Interview (Part 2) : Prof. Syamales Datta

We spoke to Prof. Syamales Datta about all things real estate valuation and self-publishing. Check out Part 1 of the interview if you haven’t already.

Since real estate is an illiquid asset what would you advice is the right way to valuing real estate?

Truly, real estate has poorer liquidity than the various alternative investment assets that are available in the general investment market. In valuing real estate therefore, the valuer is to choose a higher rate of capitalization of net income or potential net income from real estate. In deciding on the final rate of capitalization directly, the valuer should also carry out analysis of similar transactions of real estate in the same location or in similar locations.

Liquidity is just one aspect for which a higher rate of capitalization of net income is appropriate. The other aspects that render investment in real estate disadvantageous are the risks and the operating expenses of real estate. A summation of all such factors for each of which a further addition is given is to be applied to the yields of gilt-edged securities. Against this some deductions are to be applied for the prospect of capital and rental appreciation of real estate. The final adjusted cap rate thus derived from yield of gilt-edged securities is the one to be adopted as the final rate of capitalization.

Right now the real estate market is going through a bearish cycle. How do you think distressed assets should be valued?

A distressed asset is such an asset where the owner of the asset is forced to sell well below the market value. In valuing distressed assets, the property is likely to be sold at a considerable discount from market value even when the market is bullish. In a bearish market as prevailing at present, there is no indication that investors in shares or gold are planning to switch to real estate. Neither is there any impressive real rate of growth of income, nor is there any improvement of the unemployment situation. The method of valuation does not vary whether the market is bearish, bullish or in-between.

Rental yielding assets are becoming a popular investment avenue. What is the right way to evaluate them?

It is true that rental yielding assets are becoming a popular investment avenue. The income approach to valuation is the right way to value rental yielding assets. The two principal methods under the income approach are (1) the income capitalization method and (2) the discounted cash flow method and both are used to value rental yielding assets.

What is your next book project about?

Rather than publishing another paperback soon, I am currently studying. I am at present engaged in reading up aspects of real estate valuation not known to me including emerging standards, case laws and research publications. I do present my papers at symposia and review a few peer works when I don’t have a lot to cook.

What is your experience with self-publishing?

Till 2012 I had no experience in self-publishing. Two editions of my earlier valuation bestseller were published in 1993 and 2004 by a traditional publisher, the contract was coercive and royalties were small leading me to finally self-publish. I discovered that operating from home requires the self-publisher to understand the soft copy creation process thoroughly and design beautifully adhering to a desktop publishing standard or hire professional services.  But rather than not print ever it is easier to produce books with imperfect cover design or interior layout and pagination since you can update these things. My source files are managed using version control software.

My Publishing Proxy and son Ansuman Datta (https://books.aucklandwhich.org) and I would like to thank Linux,  LibreOffice, GIMP, Mudranik Technologies and antivirus software makers for making publishing easier.

My earnings from the sales of Mastering Real Estate Valuation from its release during the beginning of the golden jubilee  celebrations of the Institution of Valuers (IOV) at Hyderabad on 29 Dec 2018 to 31 Mar 2019 propelled my net profit for the financial year to 1159% of that of the previous fiscal, i.e., I had a growth of 1059% and this last net profit surpassed my lifetime royalties from traditional publishing. I’m now selling online exclusively vide https://books.aucklandwhich.org/a/sdatta.

I have had the good fortune to have drafted syllabi of several real property valuation examinations. The problem with many institutes and universities including some open universities is that they are unsuccessfully trying to follow the paradigm of creating their own course mat by a specific deadline. And prior to that deadline by a few days they are getting it authored by those who do not respect the student’s needs. In doing so they have gone the way of uncertified computer training institutes. The way to break this habit of producing substandard course mat in a sellers’ market is to quality test using standards as good as the world’s top 100 course mat producing universities and institutes and if they fail the tests you allow reference books to take their place and not endanger life and property with substandard course mat. Print-on-demand (POD) is the way to be accurate.

Thank you so much for sharing your views and educating the investor on how to approach valuation! Wish you all the best for your future endeavors.

Interview (Part 1): Prof. Syamales Datta

We had the opportunity of interacting with Prof. Syamales Datta, author of Mastering Real Estate Valuation and Advanced Valuation for Secured Lending by Banks and Financial Institutions.

Syamales Datta received his Physics (Hon) from Calcutta University and joined Howrah Improvement Trust. He qualified with RICS in 1971 and retired from service in the spring of 2004 after serving as chief valuer. A fellow of the IOV and the IOS, Datta has also been a research guide for Annamalai’s masters programme. He has taught valuation at IIEST, IUM, IEM, ILGUS, WBVB, HUDCO, JU, TIU, IOV, IOS, and recently at RVOS.  Datta coordinates symposia. Earlier titles include Valuation of Real Property: Principles & Practice and Advanced Valuation for Secured Lending by Banks and Financial Institutions; the former bestseller is replaced with this paperback by time. The Valuer’s Day Award in 2007 and the Valuer Excellence Award in 2016 are some of Datta’s recent honors.

The author valued for Andal Aerotropolis, mall development rights in Curzon Park, Kolkata and he was consulted by Indo Nabin and the LIC(I). He did a feasibility analysis project for Kolkata Metro’s wing, east of the Ganga. Government projects included the semi-weekly market in Howrah and Nagaland’s cement factory. Works and writings made headlines and case laws and some are sub judice. The author’s profits from self-publishing have surpassed his total royalty earned over two decades from traditional publishers.

