Interview: Chandra Shekhar Balachandran

We got talking to Chandra Shekhar Balachandran, author of Geography, Everywhere!

Dr. Chandra Shekhar Balachandran is a geographer with over 35 years of teaching experience. In 2000, he returned to India and set up TIGS. He tells his students that he ‘eats, drinks, blinks, breathes … lives geography!’

How did you get interested in geography? What kind of books and people in the field interested you?

In 1971, when I was in the 8th standard at National High School, Bangalore, the Bangladesh war broke out. Our Social Studies teacher, Sri B Narasanna, held us spell-bound for the duration of the war explaining to us the geography and history of what was unfolding daily. We didn’t touch the textbook for all those days. The seeds of my interest in geography were sown then. However, I didn’t realize it until I started teaching geography as a doctoral student at Kent State University (Ohio) in the mid-1980s where I had come under the tutelage of my next geography guru, Dr Surinder Mohan Bhardwaj.

Before that, I don’t recall any books inspiring me to become a geographer. I did rethink many books from a geographer’s perspective and found new meanings and connections in them. In graduate school, of course, we had readings of geographers such as the legendary Dr. Yi-Fu Tuan, and others.

My own guru’s writings on pilgrimages and sacred geographies continue to be a huge influence both in my life and in my geography education work. My interests today are largely shaped by the latter.

Tell us about TIGS.

I started TIGS (The Institute of Geographical Studies) as a project in 2000 when I relocated to Bangalore, after having studied and taught in the USA for twenty years. When I returned I observed how dead school-level geography education is in most of the academic endeavors. Inspired and inspiring geography education was there, but very rare. Alas, it still is.

I wanted to share what my teachers (both Sri Narasanna and Dr. Bhardwaj) had taught me with pupils and teachers alike.

Under TIGS, I began offering workshops that showed how textbook concepts connect to our lives in many interesting ways.

Over time, TIGS has been offering a variety of other activities including field trips, lectures, documentary film screenings, non-formal geography education online (a course called G.o.D. – Geography over Distance), weekly geography essays published for several years in the Deccan Herald Student Edition, online readings, quizzes, assignment ideas, and our flagship annual event: International Geography Youth Summit (IGYS). IGYS is the only formal academic geography conference for school children (standards 7 and above) in India. It has become very popular with children because they get to explore geography by conducting a project on a topic of their choosing.

Why are you on a mission to educate children about this subject?

Every discipline we engage with comes with a set of ethics and human values. When school education goes from teaching subjects to teaching disciplines, children see the value of what they are learning, and how they should use their knowledge for making a difference for the better in the world around them. Far too often, school education is about getting high marks and becoming ‘successful’, not much about how to be a good citizen of the world at all scales ranging from the family to the world.

Every discipline can offer such frameworks. I just happen to talk about geography. It is not only interesting in and of itself, it is also a naturally integrating discipline. It helps us see how things are interconnected in this world. Recognizing and engaging with these interconnections make the discipline that much more powerful. This is called PDK (Powerful Disciplinary Knowledge). Geography’s PDK empowers children to be both critical thinkers and compassionate human beings.

There are many anecdotes and tidbits in the book Geography, Everywhere! Tell us about them.

Every waking moment, I keep reflecting on what might be teachable. Thanks to my gurus, my geography lens is always helping me see how beautifully geography connects with everything. So, no matter what happens, one track in my mind is always discerning the geography aspect of life. That is a joyous experience.

I just share that with anyone who is interested.

 Tell us about your writing process.

Generally, I work better when I have deadlines! I look at the goings-on in the world and in my own life to see things that illustrate geography concepts. I use these to introduce my readers to geography concepts. Through these, definitions of the concepts are tied to real-world phenomena. Sometimes, they are not real-world! I have explored cyberplaces, fiction, dreams, mythologies, psychologies, and so on through geography.

Nothing escapes the geography treatment!

I have done a lot of slice-of-life kind of writing (mainly online). Several of these have appeared in an e-zine. Here, I have to put in a lot of effort to keep the geography discourse out! These are musings from my own life.

In all cases, it is merely observing, not much digging.

How is the approach toward geography different in the west?

‘The west’ is a very broad term. Generally, in Europe, for example, teachers have a great deal more agency to develop, design, and deliver curriculums. In the USA, there is considerable political meddling in the social sciences curriculum. The effects of this are far less on geography than the other social sciences. There is much more hands-on learning because class sizes are usually small.

 You have talked about zoonotic diseases in one of the essays in your book. In pandemic times, what role do you see geography playing in the spread of COVID-19?

One of the subfields of geography is medical geography. It shows how place matters. Specifically, in the context of COVID-19, geography appears in many different ways. Starting with the place of origin of the various species and their interactions with their ecosystems, we look at where the species end up and how humans interact with them (e.g.wet markets). What are the characteristics of a place that facilitate zoonosis? For instance, poor hygiene, dense human populations, transportation connections (modes of transport, frequency, etc.), and so on. The characteristics of places matter a lot!

Check out some essays related to this crisis at the TIGS blog.

Tell us about your experience with Pothi.com.

I can’t remember how I came across Pothi.com It may have been through searching online about 1½ years or so ago, when I was compiling some of my essays into a book and was looking for possible publishing avenues. In the event, we ended up publishing it from TIGS in July 2019 at the International Geography Youth Summit-2019.

Subsequently, mainly due to COVID-19, we wanted to get an eBook version published with some corrections and updates to the print version. I returned to Pothi.com to see if they could do it.

They did it! And did it well. The sequence of production was very methodical. I had never published an eBook, so the learning curve was rather steep. However, team Pothi.com very patiently helped me through the process. And now there is an eBook version of Geography, Everywhere!

Future projects.

I’ve begun work on a book primarily for school children (class 7 and above) on how they eat and drink geography. Literally. I am hoping to have this out by end of 2021. I can’t say more at this time.

Seven of my online students are collaborating with me on a very interesting documentary that connects geography with the life and works of Karnataka sangītam composer of 18th-19th century. COVID-19 has really slowed us down, but we hope to have this completed as soon as possible when we are able to travel and work safely.

We are working to have an International Geography Youth Summit-2021 entirely online. TIGS’ students are helping with this also.

Finally, we are in the process of revamping our website to make it offer more interactive spaces for school children to explore geography in their own lives.

Thanks so much for talking to us about this unique subject and we wish you luck in your mission to spread the love of geography everywhere!

Interview: Deeksha Divya Padhmanabhan

We spoke to Deeksha Divya Padhmanabhan, author of the book Personification on Planets and Sun. She collaborated with her sister Praganya while creating the book.

 

Why did you choose to write about the solar system during this pandemic?

I am 9 years old and as schools are closed during the lockdown period, I was getting bored. I like reading and writing so I was writing something. I wrote a page on Sun using Personification and my mother liked it very much and suggested me to write more on other planets. So, I decided to write on all planets.

How long did it take you to write it?

It took me 10-12 days to write and my sister took another few days in doing illustrations.

Describe how you and your sister collaborated on this story.

My sister Praganya who is 7 years old, lives in Bangalore. I live in Goa. So, when I started writing this personification, I thought of making it as a book. All kids’ books are incomplete without illustrations. I asked my sister if she would be interested in doing illustrations as she is very good at drawing. She happily agreed. So, I use to send her my completed part and she use to draw based on my writing.

What was your experience using the Pothi.com platform like?

My mummy and my Mausi took charge once both of us completed our book. They heard about Pothi.com and based on their experience, I can say that it is super easy and effective.

Of the nine planets, which is your favorite, besides Earth?

