Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Shubho Bijoya, a Winner and Giveaway #2

Sorry, Sorry, I am not only fashionably late but also embarrassingly late to wish you all a Shubho Bijoya. Though ideally one can extend the Shubho Bijoya greetings for a fortnight after Durga Pujo, all the way until Kali Pujo or Diwali, we always rushed around the myriad relatives' home trying to finish the pronams by Lokkhi Pujo, the day of the first full moon after Durga Pujo.

Ghugni and Narkel Naru for Bijoya

There were always a few people who came after Lokkhi pujo to finish the Bijoya formalities and Thama, my grandmother, had very little regard for them. She usually dismissed them as "ajkalkar chele pule" aka the modern generation which in her language meant people with little respect for tradition. "Eto dine shomoy holo ?", she would say in a disenchanted voice and utter a cursory blessing making very clear her displeasure. Not that her criticism or grumbling affected the latecomers in any way, except that they were given much inferior snacks as compared to those who had come in early. The quality of the snacks in most homes was inversely proportional to the number of days that had passed since the day of Dashami and this was one of the important reasons why we tried to finish off the pronam formalities early. I think the latecomers were not really fond of food or at least not what was served on "Bijoya", mainly variety of sweets and nimki and risked being late.

Sometimes however the wind blew in favor of the procrastinators. If Thama happened to be in the Puja room or had retired early to bed, my Mother and aunt would ensure that luchis were fried and sweets were bought from the Sweet store, half a block away to feed the guest.

Now, since procrastinators are always welcome on this blog, I have two happy news for them

The important news is that we have a winner from the last draw. A certain "RRDutta" whose real name I am unaware of and who left this comment "To make an Indian lunch for my single colleague who has just joined the workforce and doesn't seem to think he has enough money to buy lunch for himself everyday.", was the one picked by random.org. Now, I have sent her an e-mail but am yet to get a reply. Maybe my mail went into the spam folder or something. If I don't hear from her in the next two days, the prize will go to the second winner picked which is "Mausumi Ray" whose random act of kindness is "My random act of kindness was and will be donating money to CRY to sponsor food, education etc. for kids."

The far more important news is we have another Giveaway. yehhh. This time I am giving away Devapriya Roy's latest book "The Weightloss Club". Now, don't get mislead by the title. This is not a book to lead you through a guilt path while you are devouring a pound of Diwali laddos. "The Weight Loss Club" has nothing to do with weight loss unless you are reading it while running on the tread mill, which I suggest you better not do. For this book, is to be read in a proper setting, by the window, with a cup of tea, cell phone switched off, some hot off the fryer pakoris by the side.
It has been my great pleasure, to know the residents of the Nancy housing colony better as they go about their daily life spiked with love, anxieties, pettiness, joys and sorrows and to be a part of their journey with a touch of mystic and now you have a chance to win your copy.

I will select two winners for this giveaway. To win your copy tell me, if you have ever lived in a housing colony, then what was the best food memory or any other memory you carry from there.

Below is an interview with the intelligent, young author. More about her here 

You have published 2 books, writing your 3rd and as I gather from the author's page in your book "Devapriya Roy is pursuing a PhD on the Natyashastra (at least, that is what she says when asked what she does). Once upon a time, she was the Keo Karpin girl." Tell us then who you really are or what defines you?

Oh dear. This is definitely the toughest question. If I were to be entirely honest. I think, before all else, I am a reader. And I am a romantic. I mean, I have written the novels, I am working on the third book which has gouged out a large chunk of my twenties, but to me it still seems that the writerliness is incidental; an extension of the two things above – being a reader and a romantic. And also, being not very good at much else. I am hopelessly bad at management and stuff. I write because I cannot not write – there is that deep internal compulsion – but I am also aware of the uncertainties of writing. But one can always read; that world is abiding.

And perhaps because I see the world filtered through a novelist’s narrative (a very dangerous thing, I admit) I am often shocked and amused at the moral high ground that is claimed by our intellectuals. You know? I mean, if we were reading about them as characters in good novels, there would be so many other details about them, defining them, that the moral high ground would have a deeper perspective. That is not the case, of course, in contemporary discourse. So, strange as it sounds, in a manner of speaking then, I think I am defined by books and by narratives.

2. Your first book was "The Vague Woman's Handbook". A charming read if I might add. What made you throw Keo Karpin aside and write it? Was there a story brewing inside you for long?

The thing about the Keo Karpin business was that it was a one-off. I mean I could never really have moved to Bombay and followed up on it and eaten carrot sticks to become that person. I don’t think I am ambitious in that way. Instead, I got married on a whim and got a job as an editor. And that is when The Vague Woman’s Handbook happened. When I was younger, I always thought I would write The Book first. Yet another stab at the Great Indian Novel. Something that would take years and years to research. And basically never get written. 

