  The universe has a special way of turning an unshakable belief into a reality.'
This article was first published in The Hindu  

Thursday, September 2, 2010

My Quiet Sunset....

By Pritha Lal
Springville, Utah, USA

Oh, Let the Divine in me Live

By Anima Dey
Bangkok, Thailand
“Mamma Mamma it’s your call. Someone by the name of kavin just called, wake up please….You’ve slept longer than before….”! As I opened my eyes to the reality, it dawned that I had an appointment with Kavin, to meet him for our 24x7 resort time. I tagged my breath and got ready in a hush. Kids were all set to go and spend the day & night with their cousins, while I had my evening and night planned with Kavin. On our way as we drove my mind was clustered with moments of yore. What had I done & achieved so far? Where and how I walked my own destiny? Who did I trust? Who did I miss? Where did my choice go wrong? Where & what will the right seem like?
Viva – The Vibrant Diva as my friends referred to me with love. I left for UK to pursue my Masters in architectural design. I was taught that anxiety does not come from thinking about future rather from the thought of controlling your future. Whenever I started getting used to the soulful chiaroscuro of pain and peace, whenever I used to start getting used to my destined solitude, “Happiness” used to confront me and enquire about what’s going on. If I lamented then “Happiness” used to console me, If I ever tried to appear happy, this same “Happiness” would state non-chalantly “someone else is awaiting my visit, I must go”, it used to go away leaving me back to yearn, to tell about myself.
I lived the lessons of life keeping complete faith in my aspirations & decisions. A pride for my family and friends I had made it big in corporate world, and despite having led a flourishing career, I had to leave it all after my separation with Vandel who had been my love and life partner for 18 years. Yes, a love I tried to nurture and give up the world for, a love I fought so hard to keep, but somehow Vandel was unable to remain connected, and remained aloof always. We found out he had been cheating, lying and having several illicit relationships outside marriage. He managed it all very secretively and it took nearly 14 years to find the truth. Someone rightly said, “A Lie comes with a life which ends at some point, and Truth comes as immortal…it lives forever”. Before parting amicably, the yearning of physical and emotional bonding had become a one-way road; my desperation to emotional bonding was his exasperation for freedom to delve out for fun and fulfillment. It had been one-sided fruitless effort from me to live in our relationship. He had often condoned extortionate rejections, & abandoned sentiments although on an outer layer as society saw it, life pictured great, super healthy family of a man woman and three amazing and adorable kids.
I learnt, a woman looks more secure in a man’s eyes when he can’t pull her away from her life, because she is content with her life. Don’t know why I became that nice girl, giving away too much of me, when pleasing Vandel regularly had become more important than pleasing me. Maybe he thought I nagged and tuned me out, I forgot to speak with actions so he could pay attention, just like his actions spoke louder than his words to me. But my separation with Vandel taught me – “The ability to choose how I wanted to live and want to be treated are the two things that gave me more power than any material object ever gave before.” My parents taught me that “Truly powerful people don’t explain why they want respect; they just simply don’t engage someone who does not give it to them.” I did just that and lo! Behold we were left with a great life of respect my three adorable angels and me.
One such usual rainy day as it was pouring cats and dogs, I was struggling to get a taxi back home with kids, and to my dismay couldn’t manage, when suddenly a car appeared, the glasses went down, the face looked so familiar, like an old time friend, was it Kavin? He asked us to jump in. Not believing our luck we all jumped skittishly. A little wet and little agitated, I sat with the three kids all snuggled up to me, Kavin introduced himself again and we exchanged a quick usual warm hello. It was great that he recognized me, after 25 years of not having seen each other or met each other. How did he manage? I started wiping my wet arms, and suddenly Kavin lowered the air con. I thanked and he looked in the rear view mirror and smiled, as I looked in the mirror and our eyes met, a chord struck and whispered. Having connected after 25 good years, we had a lot to catch up on, I knew he had been married to Sherry, so I dared to ask, what followed was shocking. Sherry lived in a despondent state for months, for no adequate rational reason & had finally committed suicide after 7 years of their marriage leaving Kavin single since, he was still recuperating. We spoke nonstop, about our lives experiences and he dropped us home. We exchanged numbers so we could remain connected. Life suddenly felt so great. There was something strange happening inside me, but I hadn’t got my call yet.