Check out his web profiles here:
https://books.aucklandwhich.org/a/sdatta
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/syamalesdatta
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8155370.Syamales_Datta

 

Describe your writing process.

Before writing a book on real property valuation, I first plan how much coverage is to be given to theories that will be included in the book and how to deal with concepts and events to be covered. Then, I plan the fashion of inclusion of topics like market valuations, statutory valuations, investments, taxation, etc. in the book. In covering them, I carefully follow the guidelines laid down by standards bodies like The International Valuation Standards (IVS) Council, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) etc. I follow this process when I write on real estate valuation.

When I write on other subjects, I concentrate on the purpose of writing, and try to compile information and explanations needed. I select a suitable bibliography and study the thoughts and views on and trends in the subject matter. Finally, I select a framework based on my research and converge on my writing. I generally sit at my desk when I write for extended periods but I sometimes pace my bedroom floor in meditation before arriving at conclusions. During breaks, I relax with a cuppa and digestive cookies.

Explain to potential non-fiction writers the kind of homework they need to do before writing a comprehensive book of non-fiction.

Non-fiction authors should give every effort to themselves study the ideas, concepts and principles pertaining to the subjects of their books. In this process, the writer should examine global and local practices. Use search engines and online encyclopedia,  multimedia presentations, learning platforms and professional groups as far as possible. For example, we have a Facebook group.

Authors should expose themselves to and benefit from the exchange of views with other writers and professionals. One’s own experience in writing contributes richly to new ventures. Research papers and authentic reading materials in the subject also help build up concepts. Even non-fiction writers have a great need to enjoy fiction in order to grow a good sense of style. Style guides are more necessary to writers of non-fiction than fiction, to make intelligible information out of technical data.

How long did it take for you to write this book?

It took me about four years to write Mastering Real Estate Valuation.

Before this, I had written Valuation of Real Property (1st Ed. 1993 & 2nd Ed. 2004, Eastern Law House, Kolkata). Those bestsellers were replaced by Mastering Real Estate Valuation, 1st Ed. which was published Sat 29 Dec 2018 in Hyderabad vide my FaceBook timeline for multimedia from the 49th Indian Valuers Congress 2018.  New legislation, new editions from the IVSC and the RICS and the need to give precedence to truth over the printer’s devil à la offset forced me to expensively self-publish this title from the Portable Document Format. I had previously self-published Advanced Valuation for Secured Lending by Banks and Financial Institutions (2nd Ed. ISBN 978-93-5156-947-3) 242 pages long vide https://books.aucklandwhich.org/b/adval/.

Please provide us a brief overview of the book.

The reasons that propelled me to write this volume are the dual context of liberalization and globalization, my desire to fully apprise readers of the historical development of the concept of property rights, a non-uniform dearth of reading material on leasehold valuation of real property in the developing nations of the world, updates to the International Valuation Standards and its free availability to members of member organizations like The Institution of Valuers as I am.

The book starts with the basic concepts and characteristics of real estate market. I talk about the challenges that India faces in its real estate market scenario and the evolution of modern real property rights to their complex present day form.

Various valuation approaches and methods have been explained at length. A separate chapter has been added on The Principles of ‘Yield’ which is the most crucial tool in the valuation of income-producing real estate. There are about 60 solved examples on leasehold valuation throughout various chapters of this book that constitute a significant body of problems on income-producing real estate.

Case studies have been provided to illustrate how to go about the valuation of development property and trade-related property as well as valuation and rent-control legislation, inter alia. A variety of cases under the housing sector and commercial real estate have been demonstrated.

There are a total number of 120 odd solved examples that will greatly interest professionals. The use of spreadsheets and pie diagrams is made wherever appropriate like the illustrations involving Hotel Hightopp and Pasteur Nursing Home.

All chapter sections have been provided with dot-separated Latin section numbers and each chapter starts with a part called ‘At a Glance’, for the convenience of varsities and other institutions and the IBBI Valuation Examination’s Asset Class–Land & Building which I have taught twice at the latter program. These are also useful for various training programs of IOV and IOS. The book has a minisite on the Internet at https://books.aucklandwhich.org/b/mrev and Chapter 01: Real Estate—Concepts and Context is available free from https://bit.ly/value2019.

Prof. Syamales Datta imparts some more knowledge about real estate valuation and talks about his self-publishing experience in Part 2 of this interview.

 

Interview: Suresh Ramaswamy

We got the opportunity to speak with Suresh Ramaswamy, author of Just Be: Transform Your Life and Live as Infinity.

Suresh Ramaswamy is a transformational teacher and visionary entrepreneur passionate about igniting and catalyzing the transformation of humanity. With his background as an electrical engineer and technology executive, he brings an inspired yet pragmatic approach to elevating consciousness on our planet. Held in high regard by people around the world, Suresh’s light-filled presence and guidance awakens them to their innermost essence. Connect with Suresh at SureshRamaswamy.org.

Tell us about the inception of your book Just Be.

Just Be is about a topic that has been near and dear to my heart all my life—personal transformation. Just Be is the result of following inner guidance to share transcendental wisdom in a way that makes it practical and accessible.

The book came about through my own experiences with fundamental truth in higher states of consciousness over several decades. In recent years, I felt an inner prompting to share about Infinity—the Ultimate, and how you can discover your essential unity with it. I was inspired to share the highest truths from a fresh perspective based on direct experience, without being weighed down by the language, or models of existing wisdom traditions. It is meant for everyone—from someone who is just starting to ask deeper questions about life to someone who has been a spiritual seeker for decades.

