Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Book Launch - Preparation

While the books are getting printed, we can use the time to prepare for the book launch. It is entirely up to you whether you wish to launch the book with a big splash or quietly make an entry in the book stores and let them worm their way into the reader's hearts. Both ways work, the first one costs money and effort while the second route may see you lose out on some initial sales. But finally, the book must have something to sell itself over a period of time.

I believe that a splash must be made especially since I am a new author and not many know about me. A book launch will draw some press, get some sales going and spreads the buzz which sets off the book on its way. This time the World Book Fair at New Delhi is being held at Pragati Maidan during January 30 - February 7, 2010. So we decided to launch the book during this Fair.

Now typically, all book launches involve the publisher, the author and maybe a bookstore where the launch can be held. A PR firm is necessary (because the whole idea of doing an event is that there is some press coverage). Invites, maybe chief guests who draw in the crowd and the press, refreshments and other stuff are costs that need to be taken care of. Normally authors, especially well known ones become the chief guests themselves, as they tend to draw the crowd and the media. The publisher normally sets up the event with the bookstore and makes the books available as well as the invites and other promotional material such as posters etc. The bookstore (especially big chains like Crossword, Landmark and Odyssey) normally take care of the event - from the compere, to the PA system, the PR, the backdrop, refreshments etc. The author needs to be present and share his views. It involves time and effort, and may be, the returns are not commensurate one feels but I think the launches have their benefits. The metros - Mumbai for sure, because it is the hub of all activity and you are certainly on national tv, Chennai and Bengaluru for their reading public. Delhi and Kolkata, I have not had the experience, though I will surely have something to report soon on Delhi.

Once the event has been decided by my publisher and me, we decided to invite a successful woman who can speak on 'women empowerment' which is a strain that the book touches upon. So the search began from actors to politicians and still goes on until we find someone who agrees. We have meanwhile booked the venue, the time and we are all set to go ahead on the evening of the 4th of February 2010. The first copies should roll out today and we are waiting with bated breath.
More of this later as it unfolds!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Writing of the 2nd novel - Proof read, Final edit, Name etc

Now that we are getting closer to the deadline - we need to get things all worked out. My version left me and it was a huge relief to just send it off. I do one version while reading aloud which gives me a fair idea which sentences do not sound right, one with a printed version to see which parts can be edited out etc. And trust me each version takes longer than you expect, each time you are looking at something almost anew. But you do decide to let go at one stage and send it off.
The publisher sends it to his editor ideally but since my book has been edited by Keerthi, we had a quick proof reading/editing job by Gita Rajan who did a wonderful job of it and at such quick time. Keerthi told me she trusts Gita completely with all her work and so did Basant and I had no problems with her at all. I spoke to her and we hit it off well and even more so when she said she liked what she read of it! Wow!

Blurb, Acknowledgements, About the Author
The proofing job took about 3 days by which time I wrote down the 'About the Author', 'Acknowledgements, 'Dedication' and the 'blurb' parts which are the most difficult parts of writing a novel. I sent them off too by which time our publisher sent me the proofed version which I had discussed with Gita anyways. I went over it again and made a few changes and sent them back. And again they come back with the changes and back and forth until we are finally ready!

Cover design
Meanwhile the cover design also has been worked on, an indicative cover design, based on pictures that Satish had taken while we were at Shrivardhan and we sent it off. I normally work with Shiva, my designer friend who also designed the cover for 'The Men Within'. The publisher was happy with it and we decided to go ahead with some changes at their end. The final printable version of the novel and the cover design normally are to be ready at around the same time so they can be sent off to the printers. I guess we were ready with all these by around the 10th of January and we were looking at a book launch on February 2, 2010.

Not so fast! My original title of 'The Tryst' was already taken. I googled the name and it was showing up as a novel written by a western author. I asked our core committee for some alternate names in Shrivardhan and though we came up with a few, we finally decided that Shobha's contribution of 'If you love someone..' was the most apt. So we asked the publisher to make the changes into the cover design and in other places and the cover is ready to be printed.

Now, its off to the printers. Ah, take a deep breath and get ready to make the marketing plan, the book launch etc.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Writing of the 2nd Novel - The Memorandum of Agreement

The all important MoA is the document where the publisher wants to enter into a contract with you. The salient stuff in this are the points given below (at least form the agreements I have seen) apart from names, addresses and stuff saying that you really wrote this book and did not copy it or plagiarise it and all:

Royalty: Varies, I believe, between 7%-12%, first timers have no option but to take what is offered which is normally 7-7.5%. Take it. Second novel, I consider it an affront if you get nothing less than 10%. Otherwise self-publish it, you'll make more money. And the percentage is on jacket price not on net sale. Royalty is normally paid at the end of the year or some mutually agreed time.