That night I pondered back, Rains reminded me of the teardrops that rolled over my eyes just to dry away, Romance reminded of the pigeons their eggs and the newborn, Heart reminded me of the man who cheated me and used me just as an opportunity to reach for the sky, Friendship reminded me of Kavin; his boy-next-door face, his joint thick brows, his piercing sensuous eyes, & his naughty smile. The aesthetic gratification in Kavin’s eyes just left me beside myself, without a heartbeat, could I ever love again, The song, the rain, and his sensational eyes piercing into my soul, his lips straight and that mysterious smile on his face, as we both stared daringly in the mirror. What was happening between us? My body shivered and heart started pounding, I could somehow connect with his accordance, his silence but was it real? I decided not to gaze at him for a while, but something was drawing me closer to his feelings, and the look in his eyes was mesmerizing me, could he be fixating at me, or just that I am mistaken; maybe he is driving and needs to look back. So I decided to ignore my hunches for a while, suddenly I could hear the volume of the song being raised, and his looks killing me with his stare. “I’ve been meaning to tell you, I’ve got this feeling that won’t sub-side, I look at you and I fantasize, Hungry Eyes….” The lyrics haunting, eyes piercing, mesmerizing stare, his silence spoke a language that connected our souls, but I just couldn’t accept what was happening to me. Even as we were trying to talk, I could feel his eyes haunting me, and the silence between us confluencing. The moment kids and I entered our rooms; I had a message from Kavin, that he wants me to meet him soon for a cup of coffee. Just myself and Kavin? Is that what Kavin meant? My heart & soul resonating in sync with my soul’s rhythm allowed me & I answered “yes”. I was surprised at what I had just accepted, but again, I was compelled by this urge that was beyond my control, it was divine, supernatural maybe.
As he picked me and we left for the coffee shop, just about few raves from me, and he stared, with his enchanting eyes casting a spell on me, I dared to hold touch his hands, and he clasped it strong. The same feeling again, and stronger with each clasp, Oh! What was happening? This couldn’t happen to me now. Then suddenly I felt a gush of warmth, Kavin’s fingers running through my hair, my eyes closed, his thumb gently feeling the contours of my lips, I said in a dimming voice “Kkkaaaavinnn dddd…..ooooo…nnnnn…ttttt DO this…. Kavin….just drive”. He said “Open your eyes, look at me, now say it again”. Kavin had a smile on his lips that was inviting, a stark staring madness in his eyes that was enchanting, he stated loudly “Say it now baby…” That moment he brooch my hair little stronger, His face close to mine, his lips waiting to meet mine, and just then he teased the moment and moved away from me, leaving me in that stance, laughing and driving very slow. Oh! What was happening, how was this happening, Why were those passionate teases so pleasing, divinely desecrating. Time was slipping and so was I, whatever was happening was just beautiful and so purely natural, I could do nothing to stop it.
We reached the coffee shop and walked together, our hands brushing, our passions colliding at every brush. Kavin put his hands on a seat and I put mine on the same, this time my hands were over his, I clasped them strong just like him, his lids lifted in a daze, I stared and smiled, and we both looked away. I loosened my grip and he struggled to take his hands off. “People are watching Viv…”he murmured firmly. “What did you just say” I asked Kavin, “look in my eyes… now repeat”I said naughtily. I smiled in ecstasy, as Kavin was blushing. We finally settled down for a milkshake and coffee, There was so much to know from him I was blooming of happiness, peace and tranquility, my inner divine was so nimbus yet calm. As time came to part, we decided to meet yet again, to spend an entire clock day of 24 hours. What are we saying; I asked him, “Can u imagine both of us at this stage in our lives wanting to spend more and more time with each other”. Kavin stared back, spoke gently “It’s perfect timing Viv, before or later could have been mismatch”. He winked and smiled, and didn’t pay heed to my words. There was a plethora of passions lying wild between us, it needed to be harnessed. I returned to pick the kids up so they could get back to their routine, no guilt, no shame, an amazing strength to handle life’s pains, it was so overwhelming, that I remained in trance even after returning back home, and found myself only dreaming of when we would meet again and how we meet again. He sent a few messages and I returned them, and the date and place was final for our third meeting.