Important principles in your work?

Just Be encourages us to discover our true nature through beingness. Beingness is a core concept that is profound and helps us disengage from mind-based and doing-centric orientation.

Just Be introduces Light as a powerful transformative agent. When you understand and work with Transcendental Light, you can accelerate your growth and shift into a journey of blissful evolution.

Just Be provides a framework for understanding life and the transformational journey. It also provides a whole host of practices to elevate consciousness, manage emotions, and integrate lofty truths into day-to-day existence. Just Be describes the phases of transformation so you can evolve steadily in a balanced way.

What is unique and powerful about Just Be is that it is more than a book conveying useful concepts. It is a vibrational tool—a book that actively transmits higher vibrations to encourage and support you in your transformation.

Two areas where many of us struggle—emotions and relationships—are covered in detail. It is important that we understand and bring higher consciousness into these areas. When we do so, we experience flow and ease.

I invite you to learn more about the book at JustBeBook.org.

Tell us about your writing process.

I wrote the book from pure inspiration—so I consciously did not set deadlines or impose any constraints such as having an external publishing authority who would influence choices. I wanted every aspect of the book, from the cover design to layout, to font selection to the illustrations and text to be driven by divine inspiration and the transformational impact it would have on the reader.

I would sit down to write whenever I felt guided to from inside. This meant there were periods I wrote intensively and times (even weeks) when I did not work on the book at all. I did not keep a rigid outline or structure when I started. I wanted it to develop, flow, and take shape without my insisting on it being a certain way. In fact, when I started writing, I thought the book would be only about 200 pages. As the content took shape, it was more than twice that long! Here again, I did not want to limit the book in any way with preconceived ideas. I wanted Just Be to be a powerful and complete resource that touched on many key topics, even if that meant it would be 500 pages in length.

How can the book most effectively be used? Your book has many exercises – is it mandatory that readers are trained by you to understand your principles?

The book is comprehensive and designed to be used standalone, no separate training is necessary. Having said that, there are study groups and retreats that readers can choose to participate in if they would like to connect with like-minded souls for inspiration.

There are numerous practices to help the reader directly access higher states of consciousness. Just Be introduces Awakening Infinite Radiance, a core set of practices designed to be performed regularly. Other practices in the book can be adopted as one feels inspired to. I recommend readers take in the contents slowly and purposefully and let it sink in deeply. The truths presented in Just Be may take a lifetime to be fully assimilated. There is transformation happening as you read the book! So it is no ordinary book. As far as reading the book, you can go through it sequentially. However, if you find a chapter which is irresistible, you can certainly jump straight to it.

Could you explain why transformation is important and why the path toward infinity is life-changing?

Transformation is crucial because it is what we are here on earth for in human form. Growth is the point of life. The highest purpose is to discover our true nature and expand our consciousness all the way to Infinity. We then live from that place… we live as Infinity in this finite world. That is the peak potential available to all of us. It is the full realization and embodiment of our infinite nature. Everything else we encounter in life is indirectly pointing and nudging us towards transformation. When we consciously chose transformation, the quality of life increases dramatically. Life is subjectively more pleasant, satisfying, and blissful. And we finally recognize that all along we have been confused and muddled and looking for this ultimate truth in all the wrong places.

What’s your advice to writers who wish to promote their work?

Write about what you are most passionate about. Don’t focus excessively on market trends and how many copies you can sell. Focus on what you are here to share. Let your book be the highest expression of yourself.

Take an organic approach to marketing, let passionate readers spread the word. It can take more time, but your works will ultimately be more enduring and fruitful. I have used this approach with Just Be, which has been received enthusiastically and become a bestseller worldwide. It has been honored with the prestigious Nautilus Book Award as well as several other awards including the International Soul-Bridge Book Award. I hear from readers on a daily basis, with comments such as:

“Quantum Shift Through Osmosis… Rarely am I as emphatic about a book. But this is not just a book. The minute I picked up Just Be and started reading the pages, I could feel myself shifting into my highest state of Being. I’m not saying this is a short cut. What I am saying is that I found a profound exchange from ingesting this book as it allowed me to align in high calibration. Please read this book. It will be your service to the world to be able to ascend to your highest level and this book is the tool.”

Katy Bray, Leadership Consultant and Clairvoyant, Author of The Seven Mental Models for the Conscious Team

I find it tremendously satisfying that Just Be is touching readers in such a deep way, and helping them transform and reach their highest potential.

It was a pleasure learning about your book, Suresh! Wish you all the best with future endeavors.

Interview: Anvita and Anika Agarwal

Today, we feature two young authors. Anvita and Anika are sisters, currently studying for their 8th and 6th-grade exams, respectively. They are two-and-a-half years apart and separated in temperament by several yugas. They were twelve and ten, respectively, when they started reading the abridged translations of the Puranas in 2017. Their interests are reading, music, binge-watching Netflix, and painting. For a year they also published monthly book newsletters. Their favorite pastime, however, is driving their mother up the wall in any free time that remains.

Follow them on Twitter @SistersWhoRead and their blogs anvita.abhinavagarwal.net and anika.abhinavagarwal.net.

A Year With The Maha Puranas is a book by these girls, a compilation of reviews of the abridged English translations of the Mahapuranas written by Sri Bibek Debroy. These reviews were written over the course of a year. The book includes the authors’ favorite stories from the Puranas, including interesting bits and different versions of commonly narrated tales. We talked to the girls about the writing process.

