Careers in Publishing

Careers in Publishing

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The Socio – Economic Impact of Piracy in Publishing

This is an article I wrote for a magazine.

http://liveencounters.net/?page_id=9226

 

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My tribute to one of the first to work for a Polio Free India

India is now said to be free of polio. The scourge has been vanquished. Polio is said to breed in filth and affect the poor more than it affects the rich. Surprisingly this wasn’t true just a few decades ago.

One of my heroes in the fight against polio is perhaps the last person on this planet that anyone would think of. Today’s generation might not even know his name. While Mr. Bachchan has loomed large on billboards and TV ads urging people to give their infants ‘just two drops’, my hero is someone from the same fraternity. He goes by a simple name Mehmood.

The name to countless of my generation will conjure up memories of a comedian who made us laugh. He was Master Pillai of Padosan, the cook singing “hum kaale hain to kya hua…” (so what if we are dark skinned…) and many other adorable characters. He started out as a villain and did many negative roles; perhaps the one most memorable to me is from the movie “Pyaasa”. Bollywood-Comedian-Mehmood-Ali-Photograph

Mehmood was a simple human being that grew to be a larger than life character in reel and real life. He married more than once and had wonderful children. Lucky Ali the singer and the one time child star Ginny are the two most famous ones. But there was another that affected Mehmood the most. This was his son, Maqdoom Ali. Macky as he is known, contracted polio. Very little is written about the father son relationship but one has to watch “Kunwara baap” to get glimpses of the father that doted on a disabled son. Somewhere Mehmood felt horrible at the tragedy that he could have easily avoided.

KunwaraBaap

The movie is a tearjerker even today. But very few see the real pain Mehmood feels in every single shot of the movie. From the time the poor rickshaw puller discovers the abandoned child has contracted polio due to his negligence, to getting the boy admitted to a ‘regular school’, there is pain in his voice and in the soul of the movie. No one can forget the shot where the poor rickshaw puller carries his son on his shoulder in a sprint. He doesn’t want the child to feel inferior. At the end of the movie, the rickshaw puller is seen dying while his adopted son weeps. It is in this scene that Mehmood dreams of a polio-free India and urges his son to become a doctor. He wants the son to carry the message to every mother,and to ensure no one ever suffers from this devastating disease. In that shot look closely and you will see Mehmood the father honestly crying. He was a good actor but he was a doting father too. For a movie made in 1974, it didn’t do well. No one wanted to face polio; even fewer learnt anything from Mehmood’s message.

 

Critics slammed it, audiences shunned it, but for Mehmood it was a labour of love. He lost a lot of money from movies he made for his children (Ginny aur Johnny was another for his child that bombed). He lost many battles in life but if he were alive today, he would smile at seeing India free of polio.

 

Mehmood sahib, I know you are somewhere smiling to see your dream come true. This piece is dedicated to you and all the lesser-known crusaders that set India on the path to becoming polio free.

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The Prologue from my maiden novel – Seven Shades of Grey

 

I have received many requests on the why and the how of my novel. The intent of writing the novel was to make money but that was in 1999. To me today, this is showcasing failure and yet being proud of the sheer effort gone into writing the novel.

Through these posts I want to give (anyone who is interested) glimpses into a past that perhaps resonates; I plan on putting sections of the novel here. I welcome all feedback and I have provided links in case you want to read the entire novel.

Vivek Mehra

The book cover. It’s from a painting done by my friend Sushma Sabnis. In the book though, this is the state of mind of the protagonist.

Seven Shades of Grey by Vivek Mehra

Prologue

What is it about being a first-time father that is so exhilarating, and yet so frightening? I can not know, I have yet to become one. In about an hour or more I will and join the ever-growing race of ordinary men transformed to ‘superman’ dads. My wife Dolly has just been wheeled into the labor room, an antiseptic sanctum sanctorum. An hour ago the first spasms hit and we knew it was time to take this exhilarating, frightening and yet natural journey. Even though excitement engulfs me, the shadow of confusion is not far away.

About seven months ago I was more exhilarated, and not at all frightened of this, oh so natural a phenomenon. The reason was simple: it had not happened naturally to me!

Out of ten years of our marriage, eight long ones had been spent desperately tryingto have a baby, without success. The years seemed to last ten centuries, ten lifetimes. Anxiety coupled with hope and ending in catastrophic disappointment had been a vicious cycle following us dogmatically. I had lost count of the doctors and clinics we had anxiously visited, each offering hope of deliverance, each turning out to be a bigger disappointment than the first. Then mysteriously it had all changed. I still remember that day as if it were just yesterday. Years of pain, anxiety and disappointment had vanished in a flash. Exuberance soon gave way to bewilderment that continues to dog me even today.