Copyright: Remains with the author (else reject the offer)

Rights: Publisher retains the rights to everything - from movie, to television, to translation, to hardcover, to overseas rights etc. Unless the chap is going to do something by himself about it, you can always ask him to remove the clauses, so you can deal with movie houses directly.

I had an experience when I concluded the movie deal by myself but since my contract bound me to pay the publisher 50% I was in a fix. Thankfully my publisher is a fair man and he said that since I had done all the hard work he will relinquish the rights, I had no problem. I paid the publisher some amount as goodwill which we used to promote the same book!

So, either delete the movie, tv clause or modify it to say that if you get the rights through your efforts, the publisher is not entitled to the % he demands.

Rights: The rights to the publisher are given for a specific region (normally India, South Asia etc), for paperback, for a certain number of copies (upward of 1000 normally because that is normally the minimum print run)
Other rights that the publisher may wish to retain are:
- Hardcover rights licnsed to another publisher
- Translation rights
- Reprint rights
- Mechanical, electromagnetic and electronic, facsimilie and reproduction rights
Of these, the author gets a % (I get 50% in my agreeement)

E- book rights: On this again a % is paid to the author on sale of these e-books (I get 35%)

Complimentary copies: Depends. My publisher gives me ten and I can buy them from him at a 40% discount which he gives everyone anyway!

Nominee: In case of death of the author.

Review of contract: Will be reviewed mutually at the time of reprint of the work and in case of any co-publication venture.

Reversal of rights from publisher to author: When books printed are sold out and publisher does not wish to go for subsequent print runs, rights given to publisher revert back to author. Publisher undertakes that a minimum stock of 100 copies is maintained failing which the book shall be considered to be out of print.

Time frame: Publisher will take a maximum of 8 months on the work till the date of publication from the time when the final work is received in a shape with all editorial inputs and ready for layout and designing.
This timeframe can get quite dicey sometimes, like it did for me.

These then are the general clauses one should look at in the agreement. As one of the parties signing it, you have every right to negotiate each and every clause, so just think ahead and be aware of what you may want to retain and what you wish to delete. Do sign with awareness (trust yourself to take care of your interests) and with trust (trust the publisher to do the best he can).
Good luck!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Writing of the 2nd Novel - Step 2

Keerthi and Ramesh Ramachandra
Having finished the novel at its first draft stage, I decided to polish it a bit before sending it off to some readers for some reactions. However much I tried I could not find a way of increasing the word count - 45000 I knew was kind of short - it fell in no man's land. But I was convinced that this was the only way the story would work.

I got a few reader responses. I was not sure if the time gap was credible, if their romance had anything that people identified with - the responses put my fears to rest. The women loved it, the men hated it (which was surprising, but then I realised then identified with the other character. But the publishers were the ones who needed convincing and they were not. Tough bunch they are and I don't know when I will ever know what they want or look for in a book.

Finally, when 'The Men Within' got taken for publishing by Indialog in 2005, I put The Tryst' on the backburner and focused on 'The Men Within'. I met Indialog's editor Keerthi Ramachandra, now my good friend, at Bangalore, where she had relocated to and was now working as a freelance editor, and we worked extensively on the book. After it was all done after a ten day job, and we had sent it off to the publisher, I gave Keerthi a copy of 'The Tryst' and asked her if she would evaluate it and tell me if it had a case to get published.

Keerthi and I got busy with our own lives and it was not until April 2008 that we got back together. I told Keerthi that I would like to hire her editing services before I approach the publishers with 'The Tryst' (which is not a common practice because the publisher normally has his own editors to work on the book). This also adds to the cost for the writer but I was okay with that because Keerthi adds great value with her insights and it would give me a better chance with the publishers.

Okay, this is how editors work. Either they take a lump sum, say one round of editing or evaluation would cost between Rs. 2500 to Rs. 5000 depending on how big the book is in terms of pages (Rs. 15 per page for level one corrections), or if you want to be hand held till the end, it could just go up to anything between Rs. 10000 to Rs. 25000. Sometimes the editors can get you some publishers as well. But the pricing does depend on the level of difficulty - i.e. how well or how badly you have written the draft!

Anyway, my one week long stay in Bangalore with Keerthi, was supposed to get the book into a final stage after which I could approach the publishers straightaway but Keerthi had other ideas. The first was that she felt I was telling the story and not showing it enough which was true. I consciously chose that style because my level of investment in the book was rather low but when she pointed it out, I felt, I could work on it. Also she had some issues with the characters and how they shaped up which I heard out. When I headed back to Hyderabad, the manuscript was full of suggestions and corrections and to such an extent that I got put off from working on it. I put it away for six months almost.