“Mom, why are you so silent today”, Angie shrieked in my ears. “Oh! Nothing angel, my beauty, just wondering if you all will be fine tonight with no mommy around you.” “Yes we will be fine please don’t worry, you enjoy your night out with your girl friends.” Yes this is what the kids had been told, I could not have shared the fact that I would be spending whole day and night with Kavin. I dropped them at their cousins house, we did our poochies smoochies and I left for the resort. Kavin was to pick me up at a bus stand. I waited and he arrived before time. Our drive to the resort was exotic. We had loads of jokes to share and that made it all easier. We reached safe & I called the kids to wish them well, and turned my mobile off.
As we entered the room our words mated simultaneously, so strange. “Signs of Good Luck Kavin,” I said “when the kids say words simultaneously they shake their pinky’s to lock good luck,” “Oh! Let’s do the same then Viv, let us lock our good luck as well…” Kavin urged. He just turned and in a second opened his arms to me; I was drawn in like magnet. I felt a world of Divinity, completeness and purity in his embrace. He whispered in my ears “You are beautiful, you are perfect Viv….”. I shrugged him away, and started laughing, so where is this going to lead Ka……vviiinn.” By the time I could complete my words, the moment, the magical moment had dawned, we held each other close, something was just spinning around, and I felt that rush, and our rhythms unified perfectly. My cheeks to his cheeks, gush of warmth, clasp of hands tightening, and his lips to my cheeks, felt wet and cold, and what followed was sheer joy to each and every part of the soul, body and mind. I pleaded “I can’t do this please…I am sorry I can’t do this, Kavin”. And he held me tighter and closer and said “look into my eyes baby…. & Say - Do It”. Just as my eyes met his, that resonating stare, the mesmerizing urge, I couldn’t help but agree and I unsparingly said “Do It Kavin…Do It”. I can’t recollect what followed after that every moment felt an illusory feat. No guilt no pain and no shock. How come? And what was all this, could I have really experienced such a bliss, it all felt surreal, so divine and everlasting. How could it be so prefect, so peaceful, so impeccant and so beautiful, when in society it should have been lust, how is it that it just did not feel carping at all? We decided that this bliss was solely between us and we would cherish it as a soul mate’s surrender. Would we live such moments again, time would tell.
Time must speak so life can ask; desires must speak so dreams can last. I got a note the very next day from Kavin, that read :-
“You are so adorable Viva, I tell u honestly the day I saw you, I felt the magic between us. I had stopped living life, my life was a bane. No music, no love, no teases, no colors, no inspiration and all was dark. Suddenly you came and changed the way I felt, no one could need you more. Since we have lived those moments, I want to bring the music to life, live the teases to love, splash the colors back to life, I want to fill the sounds of silence with your silly talks our jokes and laughter. I don’t know when & if I can live with you, but you live in me as my inspiration, as my soul. I knew instantly, if you were my soul mate that you and me will “Do It” someday, maybe not so soon or so many times in so many beautiful ways, but I had dreamt of us and that feeling was hibernating & I kept denying myself cause I was afraid I would lose you, or that u will think I am not a respectable man, that I am reaching you for lust. I felt time would take you away from me if we sinned but u changed the way I felt by not asking for anything, you actually made me so very desperate and helpless. The first time I saw you I drowned in your aura and I felt such a strong attraction, but was afraid, I wasn’t sure how express it. I couldn’t help but touch, want to hold you, and ‘do it’ all in love with you. Honestly when it happened the way it happened it all seems magic to me, a magic I could live forever and that leads to only more and more magic. Believe in me and I will let the Divine in you live with me forever.”