Besides Earth, Mars is my favorite because scientists are exploring life on Mars. After seeing “Mission Mangal’ I got more interested in this planet. I have also read that Mars might have aliens.

Tell us about your next project.

I don’t know but I think if I write again a book, I would write one on Dinosaurs.

Thank you for telling us about your book adventure Deeksha. Wish you and Praganya luck in your future writing ventures!

Interview: Bridget White-Kumar

We spoke to Bridget White-Kumar about her food writing journey.

Bridget White-Kumar is a cookbook author and independent food consultant and trainer in Colonial Anglo-Indian Cuisine at Bangalore. She has authored eight recipe books on Anglo-Indian Cuisine and has put in a lot of effort to revive the old forgotten dishes of the Colonial British Raj Era. One of her books Anglo_indian Cusine – A Legacy of Flavours from the Past was selected as ‘Winner from India’ under the Best Culinary History Book by Gourmand International Spain, Gourmand World Cook Books Awards, 2012. She also conducts cooking training workshops for staff at large hospitality houses like J W Marriot, The Oberoi Mumbai, the Taj Connemara Chennai, etc,

Her repertoire covers a wide selection of colonial dishes sand she explains the history and evolution of Anglo-Indian Cuisine and how each dish got its special moniker. She is always ready to share information and talk about recipes and food. You can email her at bridgetkumar@yahoo.com and check out her websites- www.bridget-white-kumar.com and www.anglo-indianfood.com.

ANGLO-INDIAN CUISINE - A LEGACY OF FLAVOURS FROM THE PASTYour book Anglo-Indian Cuisine- A Legacy of Flavours from the Past won the best culinary history book prize by Gourmand International Spain, Gourmand World Cook Books Award in the India category. Tell us about that experience.

I was both surprised and delighted when my book won the Best Culinary History Book from India Award in the year 2012. This award is like the Oscars for Cook Book Writers and books from all over the world enter the competition. It was indeed an honor to win it under the Best Culinary History Book category based on my account of the history and evolution of Colonial Anglo-Indian Cuisine. The awards were presented at a gala function in the Louvre in Paris in February 2013.

Your area of interest lies primarily with Anglo-Indian cuisine-how did you go about collecting recipes for this specific cuisine?

I am from the Anglo-Indian Community and grew up with this cuisine. I was always interested in cooking and I had a lot of handwritten recipes and old printed recipe books that my mother and aunts gave me. These old recipes were just written offhand with no specific quantities for the ingredients, etc. Moreover, many of the old dishes that were cooked by the older generation were becoming extinct as the younger generation was not interested in cooking them. It, therefore, became my passion to record these recipes and preserve them for posterity. I have been bringing out my self-published recipe books since the year 2014.

Tell us about the colonial influences on Anglo-Indian cuisine.

Anglo-Indian cuisine evolved over many hundred years as a result of reinventing and reinterpreting the quintessentially western cuisine by assimilating and amalgamating ingredients and cooking techniques from all over the Indian subcontinent. Thus, a completely new contemporary cuisine that was truly ‘Anglo’ and ‘Indian’ in nature came into existence. This cuisine was neither too bland nor too spicy, but had a distinctive flavor of its own. It became a direct reflection of the multicultural and hybrid heritage of the new colonial population.

Every European invasion left behind their legacy in Anglo-Indian Cuisine. It can be rightly said that Anglo-Indian Cuisine was the first example of Fusion Food in India. Many of the dishes have a unique history behind their existence. There is a certain glamour about Anglo-Indian cuisine with its quaint names like Railway Lamb or Mutton Curry, The Dak Bungalow Curry, Grandma’s Country Captain Chicken, Colonel Standhurst’s Beef Curry, Veal Country Captain, Bengal Lancer’s Shrimp Curry, Pork Bhooni, Chicken/Meat Jalfrezie, Devil Pork Curry, etc. All these dishes were a direct throwback to the conditions prevailing at the time of the Raj!

Describe your book Vegetarian Delicacies. 

The book Vegetarian Delicacies is an Anglicised Vegetarian Recipe Books. I have included different recipes for Vegetarian Starters, Soups, Curries, Salads and Bakes. There are no mainstream veg recipes that are normally found in Indian cookbooks.

How do you keep track of your recipes – do you keep tweaking them or do you follow a standard method?

I believe in maintaining the authenticity of every recipe and hence I never tweak or make changes just to suit others palates. My recipes are those that have stood the test of time and endured over generations.

What advice do you have for writers who want to write and sell cookbooks?

Writing a recipe book isn’t easy. A lot of hard work goes into it since one has to get the recipe right after many, many trials and errors. Once a recipe is written, it will be the guide to be followed by many. Only when one has mastered the dish, can a foolproof recipe be written.

You’ve also written a book called Kolar Gold Fields- Down  Memory Lane. What inspired you to write a memoir?

The Kolar Gold Fields of today is very, very different from the KGF of my childhood. I wanted to preserve for posterity a period of history when I was growing up in KGF as a young Anglo-Indian child. That period was the golden period of history where we had the influences of the best of old Colonial India and the new emerging and evolving India.

Describe your experience with self-publishing.

I have self-published eight cookbooks and a book of memoirs on KGF. Self-publishing isn’t easy as it involves a lot of work and investment. However, it’s very rewarding as it gives one the freedom to write and be creative and there’s no fear of an editor cutting out anything from the manuscript. It’s very rewarding to see one’s efforts in print.

Your favorite dish?

COLONIAL PEPPER LAMB CHOPS

Here’s the recipe:

A Colonial Classic – Succulent tender Lamb Chops, marinated in a pepper – garlic sauce

Serves 6
Preparation Time approx 1 hour

Ingredients:

1kg either lamb or Mutton Chops
1teaspoon chopped ginger
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 large onions sliced fine
2 or 3 green chilies sliced lengthwise
3 tablespoons oil
3 or 4 teaspoons fresh ground pepper or pepper powder
Salt to taste

Marinate the Chops with the pepper powder, vinegar and salt for about 30 minutes. Heat oil in a large pan and sauté the onions and green chilies for a few minutes. Add the chopped ginger and garlic and fry for about 3 minutes. Now add the marinated chops and mix well. Add sufficient water and cook till the Chops are tender and soft and the gravy dries up. Garnish with onion rings.

Thank you Bridget! We wish you all the best with your culinary adventure….

Interview: Rajalakshmi Prithviraj

We spoke with Rajalakshmi Prithviraj, author of Silence Under The Blue Sky and Love Under the Blue Sky

Rajalakshmi Prithviraj is a military educationist and an air warrior by profession, a psychologist, psychotherapist, life coach and military strategist by qualification and a Veer Nari as well as a mother of two angelic kids in her personal life. She grew up in the Silver City of Odisha, Cuttack and considers herself to be an eternal child at heart

Tell us about the story behind your story Silence Under the Blue Sky.

Silence under the Blue Sky is a story that echoes the sentiments of every individual associated with a martyr. Silence represents the unspoken words of this clan and the Blue Sky symbolizes the Indian Air Force.  Though the story revolves around one martyr’s family, it is a tribute to every wife whose husband dies while serving his first love – our motherland. It is a toast to the spirit of every child who is forced to grow wise beyond his or her years due to the sudden and eternal absence of a father. The story also attempts to serve as an inspiration to Veer Naaris (War Widows) that life does not end with a death in the family. It symbolizes a new beginning. It also attempts to bring out that love is eternal.

Silence Under The Blue Sky

Tell us a little bit about the book and the person who inspired its creation.