Fortunately, I had a wise mentor. He told me to write something already; something closer to my life and impulses. And that was the finest piece of advice really. I was able to use all the autobiographical stuff in obvious ways first. So with The Weight Loss Club, these were characters I knew intimately. But none of them were from my own life. So that’s how The Vague Woman’s Handbook was written. It helped that I was no longer a student of literature. I had shifted to theatre and performance studies. I was now reading loads of popular fiction. But at the same time, I wanted to do things differently even within the realm of popular fiction. Mil might be a very young but rather acceptable chick lit heroine, a bit ditzy, but hers is not a quest for love. She has already found it. 

So, in a way, the Handbook begins where most chick-lit ends. Abhimanyu Mishra, with his eccentricities, idealism and poverty is not the ‘hero’ out of a typical chick lit either. Indira Sen is at least twenty years older than the usual best friend. And so on.  

3. Tell us a little about the process from writing to publishing. Were you knocking at doors with a jhola and manuscript in hand or was it the other way round and publishers were pursuing you waving Guccis and Louis Vuittons?

Luckily, I have been in the middle. The Handbook was commissioned on the basis of the first chapter and the proposal, so I was very fortunate. Did not have to knock doors with jhola and manuscript! It can be SO harrowing. However, I have never had publishers chasing me with Guccis or Louis Vuittons or more importantly Big Fat Advances. Sigh. I wonder if that will ever be. The only time I had someone from the publishing house chasing me was the editor of my second novel, Pradipta Sarkar, because she wanted the manuscript which had been delayed beyond belief. However, I must confess, my publisher Karthika does gift me many books. Better than bags, no?

4. Your second book The Weight Loss Club has an interesting set of characters and relations and an undertone of spirituality. Did you find it more difficult to write this book? From a technical point of view, how did you manage to manipulate all these characters so seamlessly like an expert puppeteer? I mean at any point would you get confused between Monalisa and Meera?

From a technical point of view, yes, certainly, it was more difficult than The Vague Woman’s Handbook. All the characters became demanding, and I felt guilty because some were obviously getting more airtime and some were more fun to write. But the truth is, they became like relatives. Mind you, not like friends but relatives. We are likely to be more blind to our friends than to our relatives. So I got to know them all really well. I had all their details charted out too, in notebooks. Their back stories and family trees. So there was never any confusion about the people in the book, who were all very different. But there was definitely a great challenge in moving their stories forward, keeping the individual climaxes secondary to the larger narrative and most of all, in keeping it pacy and readable. I do remember calling Pradipta and telling her, ‘Never ever ever let me write a book with so many people in it!.’

5.  There was a time when we read books because so-and-so said it was terrific and so-and-so's neighbor did not sleep all night to finish it. There were no videos or book advertisements as far as I remember. We just discovered books or books found us. On your blog at IBN Live you recently wrote couple of posts about the prolific young writers of India who come equipped with sharp marketing skills. Do you think "a lack of it" hampers your book sale in any way?

Certainly one’s willingness to be out there on social media, connecting and networking, and one’s fungibility in marketing oneself through traditional media are very important factors in books selling. In my case, my grapes-are-sourish blog posts are based truthfully – and bitterly – on what I feel about this conundrum.    

Some people have fantastic selling skills. They can sell refrigerators to Eskimos. These writers fall in the first category. They are building their own refrigerators now. But it is also true that they are finding new readers too. However, there are some people who can build excellent refrigerators, sustainable refrigerators, hell, they might build talking refrigerators but not be able to sell them to a Delhi consumer. 

So that is why they need others to do that for them. But unfortunately, the world needs refrigerators more than books it seems. Publishing houses do not operate on margins that will invest in fantastic and sustained marketing for new authors. Their large-scale marketing efforts are earmarked for the Big Names. Because the marketing budgets for books are based on the print-runs. So in a way, the Bengali proverb ‘tela maathaay tel’ is entirely accurate in the publishing context. Now, thanks to the example set by these clever MBA authors, the publishing houses also expect the authors to do the marketing themselves if they want to really sell their books.

My problem with this is that it directly dilutes the culture of writing. Time being limited, you can only spend so much of it to improve yourself as a writer, through reading and writing, or you can think up marketing strategies and shooting videos and jumping through hoops in the same time. It’s like telling a serious singer to learn the tango to star in their music videos or telling sportspeople to attend acting classes to perform better in their ads. All in the spirit of very good business sense. But it means that those without business sense will remain minor. Nothing wrong with that. But it is important to embrace this.  

6. What keeps you ticking and writing?
I think it is the world of ideas and books that keeps me writing; my husband who keeps me ticking. And of course, the sense of larger failure that one feels growing up and engaging with reality in a country like India, a young country but with so much to be done, that also contributes to perseverance. You know? It comes from that mishmash – failure and hope – hope and failure.


  1. Housing Colony...this brings back the 80s/90s for me. My dad was in ONGC so spent my childhood in the ONGC colonies.
    Loved the diversity; we had neighbours and friends from all over the country, Celebrating festivals, simple @ home bday parties, Sharing and caring, endless hours of free play each evening.