In October I took it out and worked on a few aspects. And then a few more. And then some more research to make it more authentic. I worked for a month extensively on the book and it swelled into 72000 words. It was more fuller, the characters rounded and I did think some justice had been done. I sent the proposal out to the usual suspects and they all rejected it again!

I had spoken about the new novel to Indialog, my publisher, and Basant Pandey the Director, felt that they could do it. We were discussing the possibility of using a different marketing approach but we finally did nothing about it. In December, I shot off a mail to Basant Pandey and asked him if he was still interested because I was getting to a stage when I wanted more control over the process. He said he was game and we took off from there.

The good thing about this deal was that we agreed that we should target the Book Fair in Delhi which is normally held in February. I said that my manuscript was almost ready and we could target that. Next came the commercials, the royalty. Obviously, Indialog would not offer any advances but I was not going to settle for a 7% royalty like a first time writer. However Indialog offered me 7% to start with which was not acceptable to me. After some negotiations, they agreed to a royalty of 10% and I decided to keep the movie rights with me to which they agreed. The MOA was then sent to me with the changes. I will share the main points of the MOA in the next blog. Getting the MoA is the first concrete step to getting towards published but frankly, if my 'Men Within' experience was anything to go by, it does not mean anything, because they given themselves an eight month period during which it can get published else you are free to go. So they just might leave you in the lurch and this period is a very frustrating because they don't say anything and keep very quiet while you wait.

Luckily for me we have a deadline to work with so I asked Basant Pandey for time to work on the manuscript till the 31st of December 2009 after which he can take over the proofing and printing process. The Book Fair is from January 30 - February 7, so we had enough time.

Since we had originally talked about doing something about the marketing mix to increase sales, we started at the most important 'p' after the product - 'price'. We had originally decided to price the book at Rs. 95 because that is a wonderful price to enter the Indian pocket and that is what I felt Chetan Bhagat has cracked. However Basant pandey felt that Rs. 95 would not work and we should price the book at Rs. 145. To me Rs. 145 did not make sense at all because it was middle of the road. Anything over Rs. 100 fell into the 200 range so we decided to at least stick with a price that makes the book fall into a range where it is perceived as a book with some production value to it and some serious content.

The pricing works something like this. The cost of producing a paperback of about 250pages with decent production value rages from Rs. 30 - Rs. 45, if you are printing about 1000-1500 copies at one go. Now you need to figure out pricing this way. From the jacket price of the book, 50% goes to the distributor-retailer, so if it is Rs. 200, then Rs. 100 goes to the distributor-retailer margin. The publisher now has about Rs.60 to play with of which Rs. 14-Rs.20 goes as author's royalty. Of the balance Rs. 40 he has marketing costs and post that, is his profit on each book. Of course there are many direct sales which offset his distribution costs. These are rough costs but it is a fair approximation and the author need not feel that his 10% is too high because there is sufficient padding in the margin already.

Anyway I involve myself in the cover design as well as the marketing aspect with Indialog, knowing their constraints and limitations, so that adds to my cost. I do that for myself and my book of course and also knowing that this must work in a partnership mode. Alright, now we are all agreed, let us now get down to polishing the manuscript and sending it off. Then we can worry about the cover design, the marketing mix etc.

Writing of the 2nd Novel - Step One

Manuscript of 'The Tryst'

Some editing changes

Let me now go through the process of the writing of this novel. I wrote 'The Tryst' (which is what I had originally titled the book) in three months flat. I had a basic hook - that of two youngsters who share the perfect relationship (that goes beyond mouthing 'I love you's' and falling lustfully over one another) - who promise to meet after 30 years of their meeting. The idea seemed to hold much promise for an incurable romantic. I decided to tell the story from the heroine's point of view so I could bring in her own fears and doubts. I thought, could a woman in India, howeever modern in thought, just pack up one fine day and say, I am going off to meet my old friend and will be back in a few days. It was interesting to explore.

More so since I noticed that women in India lived with an unspoken drag on them, of holding back and being held back, in marriage, to an extent that they largely lose themselves. Cases in point are all those women who do wonderfully well once they are liberated from marriage. The question came to me then, do they have to wait till they are divorced and widowed to find themselves? Obviously not. They could find themselves now, and find the strength and courage to be what they can be. The story of Meghna aims to do that without being escapist or without blaming.