A Year with the Maha Puranas

 

Tell us the process of framing this book. How did you do your reference and how did you share your work between yourselves? Since you read multiple Puranas, how were you able to keep track of the multiple shlokas, stories and explanations?

We never planned on writing a book. We never even wrote the reviews with the purpose of including them in our book. It was just meant to be put up on our blog. Once we were done with all the reviews, our father came up with the idea of compiling the reviews into a book. Our references were taken from the abridged translations by Sri Bibek Debroy and in a few circumstances, from the original translations of the Puranas as well. We didn’t share our work with each other. Since we have only included two-three favorite stories each, whoever wrote the review of the Purana first got to pick their stories first. Only in a few of the Puranas, you will be able to notice that we have repeated a few stories. As we were reading the Puranas, we would highlight the parts we found interesting and make notes as well to keep track of the shlokas and stories.

Now that you have understood the gist of the Puranas, do you intend to read them all in detail?

We hadn’t actually thought about it, but it very well could be a future project. As the short versions of the Puranas were a very good read, one can only imagine the joy of reading the Puranas in detail.

Tell your readers about some of your favorite stories from the Puranas.

This is a hard question to answer. There are so many stories I would like to share with you, but if we had to select a few, they would be:

-How Ganesha’s head was cut off (Brahmavaivarta Purana)
-Sita who was an illusion (Kurma Purana)
-How Saraswati, Lakshmi and Ganga became rivers (Brahmavaivarta Purana)
-The Ketaki Flower (Shiva Purana)

How do you balance academics, research and writing?

We didn’t try to rush ourselves. While reading and reviewing the Puranas, we would give ourselves enough time – about two weeks to complete each Purana, which meant that we would have two weeks to read and review the Purana. As each Purana was only about 80-100 pages each, it took us only a couple of days to read and understand it. This left us one week to write, edit and complete the review. We spent at least one hour each day, reading the Puranas and then we would write the review on the weekend. This left us with plenty of time for our other hobbies and academics. As both academics and writing are important to us, we try to give ample time to both.

What are you reading now?

We have read a couple of books recently. My sister Anvita, has recently read Draupadi: The Tale of an Empress’ by Saiswaroopa Iyer and the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. I read the Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare and am currently reading ‘The Vedas and Upanishads (For Children)’ by Roopa Pai.

Which writers have influenced you the most?

The writers who have influenced me are Roopa Pai and Rick Riordan. Roopa Pai has the knack of making her stories simple and entertaining. She also interacts with her readers which makes you want to read more. Rick Riordan writes fascinating books that are packed with action. His ideas are simple yet he spins these into bestsellers. For example, using Greek myths to create such an amazing series was something very original and also helps you learn about the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians and the Norse gods. I am really inspired by his creativity.

My sister likes the writings of Saiswaroopa Iyer and Eoin Colfer. She likes Eoin Colfer’s sense of humor, his originality and his fascination with Irish myths. She likes Saiswaroopa Iyer for many reasons, particularly the author’s choice of protagonists for her books – strong female characters who are both flawed and have their strengths. It taught her how flaws could be corrected and turned into strengths. Apart from this, she also likes Saiswaroopa Iyer’s unique style and the suspense that lasted till the end.

Are you working on any new books?

As of now, we are not really working on anything new, but we might think about new projects in the future.

Was lovely talking to you, Anika and Anvita! All the best for your exams and future projects!

We also spoke to Abhinav Agarwal, their father.

What’s your favorite Purana in the book?

I would say the Bhagavata Purana would be it, but it’s a favorite of many. The other would be the Skanda Purana, which is also the longest Purana, at eighty-one thousand verses, making it longer than even the Mahabharata! I am reading the unabridged translation these days.

What’s your advice for young readers today? Not many of them know about the Puranas.

It is indeed a tragedy of sorts that not only children but many parents also have grown up so disconnected with their literature. My advice for young readers and their parents would be this: make books and reading a part of your lives. Read books, buy books, go to bookstores, shop online or at physical stores, talk about books, discuss books, write about books, write your own book(!), go to old bookstores like Blossom and interact with other book-lovers. Remember the famous lines from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

“We are said to be what our deep, driving, desire is. As our desire is, so is our will. As our will, so are our acts. As we act, so we become.”

As a specific example, if you are a young reader, start with Amar Chitra Kathas. There are, literally, hundreds of them! Ask your mother, father, or elder brother/sister, to read them to you. Follow the pictures and words. See which other Amar Chitra Kathas contain stories from the Puranas, and from which Puranas. Hope this helps.

Thanks Abhinav for sharing your thoughts!

Interview: Nitheesh Reddy Gaddam

We spoke to the poet Nitheesh Reddy Gaddam.

Nitheesh Reddy Gaddam was born in Mamidipally, Telangana. He currently works as a software engineer in Atlanta, USA. He is popularly known as niteesh_writings on Instagram. His writing style is unique, particularly due to his original technique of writing on pieces of torn paper.  His first book Two Hearts & Two Bodies Part 1 was released on June 25th, 2018 in USA and Jan 15th, 2019 in India. More about the poet here.

 

Tell us about your writing process.

My writing process is simple. I always carry a pen and paper. Every time I feel sad or happy, I put my feelings on a piece of paper and I attach all those papers on my wall.