  2. Housing Colony...this brings back the 80s/90s for me. My dad was in ONGC so spent my childhood in the ONGC colonies.
    Loved the diversity; we had neighbours and friends from all over the country, Celebrating festivals, simple @ home bday parties, Sharing and caring, endless hours of free play each evening.

  3. I remember the potluck dinners the families would have. South India Idli-Sambhar, with Kashmiri Dum Aloo, followed by Maharashtrian hot puranpolis soaked in ghee, coupled with Gujarati puri and undhiyu and followed by Bengali rosogullas...yummmmmmmm :)

  4. I grew up in a small township surrounding a factory, kind of an extended housing colony. Too many food memories of those times - the huge gardens with aam, kathhal, bel trees; impromptu Sunday picnics at someones garden during the winters; bowl or two of the next door mashi’s cooking every other day (of course Ma sent her goodies too!); the ice-cream and dosa bhaiyyas doing rounds once a week - I could keep going on! But my funniest food memory is about my first BFF in kindergarten, a TamBram - everyday she had my luchi-alu chhechki tiffin while I had her idli topped with the red spicy powder. After a nasty fight one day, I went back home in tears and told my Ma aami aar V Rathhi’r idli khabo na tumi aajkei giye idli banano sheko. And that is how my Ma learnt idli making and bought her first idli stand. Ofcourse the fight was resolved the next day and we went back to sharing tiffins; but I always thought Ma’s idlis tasted the best :D

  5. I lived in a tight-knit neighborhood with a vibrant "association" which organized lots of events all year long for the residents. Favorite memory: we put up three night of performances for the Ganesh festival each year. Every child (even babies) got to play a part in a dance or play! Thanks for the giveaway and the book sounds like so much fun.

  6. I had a great time in the student housing of Louisiana State University. There were so many international students and post doc.s on campus. However, literally there was a mini West Bengal also. We had an excellent potluck/feast during Hurricane Gustav in Louisiana. There were power outage and I cooked bengali mutto curry (robibarer mangser jhol) for the other 20-25 bengali student friends. Also, there were sada bhaat, chingrir malaikari, rui machcher kaliya, and chili chicken in our menu. All the cooking and having the delicious food are done under candle light.

  7. My dad used to work for LIC for 35 years and we were transferred all over the country. I have changed 10 schools and 4 colleges. Other people got transferred too and it was fun to be transferred to a new place sometimes and unexpectedly see that another old friend from another place was there too. Anywhere in the country we went - on transfers, for holidays, for exams / interviews etc., whatever, we always had an LIC colony and an LIC persons house to go to. We used to call it the LIC family. People who did'nt know each other from adam and who were as different as chalk and cheese - all lived together in the LIC quarters. Every summer all of us kids would wait eagerly for the transfer order because it was exciting to know where each of us were moving to.

    We celebrated Diwali, Christmas and Id. Births, weddings, funerals. Independence day and Republic day. I could go on!

    I remember a really funny episode. At one stage we were transferred to Bombay and we used to live in the LIC quarters opposite the American Consulate. Many LIC people's kids who had US visa interviews would come and stay the night with us to get a good place in the serpentine queues. Once my mum was not in town and my dad sleeps really early so when the phone rang at 10 pm and it was an LIC uncle (whom i did'nt know) saying that there was the possibility of a bandh the next day so could his son come and stay the night with us even though it was late, I did'nt think much of it and said yes. The guy came, I gave him a bed (the diwan in the living room) and I slept.
    Now my dad sleeps early but wakes up early too! And was quite shocked to see a strange man sleeping in the living room as though he had appeared from nowhere! Of course the guy woke up, I woke up and the whole thing was clear. It may not even sound funny now but it was then!

  8. Hey Sandeepa,

    I got your email (regarding the giveaway) yesterday and I replied to it as well. Don't know if it landed in your spam folder. But anyways, I am super excited to have won your book and am looking forward to showing it off to my friends and of course, trying out the "secret" recipes! Promise to pay your kind gesture forward. :)


  9. Will there be a consolation prize for the second winner? :-)


  10. I grew up in a housing colony - the best memory is you are never alone be it happiness or sad events. The bonds formed during my years in colony are stronger than many blood relations.

  11. It is been months i ve visited ur page. Congrats Sandeepa ! Happy Diwali to u and ur family. I never experienced a day in housing colony only seen in movies. That is a nice giveaway!

  12. colony addas, colony winter-badminton tournaments, and colony festivals are the best memories I have.... can never forget the balloon walas visting colony houses every Sunday noon looking for the Rani betis and Raja babus (small kids) to trouble their parents to buy one for them..... or the baul-phakir's who would have traveled across metho poth to visit colony para to sing baul gaan and earn their living... miss those days !!

  13. My Dad works for central government and constantly got transferred, so I have lived in many 'colonies'. The memories that have stuck are less food related but more to do with knocking on doors of homes with kids and gathering everybody to play in the evenings :)

    Thanks for introducing me to Devapriya- her books seem like the Indian equivalent of Alexander McCall Smith books. Fun!


  14. This looks so delicious and flavorful!


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