The book attempts to bring out every single detail associated with the trauma that the protagonist goes through. It’s about her pain, the way she deals with the news of her husband’s death. This is a true story, hence, every single element is true and all the characters are alive. Therefore, names have been changed to protect their identities. The person who inspired me to create this story is my husband, Late Squadron Leader V Manoj. To be honest, this is our story, narrated verbatim, exactly the way things happened on that ill-fated day of 30th August 2012 in a nondescript place in India.

Has your background in psychology aided your writing and characterization ability?

Honestly speaking, I didn’t use my background in psychology to write this story. It is a chapter from my life book. So I narrated each and everything exactly as it happened. There was no exaggeration, no distortion. The only fictional element is the futuristic narration. However, as things are progressing in my life, I am sure, it will be a reality soon. Writing this story was my first step towards inner peace.

What is your take about the literature available in India about the Air Force?

The literature currently available all revolve around operations and autobiographies. Personal narratives are also available as parts of anthologies. However, the genre of military reality fiction, especially related to the Indian Air Force, is still limited.

When you narrate a real-life incident, what kind of caution do you take? What kind of advice do you have to share with writers who are struggling to write stories about their own lives?

While narrating a real-life incident, the most important thing is to protect the identity of characters who exist in real life. In my case, the story involves men and women in uniform and hence their true identities cannot be disclosed. However, the people I’ve mentioned are aware of which character represents them. My only advice to writers struggling to write about their lives is to write from your heart. The moment you start visualizing the incident, start writing about it first. The editing can happen later. When you write from your heart, your words have the power to touch the innermost corners of the reader’s soul. Also, it is important not to stick to one phase or one incident only, unless it is the very theme.

Every individual’s life is a unique story in itself. Hence, as a writer, it is important to identify which portion needs to be written about. One more thing, our life book has chapters that are happy, sad, bitter, memorable, embarrassing, painful and the like. It is important to choose portions that do not hurt anybody. We all may be negative characters in somebody’s life story, right?

Tell us about writing as therapy.

Writing is therapeutic for sure. In my case, it helped ease my pain. So I would definitely recommend writing as a tool to get over the trauma, deal with pain and attain inner peace. Words have a power of their own. While writing helps to pour out feeling, reading the same brings out a calming effect, like a catharsis. For me, writing my story has been the therapy I had been wanting to undergo. The loss of a loved one is painful for sure and when there is no scope to mourn in the initial stages, this bottled up pain can be really harmful for the psyche. In case anybody is unfortunate enough to undergo this kind of trauma, I would recommend writing for sure. Penning down feelings is like giving an outlet to pent up emotions.

Tell us about your experience with self-publishing.

I didn’t want to give away the ownership of my story to traditional publishers, not because of fear of rejection but more because the story is my life story and I didn’t want to give away its rights to anybody. Hence, I went the self-publishing way via Pothicom, a self-publishing platform in India, and it has been an amazing experience. Pothi.com has a simple dashboard and an uploading process that is a blessing in disguise for technically challenged people like me. Also, the team is really very friendly and responsive. The writer in me is really happy because self-publishing gave me the opportunity to share my story with the world without the hassle of losing my rights over it.

Your favorite fiction.

My favorite writers are Thomas Hardy, Harper Lee and Pearl S Buck. I have grown up reading To Kill A Mocking Bird, The Mayor of Casterbridge and The Townsman; these three are my all-time favorites. I love Mitch Albom’s writings and stories by Nicholas Sparks as well. Gone with the Wind is yet another story I love to read again and again. The stories that always bring out the child in me are those by Enid Blyton. I can spend hours reading the adventures of the Famous Five and Secret Seven or vanish into the Magical forest atop the Faraway tree or enjoy the ride of my life on the Wishing Chair.

Your future projects.

My future projects include writing more stories in the Under the Blue Sky series that would bring out different facets of the life of air warriors. Again, all reality fictions for sure. I am also penning poetry, especially couplets. So those are in the pipeline as well. I am also working on two non-fiction writing projects at the moment. So right now, the writer in me is busy juggling time with the professional and the mother in me.

Thank you Rajalakshmi, it was such a pleasure talking to you! Look forward to your future work!

Interview: Surjit Singh

We spoke to Surjit Singh, author of Edwina: An Unsung Bollywood Dancer of the Golden Era, The Illustrated History of Punjabi Cinema (1935-1985) and Indurani: An Unsung But Unforgettable Heroine Of The Early Talkies.

My photo

Professor Surjit Singh is a retired Theoretical Physicist. He has been watching movies since 1952,  collecting Hindi songs, movies and magazines since 1969, and has been writing about these topics since 1996. Check out his website for more.

Tell us about your writing journey.

Even though I chose Physics-Mathematics-Chemistry in the ninth grade, I always enjoyed reading and writing essays. I learnt how great essays were organized into paragraphs and how the ideas flowed naturally and logically. I used what I leaned when I was publishing Physics papers (I have almost 90). While I was at the Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, I jumped at the chance to be co-author of two Physics books. I always planned to write lots of books. I am glad that I am able to publish them using Pothi (India) and Amazon (USA).

You are a theoretical physicist. Why did you choose to write about Bollywood’s forgotten faces?

I started watching films when I was in the seventh grade, bunking school. Liked stunt films and was fascinated by the details of film production. Just as in Physics, one looks at stuff happening behind the scenes (at atomic/molecular level) to understand laboratory phenomena, I was inclined to look into details and I did not fail to notice the same minor and character artists appearing in Hindi films again and again. I started to collect music, films, books, magazines, articles and other film-related stuff about these people in the late sixties. Naturally, I started writing about them.

How did you compile Punjabi cinema’s history? While writing about movies, you must spend a lot of time watching them. Do you take notes for every movie you watch?

I really cannot take much credit for that. This was Bhim Raj Garg’s baby for almost 30 years, during which time he had been collecting data. I kept pestering him to publish it and, finally, I helped him to do so on Amazon and Pothi. For my work on Hindi films, of course, I take detailed notes. I write down the names of actors not mentioned in the credits, the ones on whom the songs are picturized, any interesting connections with other Hindi/Panjabi/Hollywood films, interesting bit of dialog, something special about the setting, scenery, historical place, about Sandhu Transport trucks, cars, just about anything I may need for my books.

How do you do research to write a book with a Bollywood theme?

As I said I have been collecting source material for almost 50 years now. This includes books and magazines published on Hindi cinema since the 30s! I have a huge collection of songs and films, again going back to the early talkies. Also, in many cases I have been lucky to be able to interview the actual people (Edwina Voilette for the book on her) or their relatives (Salim Shah for the book on his mother Indurani).

Tell us about your experience with self-publishing.

It has been wonderful! My other two books on Physics were published in the traditional manner. The publishers did publicize and lots of copies were sold, but I was not happy that the royalty was such a small percentage. For my current books, I was thinking of having copies printed and then selling them from home, as many of my friends had been doing. Then I saw one of my Facebook friends (Aditya Pant) publish his poetry book on Pothi. I asked around if you guys were any good, my friend Pavan Jha (of Jaipur) said that Pothi guys are good. So, here we are 🙂

Your favorite movie? Are you fond of contemporary movies as well?

I am a huge fan of 30s-40s films, in particular I like any film starring Saigal or Noor Jehan. Saigal’s Tansen (1943) and Noor Jehan’s Jugnu (1947) I have watched many times. I also like Madhubala and Dilip Kumar. I do watch current films, may be one or two a year. Story-wise and musically they are so much influenced by Hollywood that, in my thinking, one might as well watch the original Hollywood films on which they are mostly based.

Your favorite Bollywood book (if any) or book in general?