Two Hearts & Two Bodies Part 1When you started posting your poems on Instagram, did you expect such a positive response?

Since my childhood I have loved storytelling, I always like taking people to another world with my stories. It was in March 2017 that I first posted my writing on Instagram. I didn’t post it to get likes or to impress people. I posted it only to know how to use Instagram. I posted a few of my writings for a few days. My friends and the people around me laughed at my writing but I didn’t care because people are only there to make fun. In November 2017, I wrote a small story Love, Lust and Pain in four parts and that is when people started appreciating my writing. I got many messages from people from India, Nepal and Pakistan. After a few months,  students from NIFT Kannur asked me to write an article about sexual harassment of women in their college. After I wrote the article, people started respecting my writing. A few days later, I wrote a small story about how Indian parents sacrificed their dreams and goals so that their children could have better lives.  That is when people started loving my writing and started respecting me. But there are a few people who always make fun of my grammar. I don’t give up because poetry and stories are not only about great grammar. They are also about feelings, emotions, happiness, sadness, love, pain, life, tears.

                           I turned

                           my tears into letters,

                           my pain into words,

                           and my love into poetry.

Why do you write on torn bits of paper?

My heart is broken into millions of pieces and I’m fixing it by writing on each torn bit of paper. It was in June 2017. I was at a coffee shop. After I drank the coffee I held the coffee cup in my hand for a few minutes. I wrote a poem on it and posted it on Instagram. I felt it was something different and unique. I started going to the coffee shop everyday not for coffee but for the coffee cup. I used to tear the coffee cup into pieces and write on them. It is always better to put your words on a piece of paper than typing it on smartphones or laptops.

You write a lot about broken relationships and dealing with depression. Tell us more about why these topics appeal to you.

I always write about what’s been happening in my life. Human emotions should be real, not fiction. I write about relationships because I don’t want people to make the same mistakes that I had in my life. Because of my stupidity and immaturity, I lost many people in my life. I never had anyone to tell me what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong. Life teaches me everything and I’m still learning. I sometimes write about depression because most educated people think sadness is nothing but depression. But people should understand the difference between depression and sadness. If you want something and you don’t get it you feel sad for a few days and that is called sadness but depression is a disorder that can kill people sometimes.

What do you do when you are not writing poetry?

I play cricket, spend time with my dog, watch movies or travel.

Who is your favorite poet or writer?

Veturi Sundararama Murthy gaaru and Sirivennela Seetharama Sastry gaaru.

Tell us about your next project.

I am working on finishing the script for my upcoming film. I also started writing a fiction novel titled Go Alia Go about the soccer player Alia.

Was great talking to you, Niteesh!

Interview: Gurbir Singh

We spoke to non-fiction writer Gurbir Singh.

Gurbir Singh is a UK-based space writer. He works full time in the IT sector as Senior Cyber Security Consultant for a large IT company. He studied science and computing and holds a science and an arts degree. Once keen on aviation, he has a private pilot’s licence for the UK, USA and Australia. He was one of 13,000 unsuccessful applicants responding to the 1989 advert for the first British astronaut in the UK– “Astronaut wanted. No experience necessary”. Helen Sharman was eventually selected and flew on the Soviet space station MIR in 1991.

He is also the publisher of www.astrotalkuk.org, a not-for-profit astronomy and space podcast established in 2008. In 2011, he published his first book, Yuri Gagarin in London and Manchester. The book traces the visit of the world’s first spaceman’s visit to England with first-hand accounts from the people who saw and met him. His second book, The Indian Space Programme, published in October 2017, is an account of the origin of India’s space programme, its current capabilities, and achievements and future ambitions. Born in India, he has been living in the UK since 1966, with the exception of one year in Australia.

 

Your bio is interesting….you explain that you were one of 13,000 unsuccessful applicants to a 1989 advert for an inexperienced astronaut. What is it about outer space that interests you?

Genuine interest in space and astronomy is nothing unique to me. I think a very large majority, if not all of us, have such an interest during childhood. I just never lost it. I was too young to understand the Apollo missions that took men to the moon but perhaps just the right age to be inspired by them. Later as a teenager, I spent many nights observing planets and deep sky objects through my telescope. My curiosity was never fully satisfied. The advert arrived just after I had graduated. In addition to a computing degree, I had some experience in aviation and foreign languages. I seemed to tick all the boxes for a potential applicant. There was a long list and a shortlist. I made neither!

The Indian Space Programme is a heavily researched book. Could you tell us about your writing process? It would help aspiring non-fiction writers when they write their books. Tell us how much time you spend on researching before you write, how you source pictures and conduct interviews (if any) and where you source your research material from.

I live in the UK, so much of my research was conducted via telephone, Skype and email. India’s early space programme relied heavily on international collaboration. I made contact with key individuals in US, France as well as India. I made three research trips to India, each about two weeks in duration. I visited Sikkim, Srirangapatna, Kolkata, Mumbai, Thiruvananthapuram, Coonoor, Chennai, Sriharikota and, of course, Bangalore. For my research, I used the archives at the IISc in Bangalore, the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research, Sikkim State Archives in Gangtok. In addition to material from archives, I was able to secure photos and notes from the personal collections of my interviewees for the book. I interviewed Rakesh Sharma (India’s first astronaut), directors of several ISRO centers and a former ISRO chairman. The face to face meetings I had with the individuals who had first-hand experience of working on the projects I was researching were the most rewarding. Many of these interviews are available online via my blog and my YouTube channel.