While writing the story I wanted to remain true to the basic plot and 'told' the story quickly. The romance of the youngsters being the high point of the first part and the suspense of their meeting the high point of the second. It came to 45000 words and I decided that it was worth that much investment and not more since it had just about that must to say. I figured it might appeal to women readers as a romance - young women might like the youthful romance and older women might identify with the dilemma of the married woman who has to choose between her dreams and her husband's good!

I finished the story in April 2004 and approached a few publishers - the regular suspects. They rejected the proposal quickly!

At this stage I must tell you where exactly I was in terms of being a published writer. I had written 'The Misfit', my magnum opus in 1997 and finished it in one year. Since then it had been rejecetd by all publishers and agents in the world worth their salt and it still remains in my archives. I wrote 'Gulmohur Gang' a children's story collection which was rejected by several publishers and was finally taken up by Senu George of Dahlia Publishers in 2004, a deal which fell through in 2008 after no action from his side for four years. I wrote 'The Men Within - A Cricketing tale' in 2003 and just about completed it, which was also doing the rounds with no success. To add to all this, I had resigned my job at the bank in January 2004 and my last day at work was March 31, 2004 by which time I had decided to finish writing 'The Tryst'.

So that's where it all hung. No encouragement from the publishing world, no job soon, just a mad confidence that I will get published, that I have something worth getting published! What do I do next?
Onward ho...

Saturday, January 9, 2010

YES - Finally The Novel Is Done

A huge YES factor for me my friend as I sit and punch away at this twilight hour! YES, YES! I have finally sent off the changes I made to the pdf version of the book - proofing it just to have a 'look' took me a good nine hours and I am still left feeling that maybe I should have tweaked it a bit more? Ah, Hari, let go! I sent off the changes to Sandeep, the publisher's production man, and that's out of my hair.
Got to say that Gita Rajan, editor-proof reader, has been a great source of encouragement. She really backed the story and that's huge for me. I liked the confidence she brings to this project. And she did such a wonderful job of proofing and final touching it. Thanks Gita, its huge. Looking forward to meet you in Delhi.
And then the cover. Shiva worked on it with our limited resources and he sent me a jpg file of the version we liked and it looks good. I am waiting for the final cdr version to send it off any moment now. And then off to Minerva coffee shop with Shobha and Anjali where we meet Vinod to celebrate with some mirchi bajjis and coffee!!
Hah! Will write a bit about the process tomorrow. What happened till now on the making of the manuscript, when the publisher gets involved and then the actual commercials, agreements, promotion etc. We can go through the process together!

And a promising director

Also met Chandra Siddharth, a promising young director, who has made a movie of great sensibility 'Aa Naluguru' which I liked immensely. Since I developed a liking for his sensibility I made it a point to see his next 'Vasantham' which had Sumanth and Sneha and another heroine and was rather disappointed at what came about. Somehow I could sense a subtle theme that he was trying to explore which was being subdued by a stronger track that got built in. Maybe I felt that other people prevailed over his original idea.
Which was what happened apparently. Chandra said that he read about Spielberg saying somewhere that one must stick to one's style of making movies, one's success mantra, so to say and move gradually over a period of time. Which is where he felt he moved into different kinds of movies too fast. The other two movies that he made, 'Inscrutable Americans, and another Telugu movie called 'Idi Sangathi' with Tabu in the lead - the first was critically acclaimed and the second did not fare well.
'Though it did not fare well,' he says, 'there was a German reseacher who came and interviewed me and complimented me on the subject and my viewpoint which was very satisfying.'
Now he is back to his genre. Two movies that are due to be released this year. Let me watch. I do believe he has what it takes. And he makes my kind of movies!

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Billionaire - Chance Meet

Met Lakshmipathi Raju, Ram's junior from JNTU on the 4th January, 2009. I had just driven in from Pune and was dog tired when Ram called and said he was in town - the billionaire, private jet owner from the US - and could I come over and meet him. I have fond memories of Lachi and said that I would.
Lachi looked just the same. I asked him how he made it. He was a computer science graduate here when he left. He said he always wanted to do pharmacy so he went to the US and graduated in pharmacy all over again. After that he and his brother started a business and added value to one the first businesses they started - of providing home care for patients who needed home IV care. Once they built this business model to a decent size and one of the healthcare companies realised that it was worth buying off them, they sold it off and then realised that another business model was staring them in the face. That of oncologists and increasing their profit margins from distributors and of distributors who can gain by increasing their turnovers by simply giving a few oncologists a higher margin at a time. And on and on and on.
Lachi operates in areas where he adds value, where everyone gets a win win situation and where he builds long term relationships. Today he says he can pretty much get most things done in the healthcare industry in the USA. His brother has since retired after selling five businesses - all small, none which had more than 80 employees at any time - but adding great value all round.
"I always focused on one thing at a time. One business at a time and growing it and creating value," he says. "Only when it became big did the idea of selling it off come. And when I moved into another business it was always related to the first and I could see a clear connection or gap." Another thing was that he invested in was building relationships in the domain right from the first day. He never ever held back when it came to building relationships he says. Today all his business work on the fact that he has this tremendous network of the right people in the healthcare business who trust him and know that he delivers value.
Hmm, lessons from a billionaire. One thing at a time, create value, be in related areas and build lasting relationships. He is also as down to earth and grounded as he was then he remembered the Nike shoes he gifted me before he left for the USA, a prize possession I remember, a white one with red Nike logo which I used for several years after that with great pride. I do think I have a picture of it which I will rummage, scan and post!
More on Lachi and his success formulas later. I will probably have a longer chat with him later when he comes back. He is now trying to get a foothold for healthcare companies in India. That should wake up a few of our pharma giants!!!
Am looking forward to that!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Prakash Deshmukh – A Recipe for Success