My favorite Bollywood book is the world-famous compilation of detailed information on Hindi Films and their songs, the six-volume Hindi Film Geet Kosh by Har Mandir Singh ‘Hamraaz’. I am an avid reader and have many hundreds of books, some of which I bought in the seventies. List of my favorite authors and their books would be very long, for now let me just name Shakespeare, Kalidas, Wodehouse, Wilde, Christie, Ghalib, Nanak Singh, Devaki Nandan Khatri, Acharya Chatursen, Ibne Safi, Manto, Asimov, Gardner, Koestler. For most of them, I have most of what they have published. As you may guess, if I like something, I would rather read it again than reading something new 🙂

Any advice you wish to give potential authors who wish to market their books?

Announce it on social media, tell friends and relatives, prepare a press release and email to relevant newspapers and websites.

What are you working on right now?

I am usually working on 2-3 books at the same time. I will soon be publishing a book on Hindi film extras or junior artistes. More books on character artists and background dancers are in the planning stage. Another big project I am working on is to put all the information in the Hindi Film Geet Kosh in the form of a searchable database on the internet.

Interview: Susan Hopkinson

We spoke to the author of Teaching Yoga in an Upside-Down World, Susan Hopkinson.

Susan Hopkinson was born in the US and grew up in Canada before moving to Europe in 1990. She has lived in Belgium since 1991, but India captured her heart on her first of many visits in 1997. Since then, she has been on an endless pilgrimage, regularly visiting teachers and friends across India. Susan loves travelling and meeting new people around the world, with or without her Yorkie, Metta. Her two adult children are probably her greatest accomplishment; they support her teaching and writing by cooking and dog-walking whenever they’re at home.

Susan discovered yoga in Toronto in 1985, began teaching in 1998 and qualified as a yoga therapist with the Yoga Biomedical Trust (London) in 2007. Yoga has been a valuable support through many life challenges, and she shares it with the aim of alleviating the suffering of others. After 20 years of teaching group classes, she now sees students individually and at retreats, guiding and counseling people from around the world through physical, emotional or spiritual issues, online and in person. Susan has been helping transform lives for over two decades using the wisdom of yoga, mindfulness, astrology, and Ayurveda.

You can visit her site and catch her on Instagram. A more detailed bio of hers here.

Tell us briefly about your yogic journey.

I started practicing yoga when I was at the University of Toronto. This was in 1985 and I was feeling very uncomfortable in my body, and sitting to study for long periods of time made my back hurt. I was in poor shape, and I decided to try yoga because I was never very interested in sports and wanted to do something by myself, for myself. I enjoyed it right away and it has stuck with me in some form or another all this time.
I was very lucky to have encountered some wonderful and sincere teachers, Indians and Westerners, in my 30-plus years of yoga practice. I’ve had the blessing of seeing how yoga teachings can change lives and be highly effective thanks to their clarity and simplicity, and not because of some magical siddhis or physical prowess. Yoga has sustained me throughout many challenging periods in my life, like the death of my third baby from a brain hemorrhage. Importantly, the most powerful aspects of yoga have little to do with āsana and much more to do with the mental fortitude and clarity that yoga brings. Changing our perception of what is happening in our lives is an extremely powerful skill to develop, and one that is central to a sincere yoga practice.
Tell us briefly about your book Teaching Yoga in an Upside Down World and what prompted you to write it.
Teaching Yoga in an Upside-Down World
Teaching Yoga in an Upside-Down World is a response to the increasing commercialism and shallowness we can find in the world of yoga, especially over the past ten years. Many yoga teachers I have encountered are insufficiently equipped to teach, and too many rely on brief trainings offering teaching certification with low standards. Among such teachers, there is a lot of confusion and misinformation. When I hear yoga teachers say that Buddhism is for the mind and yoga is for the body it makes my toes curl. Yoga – strongly influenced by Buddhist philosophy, which is a foundation for Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra – is essentially a training of the mind that includes our physical body because they are inseparable.
In the US in particular, there is a certain amount of resistance to the Indian origins of yoga which include mantra and yogic philosophy, which seems to scare some people who don’t understand the true benefit of such practices. This is a major reason the physical aspect of yoga has become overly important these days – there is a rejection of what is unfamiliar by those who aren’t ready to examine and test their own beliefs. It’s worth mentioning here that it is not entirely the fault of Westerners, many of whom are interested in practicing and teaching a holistic and sincere form of yoga. Much of the shallowness we see today is also due to opportunistic South Asian teachers who may or may not be legitimately qualified to teach, and who often teach short (lucrative) courses scratching the surface of yoga to gullible Westerners.
Over many years it occurred to me that there wasn’t one book which provided an overview of what is useful and even vital to know as a contemporary yoga teacher. I started ‘Teaching Yoga in an Upside Down World’ in answer to questions from my own students who were contemplating yoga teacher training, and it grew from there. Teaching as a householder has its own complexities, which those who are single – and especially single and (ostensibly) celibate males – don’t have to contend with. So, I also wanted to share something of how my personal challenges affected my teaching in different ways. Initially, I wanted to include stories from many different yoga teachers but as I only got a very small number of responses, I kept it mainly about my own experiences.
Sitting down and writing is unhealthy as is any desk job. What is your advice to writers who spend long hours cramped on their swivel chairs?
Sitting down to write is indeed a really unhealthy thing to do over so many hours and So. Many. Days. I have never been as sedentary as when I was writing a book on teaching yoga!
My best advice to writers is to get a dog or borrow one. My dog got me out of the house several times every day so I could be active, connect with (urban) nature, and breathe fresh-ish air instead of sitting at my computer all day. I also invested in a modular standing desk: it’s simply an adjustable metal frame to support your laptop, so you can stand or kneel and change position regularly. I find I think differently when I’m standing, so it was also helpful during the reviewing and re-writing stages.

Unless I was really on a roll and deeply focused on what I was writing, I took lots of breaks to stretch and make tea (so much tea!). This supports better breathing and stimulates creativity as well. Here’s a good (quick) exercise for correcting writer’s slouch: Stand up (or sit on the edge of the chair if you can’t stand up for any reason), clasp each of your wrists with the opposite hand and raise the clasped arms up to head height. Press the back of the hand (near the wrist) that is closest to your head into your forehead while tucking in the chin and lifting the crown of the head. Gently squeeze the elbows back and the shoulder blades towards one another while lifting the sternum (the heart center), and try not to arch the lower back. Breathe and smile while doing this – don’t struggle with it. After 10-15 seconds you can release the arms and feel how your posture and breathe have improved.

What has been your favorite moment as a yoga teacher?

It’s impossible to identify one single moment, but I always love those times when I can see a student has truly understood something profound about themselves, their bodies and their relationship to both.

You have talked about how difficult it is to teach yoga in times like these when yoga has been severely commercialized. If there is one piece of advice you want to give practitioners and teachers out there, what would it be?

It makes me happy when people who have practiced or taught yoga for years tell me that they have learned something new from the book, or that it made them reflect more deeply on their own approach to yoga. My aim is to sharpen the discernment (viveka) of the reader so – at the very least – they know why they practice or teach what they do. A good student of yoga will keep a beginner’s mind and a healthy skepticism of what they are being taught until they can know it for themselves – take nothing at face value, especially highly mystical notions or anything that takes your individual power away. Yoga is such a powerful tool for transformation, but if we ignore the ultimate purpose – liberation from the bondage of the mind – we can become more deeply embedded in our samskaras, all the while thinking we are doing something quite spiritually elevated when, in reality, we’re doing nothing more than what circus acrobats do!