Only a long-married childless-couple could understand the thrill an unexplainable and sudden pregnancy brings about. Only a parent-to-be can understand the fresh set of anxiety that envelops one the moment the wife is wheeled into a labor room. And right now I am all of this and more. The more I try to rationalize, the further away I seem to get from the truth. Trapped in the quicksand of my past, the more I struggle to free myself, the deeper I sink.

When all hope was lost, joy as evasive as sunlight in the middle of a dark moonless night, nothing one could say or do would calm shattered souls. And yet the darkness had vanished, the morning sun rising making flowers bloom, taking us in swift flight to the edge of the earth where a rainbow bridging heaven and earth revealed a pot laden with gold, at least to these two hapless souls. As I stand now in the waiting room in the maternity wing of the hospital, I have time to kill, to try to rationalize what happened, to unravel the mystery that has plagued me for the last few months.

I have to get free of the quicksand!

As a dutiful son, I have informed the respective grandparents to be, and they are on their way. As a dutiful husband, I am at hand should my wife need me. As a dutiful friend I have informed all my friends, at least those that I could. As a human being, I am excited at the prospect of becoming a father. As a soul doomed to trudge this planet trapped in a human body, I am as confused as ever.

What was it that triggered this miracle?

Why did scores of qualified and dedicated doctors fail and suddenly nature succeed?

What had happened to me in the last year or so?

Had I become a confused soul or an enlightened one?

Had I lost my sanity or just discovered it?

Strangers became friends on a new planet I chose to inhabit – the Internet. Their words of wisdom, support and prayers comforted me, became a part of my other life. And somewhere in this duality that I chose to live I had been rewarded by the imminent birth of a much-awaited child.

And there was one among them, the one that fused with my soul before being lost forever. Words hammered on an unknown keyboard, hooked to an unknown computer, manned by a stranger, linked by an umbilical cord called Internet had first predicted this miracle to me.

A miracle is defined as “an act of supernatural power, a remarkable event”. To me the Internet was man’s greatest miracle. Not one person on this planet ever believed or conceived the impact that it would eventually have; not one would believe the impact it has already had.

Did I discover the true meaning of love or could I say that I had learnt an eternal truth? Or was I suffering from an acute case of dementia! It is my past that I must go to, if I still seek an answer. And yet the one, who first predicted that I would be a mute spectator to The Miracle in my personal life, had dissolved into nothingness in cyberspace, just as mysteriously as she had appeared on it. One miracle dissolved in another, and yet left another for me to behold.

Who was she?

What was she?

The answers lay in the events of the past months. Somewhere buried deep, shrouded by a veil of my ignorance, lay all the explanations that my weary mind seeks. They happened over a span of many months, but are fresh even today, alive in my thoughts, etched in my memory, part of that which makes the complete me. Many months that taught me more than some learn in a lifetime, many months that compressed more than several lifetimes of achievement, one miraculous event, one fascinating world, and the rest of my life remaining with just one purpose: to understand what really happened.

Will I ever know?

Will anyone ever know?

To read more, in print click here

To read on Kindle click here

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India on the other side of my balcony

The rear of my house faces the rear of another house. The rooftop has 3 perhaps 4 small rooms. There is one toilet clearly demarcated and some water faucets in the common open area. When I first moved into my house I observed that only one couple lived in one of the rooms with 2 small children. Since a year or so, I have noticed more people on the rooftop and my guess is the other rooms have been let out.

I have been able to identify one as a couple from North East who don’t have any children. Another couple appears to be from Central India and have one small child. So in a small space there are 3 families living.

A typical morning has people milling around the water tap brushing their teeth. The men are typically in shorts with no shirt, or perhaps a cotton vest. Women are in their night clothes; mostly petticoats with a blouse. The children too are in various stages of being scantily dressed. The children get to use the toilets first since they have to go to school. The folks move in the small open space with a rhythm and peace that is difficult to explain. On weekends I have observed that the women come out in the forenoon to wash clothes at the water tap. The clothes are hung on common clotheslines. In the evening the children play together, women cook food, the men mull around broken chairs and a cane sofa. Occasionally visitors are seen and it is impossible to tell whom they are visiting; folks from all the ‘rooms’ mingle with the guests like they were their own. In the evenings I have often observed women taking turns to wash dishes.

This independence day, this little India celebrated together. A table was laid out and an orange coloured drink was served to all. There were snacks too. They flew kites, congratulated each other and retired at night.