Prakash and Gauri
Meet Prakash Deshmukh, the man who has made it, who is in the big league undoubtedly. The partner director in Pune’s largest architecture firm ‘Space Designers Syndicate’, Prakash can now afford to talk of retirement - a 6 crore turnover, 120 employees and some of the creamiest projects on hand including Magarpatta (which is about 25% of its work). A renowned architect, Prakash is an Executive Member of the Council of Architecture and has served as Chairman of Indian Institute of Architecture, Maharashtra Chapter. I wanted to know the key to his success, the key to the big bucks, to fame and success and I asked him to share his story.

Born into a large joint family in a small village called Peepalgaon near Nashik, Maharashtra, Prakash did not have much to aspire for, no role models to follow. A large family, debts and a small piece of land was all they owned. Prakash remembers his first school – one teacher taught 4 classes at one time, and managed all four at one time. One can imagine the quality of teaching!

His mother, a highly intelligent and pragmatic lady, quickly realized that nothing good would come out of this school with one teacher, and sent Prakash to Vadner a nearby village 20 kms away where his grandfather, an Educational Officer, lived. The first day at school, Prakash’s teacher pulled him up for some trivial reason, and that did it. Prakash is a self-respecting man and his pride shows up even today when he recounts the incident, and the same must have showed in his young days – he bunked school as often as he could to escape the tyrant and watch boys playing marbles or, sit in the temple. Once his grandfather found out things changed. Whenever he was missing, four senior boys marched into the village and carry him back to school – one chap holding each limb, with the school bag on his stomach.

Things improved when he came to the second class, he found an understanding and kind teacher, and Prakash started enjoying school. He continued up to his 10th in this school he but regrets that his grounding in English was poor because of lack of good teachers - even English was taught in Marathi - something that haunted him for many years. But there were many pluses during his stint in Vadner – his grandfather made him read the newspaper everyday and recite the news to him. Prakash soon became an expert at memorizing the news which helped him immensely in processing and retaining large chunks of information. Many would ask him how he did it. The reading habit was inculcated and he went often to the library to read the classics. He remembers fondly that his grandfather actually learnt algebra for the sole purpose of teaching him.

After his schooling, a maternal uncle told him to move to Nasik for his PUC which he did. He took English tuitions from a foreign lady, the wife of a well-known poet, while doing his PUC. After his PUC, he got admissison in the Civil engineering stream in the College of Engineering Pune - another maternal uncle who lived in Germany then, told him that he would bear the cost of the fees.

‘Things were bad at home,’ says Prakash, ‘I was under pressure to take up a job as a clerk with the irrigation department which was offered for project-affected parties. My salary would have helped but I chose to go to Pune.‘

His risk-taking approach came to the fore when he decided to give up Civil Engineering and take up architecture. A decision that was influenced by his self-introspection as much as by Ayn Rand's 'Fountainhead' which he read in those days. Prakash was clear by now that his aptitude matched B. Arch more than Civil Engineering, and despite his maternal uncle threatening to withdraw financial support, decided to go ahead. At home the decision was even more unfavorable because B. Arch meant an extra year, not as secure a job as a Civil Engineers, but Prakash stuck to his decision

How did you fund yourself? I asked.
‘We made banners, cards, Diwali cards, models, took up part time jobs after college, made building models, drawings anything we could do,’ he said.’ In the elections that followed the Emergency, we made election material like banners, hoardings, backdrops for all political parties in 15-20 days. We made enough to last us a whole year - Rs. 25000 was shared between 10 of us and that saw us through.’

How did you get this contract?
‘The hostel was a hub of political activity,’ he said. He remembers meeting many political heavyweights then.