 

Why is so little known about the Indian Space Programme? Did you decide to write the book when you realized this?

Yes. In fact, it was the absence of such information that motivated me to write this book. If a similar book had existed, I would not have embarked on this project. The reason so little is written about the Indian Space Programme is not clear. One is that ISRO themselves do not have a large, effective, fully funded outreach programme. NASA, ESA and other agencies understand the importance and power of modern social media and have developed a sophisticated public engagement programme. ISRO established its Facebook and Twitter account in 2013 after the launch of the Mars mission but the online activity is minimal.

Why did you opt for self-publishing through Pothi.com? Tell us how your experience has been.

I had an offer of a contract from a publisher but two issues prevented progress. One was that the publisher (US-based) would not agree to keep the price of the book low in India. Also, I felt embarrassed because I kept failing to meet deadlines for completion, so I never signed the contract. To get the end product as I wanted it took six years. In retrospect, had I signed a contract, I would have probably published earlier but it would not have been the book I intended it to be. Self-publishing offered me the editorial freedom to produce the final product as I wanted it. Pothi.com is an integral part of the story behind this book. With a reliable POD service in India, I was able to meet another key objective, through Pothi.com, to allow readers in India a cost-effective access to this book.

Tell us about your website https://astrotalkuk.org/.

It is a website I set up in 2008, initially for blogging and then podcasting. I have just relaunched the podcast after a pause. Podcasting is a fabulous way to make contact and have a shared learning experience. I have been fortunate to meet several astronauts who have been to the moon and engineers and scientists who have designed built and operated spacecrafts. Many of the interviews I recorded during my visits to the ISRO center in India are available online. There are 73 episodes now with another two scheduled.

Cloud computing and astronomy how do these worlds collide?

My day job is associated with information security. I write part-time (another reason it takes so long). Today the security concerns around cloud computing have largely been replaced by a more generic term Cybersecurity – which is now part of my job title. Most of us use cloud-based services without even knowing about it. Online threats to our personal data, online systems used by government institutions, industry and personal devices (phones, tablets, Alexa, even the smart systems built-in to cars) are at risk of attack by someone we have never met who most likely lives in another country. Cybersecurity and astronomy collide only in my diary.

Any future projects you would like to tell your readers about?

I have an idea for another book but it is a much smaller project. beyond that – no plans as yet. I have relaunched my podcast, after the publication of this book. I have received several invitations to speak and write. I have been surprised and delighted by the reviews.

 

Interview: SWMRT (creators of Trashonomics)

We talked to the creators of Trashonomics, a best-selling book at Pothi.com.

Tell us about Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT).

Solid Waste Management Round Table, Bengaluru (SWMRT) is a voluntary group of individuals, who bring their expertise as SWM practitioners, waste management solution and service providers, representatives of waste-pickers and waste workers, and individual activists, who are collectively working towards the cause of sustainable decentralized waste management in Bangalore since 2009.

How did the idea of Trashonomics come about?

Children are the best changemakers and the Trashnomics school programme aims to empower them to lead the change. It will transform the way they look at trash and help create a new paradigm.

We had initially done a recce of all books related to waste management, including those in the school curriculum. We realized that none of them gave the true picture of the situation we are in vis a vis waste management, beyond brushing over the basics at a macro level.

Tell us a little about the mascot crow in the book?

The crow is a bird that is well known in the Indian context. Being a scavenger bird it is known to keep the surroundings clean.
It supposedly has demonstrated some intelligent characteristics which we saw through some viral videos 🙂 Hence, ‘Kaagey’ the crow!

Are you optimistic that waste management will become more effective in the future? Or to rephrase that do you think children in India can lead the way forward when it comes to caring for the environment?

Yes, we do have high hopes for the new generation as we aim to not only teach waste management but change the mindset. Unfortunately, our generation never thought about garbage as a problem until our landfills started overflowing. We hope that the future generation is more sensitive to the environment and good practices of SWM is inculcated as a habit. Also, we hope that these core topics of waste management addressed in Trashonomics, become part of the state and national curriculum.

You also run workshops. Tell us about the activities there.

The Trashonomics workshop is conducted in three sessions for groups of not more than 50 students in a classroom setting. We chose to conduct it for a smaller audience at the time since we wanted the sessions to be interactive. Also, the students perform practical hands-on activities to help assimilate the subject better. Through these students, we hope to spread the message of responsible waste management.

The book has been translated into multiple languages as well. This is great as the book has more reach across states in India. You could talk about the translation process.

The book is currently available in English, Kannada and Hindi. For Kannada, we hired a professional translator and Hindi was translated by a volunteer. Once translation was complete, we had several volunteers check the content and finally we had the book re-illustrated.

Your experience with self-publishing?

We are very happy with self-publishing since a lot of logistics are under our control. Also, we were able to keep the cost of the book low which was our primary concern and we are pleased that Pothi.com was able to help us with this.

A quick waste management tip?

What is not generated doesn’t need to be managed so our #1 tip is to reduce waste as much as possible. Also, look at your waste as a valuable resource that should reach the correct destination for processing.

The next project you are working on.

Specifically for Trashonomics, we are looking to translate it into many more languages, train more volunteers to conduct sessions and start a student program that can recognize their contribution to sustainability. Our ultimate aim is to include sustainable solid waste management as part of the school syllabus for middle school.

Interview: Richa Jha

We got to talk to picture book publisher Richa Jha!