Tell us about your journey with self-publishing.

What a learning curve! I decided to self-publish because I am basically impatient, and didn’t want to 1) hunt down and wait around for a publisher to decide whether and when they wanted to publish my book and 2) let them keep the rights to my work! A friend of mine wrote a book which she submitted to her publisher in April 2018, and it is scheduled for release in the summer of 2019! Why make readers wait so long?! I really appreciated being on my own publishing schedule and as such, I was also able to choose the best dates for publishing according to the most supportive astrological transits (I am also an astrologer). I can make corrections to mistakes found after publishing as soon as they are discovered, and have so far made three changes in the three or four months since the book was released. This allows me to offer the reader the best possible quality product without having to wait to issue a new edition of the book.
I was on a tight budget so I asked friends and colleagues to read parts of the book instead of finding an editor. As a result, I had to do a lot of work on the various drafts apart from the basic writing. The structure of the book emerged after almost a year of writing it in bits and pieces – there’s a moment when things just seem to come together. I had a clear idea of what I wanted for the cover so I went to Fiverr to find the technical support. After one truly awful version, I found a woman who got it right on the first try and it was reasonable, including re-formatting for the Indian edition.
I also had to find technical support on Fiverr to help me with pagination and getting the headers right. I spent many anxious hours sorting that out after the book was ready to go, but the delay and the need to reformat the book also provided an opportunity to find more mistakes to fix before publishing!
Your favorite asana?
It’s a toss-up between Padmāsana (lotus pose) and Sukhāsana (posture of ease), both of which help me find the grounding and stability I need in my practice. I sit in these āsanas for prānāyāma, meditation, and mantra practice.

 

Your favorite book on yoga/any other subject?

I spent a lot of time thinking about this question because I have read so many influential books over the years and it was hard to narrow it down. At the risk of pandering to the audience, I have settled on the Bhagavad Gīta. It has such a universal and timeless appeal, plus a real beauty in the rich story behind the message, and – most importantly – life-changing lessons which we can all benefit from contemplating regularly.
What’s your next project/book that we can look forward to?
I am converting my course called ‘Align with Purpose’ into a book format – it’s part theory and part workbook. The course combines everything I have learned over 30 years of self-development, teaching, and helping others. It includes Yogic and Buddhist philosophy, Āyurveda and Astrology to help people discover their own strengths and weaknesses in 12 areas of life and – hopefully – their higher purpose in this lifetime. Many people consider a job or work should be their higher purpose, and although for some it might be, I want to show people that how they are in everything they do is contributing to their purpose. I hope to complete it in late 2020.
Jai Guru Dev!
Thank you Susan for your extremely informative responses! Was a pleasure talking to you. Wish you all luck for future projects!

Interview: Anil CS Rao

We spoke to Anil CS Rao, a graphic novelist in Hyderabad.

Anil CS Rao is a self-trained digital artist specializing in comics and graphic novels. He studied engineering at Pratt Institute in 1988 and did an MFA in writing and an MS in architecture recently.  His wife Padmaja who has been painting and drawing since her elementary school days is a self-taught artist. She did a brief course in painting at the Washington Studio School in DC. Most of her life was spent working as a lecturer at St Teresa’s College in Eluru, India.   He left Hydrabad in 1968 at the age of four and recently returned to reside again in Hyderabad, Telangana in 2017 under the OCI scheme with his wife and children after having worked for over fifteen years as an engineer.

Tell us about your latest work Manhattanville/Y2K.

Manhattanville/ Y2K - TeluguI had worked from 1990 to 1994 in the City of New York in the capacity of Electrical Designer and my focus was on primary low voltage systems such as telephone, fire alarm, etc.  My short story Manhattanville – the first in the anthology – was based on my observations of people working for the New York City Civil Service as well as a vague allusion to a bus depot I had been assigned to work on as a design engineer.  During its construction, I visited the real-life construction site and became friends with many people working in the construction inspection and project management team,  who were primarily of Indian origin members and mostly from the state of Gujarat in India. This is fiction – not to be construed as documenting real lives or scenarios – but of course, the characters, setting and plot were a composite of my imagination and many of the friends I had made during that project’s construction.

Likewise, Y2K is based on similar observations when I later worked as an Operations Engineer for the State of California around the time of the so-called ‘Y2K’ computer glitch.  The purely fictional scenario, characters and setting were once again a composite of my imagination and real-life stories of people I met while working for the State of California from 1999 to 2002.

BharathiYou’ve written prose novels but there are more graphic novels in your repertoire. Why is that?

I have an MFA in Fiction from the National University in San Diego (offered 100% online) in which I took all my advanced electives in fiction writing.  The only program in The States in Comic Book Creation (‘sequential art’) was at the time offered as a residency Masters at Cal Arts – and I would not have been able to physically relocate to California, given my family and other logistical reasons.  Hence my first work Bharathi: Her Theory of Everything was done for my MFA Thesis requirement despite my wish to submit a ‘graphic’ piece which would not be accepted in fulfilling the department’s Thesis requirement.

Describe the process of writing a graphic novel.

I use solely a relatively ‘canned’ character/environment 3D program called DAZ Studio for my CG generated artwork.  My wife then alters, modifies and/or ‘corrects’ my CG work in Adobe Photoshop.  For scripting, I initially used CELTX software – but now the program no longer supports the comic book format I currently just work from a template in MS Word.  Of course, things change when translating a written script into a graphic novel/comic book. One becomes in many ways a cinema director interpreting a script for celluloid in that unknown elements might impose changes (in my case a lack of 3D resources).

You collaborate with your wife Padmaja as well. Tell us about the experience of producing books and art with your better half.

My wife is a very proficient painter with excellent freehand skills. I learned my lessons from my past work which was released without her help. Now all my work is scrutinized by her prior to committing to print.

While creating your novels and art,  influences of the US and Hyderabad seep into your work. Why?

I was born in Hyderabad in 1964 at Neelofar Hospital – it may be the case I will breathe my final breath in that same hospital.  Hyderabad has been always in my heart, despite immigrating to the United States in 1969. I subsequently visited Hyderabad almost every summer holiday I was given by the American school system.  In 2016, I returned to Hyderabad with my family with really no plans of ever returning to The States.

Your books are also published in Telugu. What kind of challenges do you face while writing in multiple languages?

I first attempted a Telugu work way back 12 years ago.  I was trying to come up with a Telugu language script for Ingmar Bergman’s script for his film titled Winter Light.  I feel this would be the best example to cite because of both the parallels and cultural asymmetries I faced – in translating not only from one language to another – but in transposing the dialog and the culture in which its rooted from Sweden to India – specifically a village in Andhra Pradesh with a Lutheran pastor in a small church morphed into a Hindu Brahmin ‘pujari’ servicing a small Vaishnavite temple in Andhra.  I ran my pitch to noted Telugu poet A. Jayaprabha (co-author of a book of poems with PV Narasimha Rao – Unforeseen Affection) with whom I was an acquaintance in Hyderabad at the time. Her comment summarizes the dilemma I faced: “Telugu people just don’t talk in that manner”.  This was prior to my marriage to a Telugu-speaking Indian National and now, after having lived in India on and off for the past 14 years I have some inkling of the real Indian idiom with respect to dialog and behavior of Indian characters in contrast to their Western counterparts.  By the way, I am still working on this project 12 years later. I have not given up – only drastically changing the plot and other elements of Bergman’s original script so that I am not accused of intellectual or aesthetic theft.

Tell us more about this work in progress.