True to the Prakash spirit, he suddenly felt, as late as in the final year, that maybe architecture, as he studied it was not right, that it was superficial because it cannot bring any fundamental changes to the system. He was disillusioned with the structure, he wanted bigger changes, to change the world, to make a difference. Architecture did not seem to be the answer.

He remembers travelling to Andhra to help in the relief work in cyclone affected areas, carrying corpses, burying and burning them, travelling in an ambulance with others who wanted to do something. In those years of disillusionment he met with Thatte saab, Himmat bhai and other thinkers who espoused the Gandhian idea of ‘Trusteeship’ in industry where surpluses are created by shareholders and only what was needed from it taken and the remaining ploughed back into society. Unwillingly or unknowingly he got drawn into being the CEO of a small ancillary unit that was begun on these idealistic notions of Trusteeship with about 20 young workers. The factory was to make scooter and Telco spares, 25% of profits were to go to workers, 25% to capital, 25% to future expansions and 25% to society.

Prakash remembers his dilemma when he got into that CEO position. He had completed his degree in architecture and needed to establish himself. His partner today and old accomplice Zubair, started off with some projects and after work at the factory, they would discuss and make plans and designs. Of course it helped them that they were already doing interiors for big projects in the final year itself.

The experience at the factory helped the young, idealistic Prakash tremendously. He met the top guns on Pune’s industry – Bajaj or the Telco. He asked them to train his young bunch of boys and they agreed, not without a problem though, because the employee unions had a problem with that, and then they had to train the boys discreetly at night!

Despite being the CEO of a factory he did not want, Prakash jumped in with all enthusiasm - from raising bank loans to fund the project (entirely on bank loan) of Rs. 2.5 lakhs, to setting up the factory and running it profitably, Prakash transformed himself from an architect into a successful entrepreneur.

Just as he was thinking of establishing the systems so he could go back to his domain, the senior thinktank came up with another unit, a bus body building unit that Himmatbahi owned, which had 120 workers. Seeing Prakash’s successful track record and the way the experiment worked, he asked him to take over that unit as well. Prakash could not say no and managed both units for 3 years. But this new factory had inherent problems of unions, employee problems with money lenders, older employees not supporting their 27 year old CEO etc.

Despite all this, the unit made a profit of Rs. 5 lakh in the first year. Prakash got Telco to sign an agreement for 6-8 months for buying their products, involved families, got joint accounts for husbands and wives etc. However the employees did not sustain the same spirit and formed a union at which stage Prakash chose to resign, as this was against the principles on which he had joined the firm. The firm went into lockout and was shut subsequently.

Prakash married Gauri in 1981 during these trying times, both having similar belief systems and supporting the same causes. As members of Rashtra Seva Dal they met often for camps and social work. Non-believers both, they chose to marry without rituals, in the presence of the Registrar of Marriages, and 20 guests, 5 relatives and 5 guests each.
‘We never had too many needs,’ he says. ‘Even today we don’t. We told our parents we will fund our marriage ourselves and we did.’

Prakash walked away, rich in experience but without anything material to show from the experiment. But he says those years gave him much confidence. He went back to his domain, architecture, and with Zubair, formed Space Designers Syndicate in 1985. The young architects realized that the new Pune Development Authority Plan was being made, which meant that all architects would be on the same plane and the ones who knew more or studied the market more would have an advantage. They studied the new plans, the market and worked hard for 5 years to establish their own niche. By 1990 they were the biggest architecture firm in Pune with 25 employees (even in terms of turnover) and have maintained the leadership position since then.

So what is it that one needs to take off and hit the highs? I ask.

An adventurous spirit, he says, is the first requirement. Complete dedication, honesty and transparency. Hardwork certainly – he has been working 10-12 hours a day from 1985 and he enjoys it thoroughly. How do you sustain your belief in tough times I ask? Try to minimise your wants, satisfy your needs, be flexible. Always believe that the process will work.

He pauses. ‘It is important to have a basic philosophy of your own, that is based on humanitarian values of love, trust and respect. This basic philosophy of what for am I doing this, what and why am I doing this must be clear and must be held over everything else.'

As a youngster he says he wanted to change the world. Over a period of time you realise that you have limitations and you stay within your limitations and try not to enforce your views on any one, even your children.

A remarkable journey Prakash, and one that any youngster could choose to follow if they wish to achieve the kind of success, both materially, spiritually and professionally that you have. There is a wealth of wisdom in what you have revealed, some explicitly and some implicitly, and one can infer much from your life story itself. Your idealism stands out, your belief in your inner voice is steadfast, your clarity about the higher goals that we as humans must stand for shows, just as your passion to improve, to grow, to never remain stagnant. You made it against several odds, some external and some internal, that you posed with your own severe soul searching but like you said, the process prevailed and after all else, success will follow once anyone chooses to give it their best shot with all honesty, commitment and dedication!