Richa Jha is an Indian children’s author and picture book enthusiast. Her books have been shortlisted for prestigious national literary and industry awards, won a popular award, and entered the Limca Book of Records. She hosts the country’s first online critique platform and runs the only website dedicated to reviewing Indian picture books (Snuggle with Picture Books). She is a former editor for children’s books at the New Delhi based Wisdom Tree, and the Kids section editor at Time Out Delhi. She’s an active member of the kidlit community, SCBWI and IBBY, and regularly attends conferences, webinars and book fairs, including Bologna and Frankfurt. She now runs her independent publishing house, Pickle Yolk Books. She is a keen solo traveler having backpacked across 31 countries, and counting. She lives in the NCR with her husband and two children in a house filled with picture books, photographs and plush toys.

Writing children’s books is picking up in India. How did you start?

The picture book landscape in India seems to be gradually coming of age and there cannot be a happier soul in this country than I! It is heartening to see the kind of interesting, exciting books that are beginning to get written and published now. I feel we are all set to welcome a glorious phase of picture books in India!

I have been writing for over 20 years now, but my children’s book writing journey began only about seven years ago. This was a natural, organic extension to my passion for picture books. The love began in earnest once my first child was born in 2002 and I began buying books for him by the dozen when he was less than four months old. I didn’t look at age appropriateness. It was the sheer act of snuggling together and reading aloud to him that kept us both engrossed and took our bonding to another level. That’s when I began to appreciate the power of picture books. It has been (and continues to be) an amazing journey of discovering some of the greatest stories from around the world ever told in a format most engaging and complete. So when I began writing my own stories, it was like my mind had been prepping itself up for it all these years.

You’ve started a publishing house called Pickle Yolk Books and you also have a website called Snuggle with Picture Books. What has your publishing journey been like so far?

Unplanned, straight from the heart and deeply satisfying. I enjoy creating books but am yet to feel comfortable with the ‘publisher’ tag resting on my head, mostly because I am unable to get myself to ‘think’ like a publisher or see my Pickle Yolk Books like a business. In a way, it acts both as my biggest strength and my weakest link. By seeing myself only as a creator, I make sure I don’t allow the market/ selling dynamics to influence my choice of subjects. But brave books don’t sell; brave picture books, even less so.

Then there are the additional ‘age-appropriate book’ perceptions of the parents to battle with. Parents in India are loath to seeing even their 5-6-year-olds with a picture book in their hands. In a mad rush to get them to read ‘real’ books the weaning off happens early. So by definition, picture books in India get slotted as books for under 5-year-olds. Given the kind of books I publish, therefore, it’s like creating books for a non-existent reader! My biggest challenge as a publisher is to get parents, teachers, children to warm up to the idea that picture books can (and should) be read by older children too, alongside anything else that they are reading.

The themes of your books are unique and brave. Be it bereavement, gender, friendship or embarrassment, you talk about tough issues to little people. How do you zero in on these ideas? 

I have always believed that our children lead difficult lives that we adults often gloss over. We tend to sugarcoat it as an innocent idyllic life-stage. But in reality, they are faced with constant rejections and varying forms and degrees of loss. They struggle with finding acceptance in an adult world, they fight hard for their thoughts to be heard, they are negotiating a rude, mean dynamics among the peers and are battling all kinds of fears that are new to them, in additions to getting weighted down by academics and parental expectations. All this, without the hindsight of experience. It’s not easy for them. And that is what my books are all about. About tough personal challenges in some form that the children themselves figure a way of navigating around and triumphing over. So it’s not about issues but about the real demons they face within and without.

How long does it take for you to write a 400-word picture book?

Sometimes, as many as five years! But for most books, it is about a year. I go through several (about 50, on an average) rounds of revision, spread over months/ years. Because I also publish most of what I write, I have the luxury of keeping them in a constant state of revision until the final printed copies are out. Actually, in that sense, they never quite end up not being works in progress.

You’ve collaborated with artists Gautam Benegal and Ruchi Mhasane. What’s the most important thing to remember when you are collaborating?

Trusting and respecting the illustrators’ artistic process and their creative space. Which also means that unless I am struggling to meet a critical deadline, I try not to rush them through the artwork. What I love about working with both Gautam and Ruchi is that they act as my creative conscience-keepers; in moments when I am beset with self-doubt about the story of the WIP, they help me get back my clarity. And they never shy away from pointing out the flaws and weaknesses in my story. In many ways, learning to welcome and respect feedback (without taking it personally) is the first step in any healthy collaboration.

What are the tools an author and illustrator need to know about while creating a picture book? 

I am not sure if these would qualify as tools, but here are the essentials.

  1. First and foremost, there is the need to rid oneself of the perception that a picture book is easy to write; it looks deceptively simple. And read hundreds and hundreds of good books in this format before attempting one of your own.
  2. The author needs to think visually. So even though, in most cases, the illustrations are done by another person, by thinking visually, the author is able to get the pacing, page turns and punches right.
  3. A picture book is very different from an illustrated storybook; the latter follows a somewhat similar narrative like the oral stories we are used to hearing from our grandparents. But a picture book is different. The interplay of the text and visuals is what forms its core and soul.
  4. The illustrators need to go way beyond what the text says when planning out their visuals. In a picture book, the illustrations have as much role to play as the text. So a parallel visual narrative or two over and above what the text says is non-negotiable.
  5. Where most picture books fail is getting the ending right. Without a deeply satisfying ending, the reader feels cheated.