My current work-in-progress (to be released in Telugu and English) is Vizag Blue. If you google the term, you’ll find it refers to a very beautiful blue marble quarried in or around Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh.  It’s a metaphor for the protagonist of my work as seen at first by her Nurse attendant and the Doctor treating her: beautiful, hard, and cold.  The narrative was inspired by an Ingmar Bergman film from the 1960s titled Persona starring Liv Ulma, a woman (stage actress) who is admitted into a Swedish psychiatric hospital for not being able to verbally communicate, and her relation with her nurse attendant Sister Alma.  That is about where the commonality of characters and settings ends. My work takes a totally different trajectory plot-wise than Bergman’s original masterpiece.

Kalpana, a student of theater at the Andhra University in Vizag is engaged to a fellow student who subsequently breaks his engagement to return to Mumbai to his parent’s place to continue his studies there. Soon after his departure, Kalpana begins ‘hearing things’ and finds herself in an expensive mental hospital in Vizag. Instead of revealing her hallucinations to the medical staff, she maintains silence and refuses to speak. The doctor, Reena Rao, observes her for a month and is unable to find anything wrong with her symptom-wise and offers her vacant beach house outside Vizag were she could get out of the hospital setting along with a private duty nurse Usha. The house had been on the market for over a year and rather than pay someone to watch over it, Dr. Reena thought this arrangement would be mutually beneficial. Normally, Kalpana is kind and compassionate in nature. When the ‘voices’ rule her mind her thoughts turn nasty and negative. Her relationship with Usha goes beyond the superficial as Usha uses Kalpana’s silence as a backdrop to narrate her own failures in love and marriage. Usha narrates a story about her first sexual encounter with a boy in her village when she was 16. And upon accepting the boy’s advances, she becomes hesitant and the boy subsequently rapes her. She later becomes pregnant with his child and her mother attempts to force her to have a ‘home abortion’ rather than face family stigma. She also narrates short explanations of her husband Anil, who during his student days was a radical communist who ironically is of Brahmin parentage. The abortion is stopped and Usha and Anil marry to adopt the child as their own. After a while, smoking a hidden supply of marijuana and experiencing symptoms, she reacts to an expression of hurt by the nurse after reading a letter she wrote that was returned to the post office for lack of proper address. In the letter, she writes very negative opinions of Usha and the stories she shared with Kalpana. Kalpana runs out of the house on the beach as Usha pursues her. Usha trips and ceases her pursuit. In a shaded grove adjacent to the beach, Prem appears as a hallucination and they both take a ride on his scooter through Vizag. He informs Kalpana that he had broken his engagement in Mumbai and now wishes to be engaged once more to Kalpana. On the beach, they consummate their love – at least in Kalpana’s hallucination……

Your favorite graphic novel?

Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World.  Its convoluted plotline and dialog mesmerized me, and later more so the film adaptation starring Steve Buscemi.  Clowes graduated from Pratt Institute in 1984 just when I started my BE studies there (I graduated in 1988).

Your experience with self-publishing.

Pothi.com – the best in the business. No more comments required on this question.

Was a pleasure talking to you, Anil! All the best for your future projects!

Interview: Dr. Dhuni Soren

We spoke to Dr. Dhuni Soren, author of History of Santals.

Dr. Dhuni Soren represents the interests of all adibasis of Jharkhand and neighboring states of India, particularly Santals in the World Adibasi Council at the United Nations working group on indigenous populations. He speaks for their rights on International Forums.

Tell us about what drove you to write a book about Santals? What was lacking in the existing literature about Santals?

All books written about Santals are by non-Santals mainly  Europeans and some non-Santal Indians. Authenticity and a true reflection of the real life of Santals as even modern Santal writers have not been born and brought up amongst them.

Tell us a bit about your experience living in a Santal village as a young person- something about oral traditions, food, and culture. 

Even after all these years, I can still remember playing with other children on dusty paths and in muddy fields catching fish. I can smell and hear the sounds of running water of the nearby rivers and brooks and smell the wildflowers of the nearby forests when we went hunting there.  I learned music and traditional dance with traditional musical instruments and attended local fairs and festivals with the villagers and learned our history by way of the oral traditions of the elders of the village and many others I still remember fondly.

Oral tradition was the only source of learning. I learned our customs, traditions, and culture, including our history, civilization and religion and migration stories, from the elders of the village. Schools and colleges were virtually nonexistent in our area. Food was simple and sourced from the local produce, mainly rice and maize with very occasional meat from homegrown poultry, pigs and goats. Everything about our culture is unique, including our language, dress, and homemade alcohol made from rice. The naming of the newborn and the customs of weddings and funerals are unique and different from what is seen in mainstream society.

Also, tell us about your experience in the UK. 

My experience in the UK has been extraordinary as I was perhaps the first Santal and certainly the first doctor to come to the UK and I made the most of it. First and foremost, I was impressed by the honesty of the people. Once I lost my wedding ring on a tube train in London and found it the next day when I went back to look for it. It had been left with the station master. But things are changing for the worse here as well as it is everywhere in the world, yet it is still better than other places. Healthcare is free for all from birth to death.

But I still have great love and affection for India and its people.

Image result for History of Santals pothiGive us a brief account of the history of Santals as mentioned in your book.

The history of Santals is still a great mystery and needs further research to identify and locate the places of their past glory like Chaichampa Garh. In my book, I have tried to put our history into perspective from my life experience and from my readings of different books in the hope that you learn the real history of Santals.

 

How do you go about researching and writing a book?  Any advice for writers of historical books?

I mainly write about Santals and Adivasi people and their progress and development and places of interest I have visited like  Egypt, Australia, New Zealand and other places. I do a lot of reading to collect information for the book and I have a lot of them already written down for publication. Once I have gathered the information, it does not take me long to write since I have plenty of time owing to my retirement. Writing historical books about something rare or unusual is difficult due to the lack of reference books. So choose the topics carefully. Good luck!

Writers who have inspired you?

I have not particularly been influenced by any except for maybe Dr. W.G Atcher I C S of British Raj days who has written many books about Santals like Tribal Law and Justice and Hills of Flutes.

Tell us about any new project you plan to work on.

I have a couple of documents ready for publication.

It was so nice talking to you Dr. Soren, thank you for the opportunity!

Interview: Douglas Misquita

We spoke to the author Douglas Misquita. He has a lot of tips for aspiring writers of thrillers and series.

Author photo by Shonna Misquita

Douglas Misquita is an action-adventure thriller writer from Mumbai, India. His books are noted for their fast pace, great visuals and edge-of-the-seat action. The Immortality Trigger won the Silver Award at the Literary Titan. Douglas has written six thrillers, and with three more in the works, buckle up for more literary entertainment.

Find out more at www.douglasmisquita.com

Read the reviews at www.douglasmisquita.com/reviews

Follow Douglas on www.facebook.com/douglasmisquitabooks, www.goodreads.com/douglasmisquita, www.twitter.com/douglasmisquita,

How do you research your books?

My research never stops. I’m always looking for ideas that might form the central theme of a story. At some point, I believe I have enough to begin writing. But if I encounter something exciting during the writing process, I’ll do my best to fit it in and add another dimension to the story.

A couple of examples:

If my characters need to go someplace exotic or serene or scenic, I’ll research a town or village. Other times, I research to hoist me out of a plot-blocker. In The Apocalypse Trigger, my characters required to break into an isolated research facility. I made the facility so impregnable, I couldn’t get them in! That’s when I excitedly discovered that ‘invisibility cloaks’ are no longer in the realm of fantasy. Problem solved! It also made for a super element.

Another aspect of my preparation is the action sequences. I imagine an action sequence and figure out how it would fit into a story, and what that story could be.