Go for it guys, another live example of the indomitable human spirit and what it can achieve!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Tree of life Motessori - A Mission in Furthering Education

Marla and the children of Tree of Life
I met Marla Beggs Nargundkar, the good wife of Dr. Satish Nargundkar, older brother of my good wife Shobha Nargundkar, and thus related by marriage, after ten years. The last time we met she had not trained in Montessori education and I had only vague visions of what I wanted to do, so I guess we spoke of inane stuff which I specialized in. But when we met last month in December 2009 at Jui's wedding in Pune, I knew that she had started a Montessori school in Atlanta and I wanted to know more. I am always intrigued and impressed by anyone who starts a school - to me it's one of the best ways to contribute to society. And when someone does it at the scale and conviction that Marla does, it is even more interesting.

After her MS in Mathematics from Clemson University, South Carolina, Marla taught at Community colleges for a few years. She soon discovered that the older students came to community colleges with the disadvantage of a lack of knowledge, emotional baggage and beliefs that made learning difficult. Marla decided then to start at the other end of the spectrum when children start their education so she could teach them in a way that is fun and educative, and make a difference. The seed was sown and it was only a matter of time before she was drawn to a talk at an Open House and learnt about Montessori training and decided to sign up for it. She earned her AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) certificate to teach Primary Montessori from the Montessori Institute of Atlanta and packed enough experience in the domain - as a Montessori parent since 2001, a lead teacher for four years and substitute assistant at Montessori schools in the Atlanta area.

What impressed Marla about the Montessori system was the thought and belief that Maria Montessori (www.montessori.edu/maria.html), the first woman medical doctor from Italy and the creator of the Montessori system of education, put behind her work. The Montessori system addressed people as whole people who are full of potential - mature, responsible and balanced. It allows the child the freedom to think individually, to make choices, to express herself, to respect one's space and that of others, to do one's job well, to handle conflict, all in a manner that is fun and child-centric. The teacher facilitates it until a point when intervention may be necessary.

'Maria Montessori believed that the most important part of life is the period from birth to the age of six when a man's intelligence is being formed,' says Marla. 'She devised material to help the child learn 'hands-on' in a way that it meets the physical, mental and emotional needs of the child - she created a holistic program.'

After her training, Marla decided to start the 'Tree of Life Montessori School' at Atlanta (www.treeoflifemontessori.com) and this is what makes me feel happy deep inside. She has chosen to work, trained to work, in the 3-6 age group. The other age groups you could work with range from 6-12 and go right up to 24 years! Since she operates from home, her intake is restricted to 6 students, a regulatory issue. As a Guide or Directress, she handles her wards with a prescribed curriculum and learning material approved by the Montessori education system.

'Montessori education is a sensorial approach to learning that starts with 3 year olds. Montessori schools are self-paced, child-friendly environments, unlike regular schools that predominantly use group lecture to transmit knowledge. Everything in the classroom is aesthetically designed and laid out in a logical, sequential order. Specially designed materials are set up in an attractive organized way on low shelves that are easily accessible. The teacher demonstrates the use of a materials to children, who are then free to choose and work with that material whenever they like. Repetition develops and hones the child’s concentration and deepens skill and understanding of a given concept.'

'Children complete their chosen activity and clean up afterwards so that another may use it, in a self-directed, responsible manner,' says Marla. 'As teachers, we keep detailed records of their activities and development.'

The curriculum for 3-6 comprises of five broad areas. 'Practical Life', where tasks of everyday life such as buttoning up, tying shoes laces, washing tables, plant care, preparing and serving food, greeting a visitor etc are learnt. In the 'Sensorial' area, specific material is used to improve the child’s understanding of size, colour, matching etc that corresponds to the five senses. In the 'Language' classes, spoken language and vocabulary are developed through names of materials in classroom, storytelling, discussions, poetry and singing. Montessori education's hallmark is the use of a phonetic approach to begin reading and emphasises developing cursive handwriting skills. Numerical, algebraic and geometric concepts are learnt within the Sensorial Material. Through manipulation of three-dimensional materials and in small group lessons, young 4 ½ year olds learn to add, subtract, multiply and divide before progressing to abstract understanding of the processes. Other subjects such as Geography, Biology, Botany, Zoology, Art, Music & Movement are integrated into the everyday curriculum. Wooden puzzle maps of the continents, cultures presented by parents and outside visitors, nature based art studies, exposure to musicians, storytelling, acting and self-expression, outdoor play, gardening and nature observation provide the children a holistic learning experience.