I have seen this coexistence and marvelled at the peace and tranquillity. Independence Day was perhaps the point that made me pause and think about our great nation even more. This little piece of India outside my balcony should be the true representation of all of India. But there is constant news of strife –be it ethnic, race and worst of all, disrespect of women. In this little piece of India I quietly observe men lower their eyes out of sheer respect for the women in their midst. I haven’t heard a quarrel over water or space or even the use of a single toilet. Children are cared for by all and visitors are greeted as part of eveyone’s family. That to me is what our cultural heritage is all about. And greater still is the spirit of sharing even the meagre resources we have. Mythology and history are equally replete with instances of the great Indian spirit of sharing even if it meant people had home went hungry.

Where did we lose these values and what did we become? This little piece of India outside my balcony made me pause and wonder. It asked me to be a little more tolerant should someone park in my normal parking spot. It reminds me to be a little more forgiving of human beings encroaching into my space and to ever be mindful of those that don’t have much. I look for this India, and rarely find it but I am glad a piece of it lives just across my balcony.

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How much have we really degenerated? Two examples. And yet there is hope…

Last evening I was driving back from my daughter’s dance class. She was sitting right next to me in the front of my SUV. We neared a busy 3-road crossing near the Kali Temple in C R Park. As I drew closer to the turn I needed to take, I saw a Renault Duster parked at the turn. To understand the sequence of events that followed I need to explain the road I was on and where the Duster was parked.

On the left of the road is a row of houses with cars parked at right angle to the road. On the right side of the same road is the Kali Temple wall with car parking; the cars when parked would be at a right angle to the road. This leaves a 2-lane road, one lane each in opposite directions.

The Duster was parked at the kerb, which meant I had to take the turn by over taking him. To do this I would have to move into the lane where the traffic was on-coming from the opposite direction. This was clearly stupid not to mention dangerous and inconvenient. With a view to caution the driver, I drew up to the Duster to find a man in his late 20’s early 30’s sitting in the driver’s seat. I gestured to him to move on. He lowered his window and feigned ignorance. I then spoke to him gently, letting him know the danger and the impeding traffic jam. His response was he wasn’t going to move because there was no jam just yet; if there was one he would move. I insist he moved to which he asked if I could see a parking spot. I showed him one EXACTLY 2-car length away from him and in the designated parking area. His answer was, he didn’t want to go to the other side of the road. Within the minute of the conversation the traffic was holding up on all sides. It had to happen with me in the wrong lane.

I tried again, this time demanding he see the problem he was creating. He adamantly reminded to me mind my own business, and to consider my age before speaking to him. I am not sure what he meant but I did ask him if he didn’t pick up his brains from the store where he bought the SUV. He could only say “Oh, yeah?” repeatedly. He didn’t make any threatening moves and continued to sit inside his SUV probably praying I move on. I had to drive past him since the traffic was not going to get moving unless one of us moved. I also had to get my daughter home.

When we were passed him, my daughter asked me a simple question. “Why did the man not want to move his car, daddy?” Even this morning, I have no answer for her.

Perhaps it’s my age; I am told older men get cranky. I am sure in my 20’s or 30’s I too thought older people were cranky. But the owner of the Duster left me flummoxed. It was clear the man was educated; he spoke fluent English. He drove an expensive car. He was clearly waiting for someone who had gone to the temple and I am assuming it’s someone older than he is. The temple is on the opposite side of the road and this means the passenger would have to cross the road to reach the car. There is a perfectly good parking spot in the designated parking area. And most of all, standing on the road is going to inconvenience many more people than the simple convenience it brought him (the driver).

Given all these facts, I continue to wonder about the choice the man made. Why would he choose to inconvenience so many for such a trivial gain, even if there was one? It took me back to the meaning of success. Look at anyone who has made a mark in life and you will find them overcoming grave odds to ensure they did the right thing. It is the principle of disciplining oneself WITHOUT waiting to be disciplined that we are rapidly forgetting. And worse, we are not passing it on to the next generation.

The same scene played out earlier too. At the Savitri Theatre turning there is a sign clearly proclaiming NO HALTING, NO PARKING. It goes on to threaten penal action. To even a first timer crossing the junction one would know that if a single car stalled, the traffic would back up in 3 directions. But that doesn’t deter owners of large cars. The same morning a large Toyota stopped with its lights flashing. There was nothing wrong with the car. The driver got off to help his boss out of the car. I pulled up next to him and pointed to the sign. He pleaded he would be gone in a minute. The boss was an able-bodied, and rich (since he owned the car or at the very least had access to it), 40 something year old. He didn’t budge an inch till his driver came around and opened the door and his lordship stepped out. I left in exasperation; the traffic had already backed up quite a bit.

The same question of disciplining oneself kept haunting me. Why are we not responsible for our actions especially when it inconveniences so many? How much have we degenerated?