I read somewhere that your favorite writer is Michael Crichton. What kind of influences of Crichton can we watch out for in your work?

Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park inspired me to write. My first book was handwritten (with only two errors) on a 100-page single-ruled school exercise book at age 13. I borrowed heavily from Jurassic Park, but that’s when it started.

Crichton is the master of techno-thrillers and he always educated his readers. That’s what I try to do.

My stories are action-adventure thrillers but they must educate too. Secret of the Scribe predicts brain-computer interfaces and how nefarious organizations might use them. The technology is now at our doorstep with researchers able to transmit brain waves across countries!

The Apocalypse Trigger debunks preconceptions about Wiccans (witches), brings to light arrogant wagers played by elitists on natural calamities and explores the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia.

Diablo deals with radio-controlled gene expression and takes readers on a tour of Baikonur Cosmodrome. Importantly, it traces the plight of migrants coming out of North Africa and making for Malta.

The Immortality Trigger confronts the reality of the anti-aging (read beauty-cosmetic) industry, Nazi hunters, and blood-mining in Africa.

Lion makes people think twice before classifying a country or a person as good or bad. Oh, and you could learn how to start a Mil24D gunship if you read Lion (I’m almost kidding).

Tell us about your latest book.

Lion is my sixth thriller. I decided to take a risk with the lead character: an unconventional hero, from an unlikely country, Syria. My hero would be a stereotypical ‘bad’ guy and readers would root for him! I wanted to bring the war alive, from a non-NATO perspective. The book is a fictionalized account of a Syrian political fugitive and the people closest to him, and how their lives are disrupted because they want to do the right thing amid all the chaos.

Another topic I tackle is mercenaries. Movies give us the impression that mercenaries are rogue soldiers. Really, they aren’t. Simply put, they are regular salary-earning employees who use weapons and combat skills to do a job, which could be providing security to NGOs in conflict zones or raising armies. Sure, they operate outside the ambit of the conventional war, but they sign a raw deal. No country will fight for them or honor them if they’re captured or killed doing things the regular army cannot.

Finally, I put in a spectacular prison break because it’s something I love. Who doesn’t love a prison break?

Which book did you enjoy writing the most and why?

Every book is rewarding during the writing process. Otherwise, I scrap it and take it in another direction. Sorry, that’s a curt answer, but it’s the truth.

Tell us about your experience with self-publishing.

To me, self-publishing is liberating and rewarding. Traditional publishing is great, but the big houses are companies that need to make a profit. They have a strategy which outlines the genres they will publish. And I give them that.

But why should anybody wait for somebody else to decide what’s good or bad? What if I have a story that I truly believe in and/or desire reader critique? Let the reader decide! That’s the ultimate proof of a good book, correct?

Earlier this was impossible, and a great writer could go undiscovered, his/her dreams unrealized. With self-publishing, barriers are reduced. I think the big houses are aware of this. That’s why you have them scouring the Internet for the next big thing.

So yes: liberating, rewarding, and self-adjusting.

At this point I should say, I use Pothi.com to print paperback and hardcover versions of my books. The team has been supportive and responsive. I use draft2digital.com for eBook distribution.

What do you do when you don’t write? 

I work as a software delivery manager.

Some advice for aspiring writers of thrillers.

Write the thriller you would enjoy reading. I write action and adventure with doses of history and science/ tech because that’s the stuff I understand and do best. I’d do horribly with romance or fantasy or hard-core medicine or politics.

 

Some advice for authors of a book series.

Don’t conclude everything in a single book. This gives you an opportunity to explore a plotline in successive books. Each book must enhance the characters (as they are the only constant in the series). Select your characters well so that you can re-use them to address a wide range of topics.

What advice do you have to give to authors who are struggling with promoting their books?

There are numerous review sites and promotion packages on the Internet. You must identify the good ones, the ones you’re ready to spend on. Try to diversify the reviewers, take a risk with the ‘scary’ ones. With so many self-publishing and promotion sites, every author is clamoring to be heard, and you may or may not stand out immediately. But don’t be too bothered with it. After all, write because you want to write. So: do your marketing bit and get cracking on the next book. When you get more books out there, people will start to notice. And yes, they look great stacking up. Stay away from Facebook ads; Goodreads giveaways are nice. Check out sites like literarytitan.com, bestthrillers.com, bookbub.com to get you started.

Do movies inspire you?

Absolutely. I write books from the viewpoint of a camera. That gives my readers the experience of a large-scale action movie… unfolding across the pages of a book

Tell us about your next project.

Next up, in 2020 is the third book in the Kirk Ingram trilogy. It is mind-blowing. I know because I was jumping up and down (figuratively) when I had the theme of the story in an epiphany. Let’s say, its super-charged, bends reality, and ties up aspects of the character that debuted in 2011 and returned in 2015.

Was great talking with you, Douglas! Wish you all the best for future projects.

 

Interview: Dr. Harbhajan Singh Pabla

We spoke to Dr. Harbhajan Singh Pabla about the little known world of Wildlife conservation in India.

Dr. H. S. Pabla grew up in a Punjabi village, in India and joined the Indian Forest Service in 1977, retiring as the Chief Wildlife Warden of the state of Madhya Pradesh in February 2012. Apart from doing the usual things that an Indian forester does, he nurtured his love for the wilds while managing national parks like Kanha, Panna and Bandhavgarh. Along the way, he developed a penchant for questioning the status quo and challenged the stereotypes that have ruled the conservation mindset in the country. He introduced the concept of “conservation by incentive” in the form of a cash reward to farmers for hosting an endangered bird, the lesser florican, in their croplands. He was responsible for changing the face of wildlife tourism in Madhya Pradesh, despite opposition from NTCA, and made tourism revenue a significant resource in tiger reserves of the state. When Panna lost all its tigers, he developed and implemented the tiger reintroduction plan that has given the world the confidence that wild tigers will always be around. He was the principal force behind the reintroduction of gaur in Bandhavgarh and blackbuck in Kanha, after both the species had become locally extinct in the nineties. His unfinished agenda for the state included the reintroduction of barasingha in the Forsyth country, i.e. the Satpura Tiger Reserve, and the white tiger in its native Sanjay Tiger Reserve. Barasingha has already reached Bori in Satpura, and he hopes to see white tigers in the wild before saying adieu to this world. He unsuccessfully tried to introduce community-based sport-hunting for the conservation of crop raiding species. His wish-list for conservation also includes seeing Indian foresters riding horses for patrolling and enjoying the wilderness. Apart from a stint on the faculty of the Wildlife Institute of India, he has been an international consultant in wildlife management. He is an ardent tennis player and lives in Bhopal, India.

He is the author of Road to Nowhere and Wardens in Shackles.

The titles of both your books have a hint of foreboding. What exactly is wrong with the Indian approach to conservation?

There are several problems with the way we do conservation of wild animals in India. For example, we do not know why we are preserving dangerous animals who are a serious threat to human life and property, especially of our poorest citizens. Secondly, we have not developed the institutional and professional capacity to manage wildlife because we have adopted a passive management approach enshrined in the dictum “Leave nature alone, it will take care of itself”. As a result, some areas are overpopulated with animals while others are empty. Thirdly, although the states are constitutionally responsible for what happens to wildlife on the ground and what wildlife does to the people around, all the powers to control conservation policy are with the Centre. Fourthly, poor people living in the forests are the victims of conservation while the urban elite enjoys romanticizing about it and makes decisions about conservation policies of the country. Fourthly, conservation of wild animals is a huge drain on our poor country but we have never considered making it an economic development tool as in many countries. Wild animals can create millions of jobs in remote areas through tourism but we treat wildlife tourism as an encumbrance on conservation. We do conservation of harmful animals only for intangible benefits (like moderating climate change) ignoring the losses they cause and generating no immediate benefits. This is not sustainable in the long run. We need a conservation policy which focuses as much on immediate benefits from wild animals as on long term ecological benefits. There is so much more which needs to change if conservation is to be a success in India.