'At snack time children go and snack with a random member so they interact with different people every day,' says Marla. 'Also they get to choose what they want to eat which makes them clearer about choices.'

'The students work in 3 hour work cycles and it starts first thing in the morning. They are allowed to choose what they wish to study that day. There is no fixed space to sit either. Apart from being allowed the space to handle their sensitive periods, children are also encouraged to express themselves with others - 'I don't like it,' or 'I don't understand it' - clearly to others to seek a response from them.'

Marla's dream is to take Montessori education out to everybody because she believes it helps children to grow as whole people. However she is aware that the costs of Montessori education are prohibitive at the moment and not everyone can afford it. 'One of the main reasons why costs are high is because of the Montessori materials. If I could reduce the cost of the materials, we could provide education cheaper. It could be done by getting external funders who fund the materials and space so I can focus on teaching.'

Education is now her calling and she enjoys it immensely. The joy is evident in her face when she starts talking about her favourite subject. 'It is incredible to see the difference in the children at the individual level. That itself is satisfying, seeing their growth, progress from the beginning.'

Her vision - to set up a Montessori school in Georgia that covers the entire spectrum of 0-24 years. I am sure you will set it up and in good time Marla. Meanwhile, good luck with the children at the Tree Of Life Montessori, Atlanta. It is good to know that you are making that small difference in your own corner of the world through what you believe in, what you are passionate about. So until the time you grow the Tree of Life Montessori into a huge oak from the acorn it is today, here is wishing you and the wards under your care good luck and many satisfying years of growth and learning!

For more information log on to www.treeoflifemontessori.com and all those in Atlanta and the US can call Marla at 770-458-9955.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Deadline - New Novel Coming Up Soon

I have something exciting to share this New Year. After trying to peddle my romance 'The Tryst' a novel I wrote five - six years ago, with many other publishers, I checked with my old faithful publisher Indialog who took the business risk on 'The Men Within' (my first novel and the only one out to date) in December 2009. Basant Pandey, an enthusiastic and earnest soul, and the Director of the publishing house, had read the proposal and felt they could do it in July itself, but we never did much about it. So when we finally got together to think of the way forward for us, he said we could catch the book fair in January if we hurried up the process. I liked the idea and worked on the manuscript to catch the deadline of December 31, 2009. I am just over the deadline by a day or two but I think I should be done this afternoon.

I am now checking to view the wonderful contribution made by Rasana Athreya and compare the changes one last time. Rasana is a promising writer based out of Hyderabad who is writing her first novel, and a wonderful editor, who did a rush job of editing what I had to give me another perspective. Thanks Rasana, your inputs were precise and added great value. All you fiction writers, here is a good resource to edit your stuff, provided she has the time. Once she gets published she may not have the time!

The big idea is to get the manuscript across to the publisher today. I will write about the process that goes into getting published as it happens with this book for any new writers. For example, there is normally an agreement which is the main document on which the deal hinges, after which the manuscript is sent in a word format to the publisher, edited and proof read at their end (I took care of the editing myself with a known editor to both me and the publisher, Keerti Ramachandra, a senior editor and my good friend, so the publisher did not have a problem with that, only proof reading to go now).

After that I do get involved with the cover design with my designer friened Shiva. Got some pictures taken by Satish at Shrivardhan, and will examine my old pictures also for any fit.

Currently I am exploring the possibility of an alternate name to 'The Tryst' because that name seems to have been taken already (googled the name). I am thinking of 'This, I promise', with a by line 'A Tryst at Fifty'. As the name says, it is about a boy and a girl who promise to meet one another after a gap of thirty years, when she turns fifty. What happens to them during that period and whether they finally do get to meet one another is what the story is about. On a more deeper level it is about women (the story is told through the heroine's point of view) and how they can choose to empower themselves and express themselves fully. I do believe that women's empowerment could balance world consciousness from the current testosterone male dominated madness, and bring greater peace and prosperity to the world.

The book should be ready for printing by 10th January 2010 so we can look at a launch in the book fair folowed by a launch in Hyderabad and some other cities over the next few months. The last time it was a case of the cup and the lip and the slip, and the process got delayed by a year (yes, they are quite casual about such things), but this time I will take care that such slips do not occur. I shall now plan a marketing plan to sell these books through various mediums apart from the conventional ones. Will share my thoughts as I go along.

Right now, I am just happy that I have taken it to a stage where I can send it off to the publisher and that a follow up to 'The Men Within' is at hand in the next 30 days!
A good start to 2010.
Now on to the next one!