There was a refreshing change this morning that prompted me to write this blog. I have an automatic water (pump) sensor installed. It was malfunctioning and yesterday I had complained about this to the manufacturer. He sent a technician to look at it. The technician arrived on a bicycle that had seen better days. I went with him to the sensor installation. He checked the wiring and spent about 15 minutes tinkering with the system. He then tested it for me. I was visibly happy it worked. I reached for my wallet to tip the man and pulled out a Rs. 50 bill. He looked at me and refused to take it. He said he was just doing his job and there was no need for me to tip him. I stopped in my tracks. I asked if he would like to eat or drink something. He said he was thirsty and could do with some water. I asked for some water and also for a cold drink for him. When the drinks arrived, the man reached only for the water. I asked him to partake the cold drink. He said he was happy with just water.

He left leaving me dazed. In this day and age there was a man who was true to his work and lived within his means. He didn’t own a fancy car and didn’t speak fluent English. But he was clearly way above the others I encountered yesterday.

If there was an opportunity to work with any of the three people, who do you think would be the most reliable to work with…

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Leaders, leadership and followers

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I have often wondered what truly makes a leader and what leadership is all about. A startling fact that emerged was that one was a leader ONLY if there were followers. A party of one has an automatic leader but not really a true leader; there isn’t anyone to lead.

I have heard of many clichéd comments that leadership is about being charismatic or leaders having “leadership qualities”. There are courses on leadership and “how to…” galore. But two incidents made me pause and rethink how we really look at leaders.

A prominent activist did a lot of research on a leader. She painstakingly put together hard data as evidence of the leadership. She went through the allegations of misconduct in grave detail. She then concluded the leader was one who could be trusted with the leadership of the country. The researcher is Madhu Kishwar and the centre of her research, the current Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi. I have read many of the pieces Madhu has written and the campaign she led to ensure her circle of contacts were made personally aware of his qualities (as she saw them).

Then within a week of him being elected to the office of Prime Minister she expressed lack of faith in his decision-making. The PM appointed a former TV star and fellow BJP worker Smrithi Irani as the Cabinet Minister of Human Resources. Madhu was quick to state the wrong person was given the job.

This turn of events made me pause and wonder. How could a man who had been researched as a thinker, thought leader and had been elected to the highest office of a nation suddenly be someone making grave errors? It just doesn’t make sense. If the man who is PM has a case to occupy the office, why do we hasten to judge every decision he makes without providing any evidence of our own judgment or more aptly evidence that the decision taken is wrong? The minister might not work, but there is a fair chance she just might. Like any mutual fund would state, “past performance is no guarantee of future performance.” Similarly where the minister doesn’t have the experience she does have the trust of the man the nation trusts.

So is the leadership of the leader to be questioned without evidence? Does he really need to be scrutinised for every baby step he takes?

There is another thought leader whose stature confuses me. The man is Dinesh Singh, the former VC of Delhi University. Just about a year ago, I heard him speak at the Centenary Celebrations of Commonwealth Universities, held in London. He received a standing ovation for his thoughts on the future of education. His focus was the student, the education imparted and the role of universities in providing learning and not short cuts to memorizing.

Today, circumstances forced Dinesh Singh to resign.

The two leaders appear to be different but I wonder if they really are. Both were hailed and then questioned. It’s true that the role of the opposition or the devil’s advocate is important for ensuring quality and getting to the truth. But is truth so fickle that it is arrived at without evidence? The Four Year Undergraduate Program hasn’t even run a single term before being discarded. It’s possible this is not what India needs even though this is the standard in many (global) leading teaching circles. But isn’t there room to debate this, to research the decision and only then arrive at accepting or rejecting it?

Education is supposed to be the greatest responsibility of mankind. It is in man’s own interest that generations to come are educated. It’s the only way we understand the consequences of our own actions. Education is less about changing the world and more about changing ourselves. I would even go as far as saying education can be a business even if philanthropy has to take a back seat. But to treat it like a prostitute is perhaps the greatest disservice we do to mankind. And this is where I wonder about leadership.

The cabinet minister and the VC are interlinked with education. They are responsible for ensuring India’s future is secured in the hands of the educated. But the followers seem to have a different agenda and I confess I am clueless about it. I don’t know why the PM’s decision on the appointment is being questioned without evidence. I don’t know why the VC’s decision was overturned again, without evidence. There can’t be a system that is so perfect and all-encompassing that it cannot be corrupted. There is however, the believer who needs to keep the faith. When a leader is trusted, allow him to do his job. Admonish if he fails but do allow him to function first.

I always envision a nice car when I think of a leader. The ride the car provides is like the leadership the leader provides. A fast car needs outstanding brakes. But think of what the ride would be like if the brakes decided to do a self-check every minute the car was running. The ride would be awful and the car will be reduced to a wreck because of the frequent start-stops.

It’s time to take stock of our own thinking, leaders after all are only as good as the followers who believe in them.

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