Favorite picture book?

That’s impossible to respond to! I have countless favorites. I once compiled a list for my blog (but this too was a couple of years ago; I’ve discovered so many gems since!): A Monster Jamboree of my Favourite Picture Books.

Sneak peek into your next project.

I could fill reams talking about my works in progress! These days I am working on the story of a blind boy negotiating the crowded streets of Calcutta (Maccher Jhol, illustrated by Sumanta Dey) and on a funny story of a dad-daughter duo.

All the best with your future projects, Richa!

Interview: Abhik Dutta

We spoke to Abhik Dutta, author of several books in Bengali including Kichukhkhon, Nosto Somoyer Golpo, Chandalika Ebong Onyanyo Golpo, etc.  Born in a Bengali middle-class family, Abhik has been reading books since his childhood. He is a busy Chemical Engineer but after coming back from his office, he loves to read various kinds of literature and edits a web magazine called Adorer Nouka, a web magazine. Abhik gets his inspiration from Tagore. He is also a music lover.

 

What challenges have you faced as a writer in Bengali? What successes have you achieved?

Presently, the number of readers is decreasing in the field of Bengali Literature and the market is getting limited day by day. I started writing on my facebook pages and got satisfactory responses. Facebook provides a liberal platform to the writers who want to publish their writings independently. But I still feel the conversion rate between reading and enjoying stories on facebook and buying the physical book from the market needs to be improved.

Tell us about the themes of your short fiction.

I write both short fictions and novels. I love writing thrillers and love stories.

What advice do you give to authors out there who wish to market their books?

I have a popular facebook page named Srichoroneshoe. It is quite popular in the Bengali Fb circuit. I write my stories there. People read these stories that I post and make queries about buying my books. It is quite effective if anyone wants to market their books.

You are a chemical engineer. How did you take the plunge into writing?

I write after I come back from work. Writing is a passion. My readers also inspire me to write. Even if I am tired after work, I don’t see that as an obstacle to my writing.

What is your next project?

In the upcoming Kolkata book fair, two of my books are getting published.

All the best with your writing in the future, Abhik!

Interview: Nihar Sharma

Nihar Sharma is an engineer turned freelance writer and poet. She regularly shares poetry on social media under her alias ‘The Dreamer’, read by followers across the globe. She is a native of Jammu, India, and currently resides in Kansas, US. Her self-published poetry book ‘Wanderings’ was third on the hot new releases for poetry by women in December 2016 on Amazon and the digital version was #1 bestseller in Asian American poetry in April 2017. When she’s not writing, she’s most likely reading, daydreaming or shooing off the squirrel from her bird feeder.


I think
I was meant
to be around people
and yet not be around them
to observe them from
a distance
and
wonder what
their
stories
are.

Why does an engineer decide to write poetry or why does a poet become an engineer?

My grandfather had an old typewriter, and as a kid, I loved the tap-tap of the keys. That’s when I wrote my first poems. But then school happened, and I forgot about writing. A part of me was interested in science and hence engineering ensued. But after college and working for a while in a software company, I felt unfulfilled and somehow could not feel passionate about my work. I got anxious and depressed, and just to let my emotions out, I began to write. It felt as though the words had been waiting to be penned all along. One day I was feeling really low and decided to find a place online to give way to my emotions. I found a website created for writing anonymous thoughts, but before I could type anything, I began reading what other people had written and my problems seemed very small in comparison. I started replying to the posts, asking those in pain to hold on, and that there was more to life if they tried. The next day I got a reply from someone telling me I had saved his life! That was a high I will never forget. And I realized that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to write and help people, share my emotions and tell them that they are not alone. I wanted to give them something positive to look forward to and I decided to do so in the form of short prose and poems. That’s how The Dreamer started. And to my surprise, the response was phenomenal. Technically, I never had any issues because writing came naturally to me. It helped sort out my emotions and gave me relief. It became my anchor. I am addicted to writing now. And I hope that those who read it are addicted to it too.

Your favorite poet/poets.

 Tyler Knott Gregson, Nayyirah Waheed, Khalil Gibran

Your FB page has a large number of followers. Any tips about marketing for wannabe writers?

Consistency is the key. Write well and write often. If you get a chance, share your writing on FB pages that are looking for such content. If you touch the right chord with the audience, people will automatically come looking to your page for more. And if you write often, they will stay. Be open to criticism.

Instapoetry is taking the poetry scene by storm- tell us about the effort you put in to make the digital experience of your poetry more interesting.

Apart from rare occasions when the poem is long, I try to keep it short and clear. On social media, especially Instagram, you have a very short time to peak a person’s interest. So clarity is important. Also, be consistent. People read your work because they like the way you put it. If you keep changing the way it looks experimenting with a lot of fonts, I doubt they will recognize it as yours anymore.

Explain your writing process- is it spontaneous or do you spend time rewriting work?

When a thought comes to me I write it down in whatever rough form I can. Then later I try to make sense of it and rewrite if necessary.

 What are you working on now?

A second book of poetry.

 Any tips for writers seeking inspiration?

Some days it is easy to write, but it is not easy to write every day. Only ever make a career out of it if you cannot survive without writing. On the days Inspiration decides to look the other way, watch movies, read books, think about the people you have met. You will definitely find something to pen down.

 If not poetry, then?

A fiction novel. I love creating stories in my head. I have always been a dreamer.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas, Nihar! We wish you all the best for your second book!

You can follow her on FB and Instagram to read more of her work.