Please give a brief overview of the wildlife conservation effort in India so that your readers get some context to your work.

Systematic wildlife conservation started in India in the seventies of the last century when the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 created a unified national framework for conservation in the country and Project Tiger was launched. Although all our forests are wildlife habitat and wild animals are protected everywhere (you cannot kill an animal even if it destroys your home or cropland or kills your cows), we have also created national parks and wildlife sanctuaries where special measures are taken to increase wild animals. There is a complete ban on the consumption or trade of wild animals and their products and derivatives. Despite these big initiatives, the populations of most animals have not increased much since then, due to some inherent problems. India is the most populous large country in the world. Therefore, it is extremely difficult for the country to spare enough space for supporting viable populations of large animals. We are losing our wildlife habitats to the expansion of human habitation and infrastructure and lots of animals are illegally killed by people for food, smuggling and for protecting their crops and properties. Despite the ban on consumption and trade in wildlife and wildlife articles, illegal trade and consumption are rampant. Tigers, rhinos, pangolins, etc. are dying to feed the Chinese markets with wildlife-based medicines and wines and millions of turtles and birds are smuggled to Southeast Asia as pets. All wild animals are food to forest dwellers, but they cannot hunt them legally. We have to find a way around all these issues if we want to preserve our natural heritage. Wild animals can be an economic asset if managed well and can be a huge liability if unmanaged. India has not decided to use its wildlife to generate economic benefits for its people so far. That is why we are struggling to conserve it.

Tell us briefly about your experience in the Indian Forest Service. You’ve touched upon misconceptions about foresters. What does a forester’s typical day look like?

The Indian Forest Service (IFS) is one of the best professional services in the country. It allows one a good mix of outdoors and urban lifestyles. A forester also has a tough job of meeting the needs of the present generation, for forest products, while saving the forests for future generations. Demands on forests are huge. Every section of our society wants to take away something or the other, even the very lands, from our forests in one way or the other. Our poverty and our growing prosperity are threats to our forests in equal measure and a forester has to ensure that the forests survive both. As a forester often has to fight tooth and nail to save every inch of forests, they are generally seen as insensitive beings although no section of our bureaucracy does as much for the poorest sections of the society, especially tribals, as the foresters.

Forestry is a complex profession and one’s routine depends on what level you are in the hierarchy and what your assigned job is. In general, senior officers spend more time in offices, going out only on planning and inspection tours. The subordinates spend more time in the field dealing with operational issues. The main job of a forester is to enforce the forest laws, which empower him/her to prevent theft and poaching, produce forest goods such as timber, bamboo, wildlife, etc. and deal with demands on forests from various quarters. A field forester (a forest guard or forester) often patrols his forest alone or along with an assistant laborer and has to walk several miles every day. If any theft of forest produce is noticed, he/she registers the offence and sets about tracing the offender. Wild animals are often shy and usually, they are not a threat if at all seen on a patrol. When a tiger or leopard becomes a man-eater or an elephant turns rogue, it is a tough time for a forester as his options are often limited but expectations from the society are high. The forest service is now going through a tough time as forests need continuous looking after but new generations do not want to live away from urban life for various reasons.

What can India learn from ecotourism-dependent nations like Botswana and Australia?

Saving wild animals is much easier if ecotourism is the objective of having them around. This is because the economic benefits of tourism neutralize the losses inflicted by animals. Wherever wild animals are producing jobs through tourism, visual or hunting tourism, people want more animals around them. Where animals only destroy life and property, without benefitting people in any way, as in India, conservation is tough. The lessons for India are obvious.

How can the young generation get into the field of forestry? What do you think the Indian education system needs to emphasize on to kindle the interests of children in this field?

There are many avenues for entering forestry as a profession. Depending upon your educational qualifications and competitive strength, one can aspire to be an IFS officer, scientist, range officer, forest guard, etc. through competitive exams. To be a happy forester, one must have love for the outdoors and all that goes with it. Our education system must inculcate the love for outdoors among our children irrespective of the fact whether they want to be foresters or not. One is much happier and healthier in the company of trees, birds and butterflies than while cramming bookish knowledge. The kids who have got some exposure to nature during their formative days stay connected with it throughout life and they contribute to the conservation of the environment wherever they are.

In all your years in this field, which animal are you fond of?

I loved my job and all that came with it. Although all animals are exciting in their own way, predators often excite people much more. As I happened to be working to save wild tigers most of my life, nothing was more exciting than seeing a wild tiger without an appointment. The tiger has such an aura around it–it just mesmerizes you, and you simply cannot move away from it as long as it is within view.

Describe your process in compiling these books.

My books took a long time coming. As my views about wildlife conservation were quite different from my peers, I started toying with the idea of writing a book nearly 20 years ago. However, the pressures of service did not allow that. In the meantime, I kept collecting more experiences and insights about my profession and the pressure to put them down on paper kept mounting. As soon as I retired from service in 2012, I started writing freely without any plan or organization. When I thought I had put down everything I wanted to say and share, I started organizing it into sections and chapters. Then I realized that putting everything in one book would make it too big and daunting to readers. Therefore, I decided to break the whole matter into three volumes to be released one by one. Two volumes of this prospective trilogy have thus been released while the third is in the works. More matter is getting added to the original text as my thoughts continue to churn and new events unfold every day. Thus, the third volume is likely to be quite different from the one I had originally envisaged.

When my text was ready, I started looking for a publisher. I knew that first-time authors have a tough time finding publishers. While looking for publishers online, I came across the concept of self-publishing and print on demand (POD). The idea appealed to me and I compared the packages and services offered by various publishing houses. I first self-published my book, both as an e-book and paperback, but I needed an Indian platform. Pothi.com was selected as it did not ask for any fee for uploading the book and I put my book for online sale through Amazon, Flipkart, etc. for a small fee.

As my books are self-published, I had to have them edited and designed myself. I found online freelance editors, book designers and book cover designers to do the job (e.g. freelancer.comdesigncrowd.com). The availability of online freelance support services has made the job of writing books quite easy. And you do not need to go looking for retailers as the online retailers have global reach and the books start selling the day they are out.

Who is your favorite wildlife conservation writer?

In fact, nobody in India writes on the issues which agitate me. Most of the books on conservation are either on biology and ecology of animals or descriptions of what someone saw in the field. Wildlife in India can only survive only if the losses it causes are less than the benefits it generates for people. No one has written on these issues so far. However, two recent books, one by Jairam Ramesh (Indira Gandhi: A Life in Nature) and another by M.K. Ranjitsinh (A Life with Wildlife) give an excellent historical perspective on modern wildlife conservation. Jim Corbett and Kenneth Anderson were the writers who gave me my first insights into Indian natural history.

What is your next project?

My next project is the third volume in the trilogy on Wildlife Conservation in India. I still do not have a title in mind. It will generally cover the need to have a new integrated law for forest conservation, problems of building a conservation paradigm for India based on extensive forest corridors and the potential of the Forest Rights Act 2006 to destroy India’s forests and wildlife, among other subjects.

It was great talking to you Dr. H. S. Pabla! Wish you luck in spreading the word about the wildlife conservation effort in India.