An exclusive interview with Avik Chanda

By Gargi Vachaknavi

 

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Avik Chanda is an author who is a Jack of multiple genres and, unlike the saying goes, emerges the master of most – including that of a best-selling non-fiction book. He has authored a book on the Mughal prince, Dara Shukoh, and it did so well that it beat William Dalrymple’s The Anarchy to the top of the Asian Age best seller list and even now it continues in the top ten bestseller’s list. 

Chanda has two decades of global Big 4 Consulting experience. He is a business adviser, entrepreneur, trainer and a speaker at the Outstanding Speaker’s Bureau; a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review Ascend and a columnist for The Economic Times. Recently, he has been nominated for the Forbes India 2020 ‘Great People Managers’ list. He is also now venturing into another one of his newbies — a start-up in the human resource technology domain which he has christened NUVAH ( ‘new’ was his explanation for the word which he spelt in all caps).

Avik Chanda has been published in more than twenty international journals and anthologies, including Queen’s Quarterly, Stride Magazine, Envoi, Aesthetica, and First Proofs (Penguin India). He has had a solo exhibition of paintings and published two poetry collections in Bengali (Protibhash and Jokhon Bideshe) and one in English, Footnotes (Shearsman, UK). His debut novel, Anchor, was published by Harper Collins in 2015, to high critical praise. His business book, From Command To Empathy: Using EQ in the Age of Disruption (Harper Collins, 2017), addresses the need for greater emotional enablement in the Indian workplace. The book received praise from leaders across both industry and academia, was widely featured in the national press, and is shaping collective consciousness in favour of better work-life integration. In 2018, the book was selected for Amazon India’s Best Reads under the category, Business, Strategy and Management.

Dara ShukohHis third book with Harper Collins, Dara Shukoh: The Man Who Would Be King, was published in October 2019. This work has received glowing reviews from world-renowned academics, authors and commentators, garnered tremendous attention in the national press, featured at prestigious literary meets, been acquired by Audible for audio-book rights. Juggernaut Books is also promoting the book as a mini blockbuster — publishing excerpts from the book — and it has also been on the Bestsellers’ List right since its publication. In this exclusive interview, Chanda reveals more about his muti-layered personality and his work.

 

When and why did you start writing? What moved your muse?

I’ve been passionate about books for as long as I can remember, and I suppose there came a time when I wanted to start writing my own books. Around the years 2003-2007, there was an earlier spate of writing — poetry, in English and Bengali. I produced a couple of collections besides publishing in individual magazines. The current run began about six years ago. In this period, I’ve published a novel, Anchor, a business book, From Command To Empathy, and my latest book, a biography of the Mughal Prince, Dara Shukoh — all three published by Harper Collins.

Compiled by Mitali Chakravarty

 

And there’s a hand, my trusty fere!
And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.

Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burns,1788

 

It is that time of the year again when we bid adieu to the old and party to welcome the new. And this year it is not just an old year but the old decade that ends – this new year we start the third decade of the second millennia. With much goodwill, as the poet Burns says, we asked some writers who have featured on our pages to contribute two of their favourite reads from this year and they obliged… A huge thanks to all these fantastic writers who share what their favourite books have been this year.

51otYV5ZqEL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_We start with Suzanne Kamata, an award winning writer from Japan, who has been a part of our magazine and the first Best Asian Short Stories in 2017. This is what Suzanne wrote: “One book which particularly impressed me was Under the Broken Sky, a novel-in-verse by Mariko Nagai, about a Japanese girl stranded in Soviet-occupied Manchuria. Although we often hear and read about the atrocities committed by the Japanese Army in Asia, we rarely hear the voices of the innocent bystanders, like children. Nagai manages to distill complicated and difficult events into crystalline free verse. Although this book was written with middle grade readers in mind, I would recommend it to adults as well. 

Book review by Gracy Samjetsabam

RESET S Swamy

Title: RESET Regaining India’s Economic Legacy

Author: Subramanian Swamy

Publisher: Rupa (2019)  

Subramanian Swamy is a well-known Indian politician, economist, and statistician. He is a Member of the Parliament in Rajya Sabha. A founding member of the Janata Party, he served as its president till 2013. He has also served as a member of the Planning Commission of India, has been a Cabinet Minister in the PM Chandra Shekhar government, and also been a Chairman of the Commission on Labour Standards and International Trade in the PM Narasimha Rao government. He has made contributions on India’s relations with China, Israel, Sri Lanka, and the USA and is considered as one of the most prominent voices in Indian foreign policy and diplomatic relations. He has a number of books, research papers and journals to his credit. He has written more than 20 books. Some of his most read books include: Economic Growth in China and India 1952–70 (1973), India’s Economic Performance And Reforms: A Perspective for The New Millennium (2000), India’s China Perspective (2001), Financial Architecture and Economic Development in China and India (2006), Hindus Under Siege: The Way Out (2006), Rama Setu: Symbol of National Unity (2008), 2G Spectrum Scam (2011). RESET: Regaining India’s Economic Legacy (2019) is his latest book.

In 1939, Dr. Swamy was born in Chennai, Tamil Nadu and brought up in New Delhi, where he completed his graduation in Mathematics from Hindu College, University of Delhi. He attended Harvard University as a Rockefeller Scholar and under the guidance of Nobel laureate Simon Kuznets received a PhD in economics, on the thesis titled “Economic Growth and Income Distribution in a Developing Nation” in 1965. He returned to India to pursue a career in academics. However, his interest in market economy at a time when the government of the day was tilted more towards the Nehru brand of socialism and command economy pushed him to change path and move towards a political career.

Subramanian Swamy was one of the masterminds in presenting a Swadeshi Plan in 1970, amongst other Jan Sangh leaders that included Jagannathrao Joshi and Nanaji Deshmukh. The monograph vocally directed that socialism be replaced with a competitive market economic system to ensure India’s economic growth at 10 per cent to overtake China by 2030, achieve self-reliance, full employment and produce nuclear weaponry. The plan was deemed “dangerous” by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and was dismissed. This sets the premises for the book RESET: Regaining India’s Economic Legacy. Fifty years hence, this seminal work provides a fresh look into his pioneering ideas on India-specific economic development.

by Jindagi Kumari

 

Sometimes a phone call may bridge the gap between life and death in a snap. When you announce death you don’t greet. So, my elder sister on that Sunday morning call began with “Had your breakfast?” before telling me that Baba was no more.

Baba, our grandfather, was bedridden for last several weeks. Near 80, he had suffered loss of appetite and weight. Death had chosen not to afflict him with a disease, but as they say, old age itself was an ailment, big time.

When my WhatsApp messenger brought the images of Baba on the pyre, we were at a table in an exquisite eatery — my spouse and kids discussing the buffet menu.

Miles apart, I penciled in my itinerary for attending his last rites. I had concluded death was his bliss; and gone about our sacrosanct Sunday routine — shopping, movie, and eating out — mourning on the go, perhaps.

Book Review by Gargi Vachaknavi

Dara Shukoh

 

Title: Dara Shukoh, The Man Who Would Be King

Author: Avik Chanda

Publisher: Harper Collins, 2019

 Dara Shukoh (1615-1659), the beloved and righteous son of Shah Jahan — is he indeed shown to be what Arun Shourie said of the book: “The Book we need — about the man we need” on the front cover?

Despite wading through more than three hundred pages of the book, Arun Shourie’s statement seemed unfounded! Author Avik Chanda shows otherwise in this historic narrative. And why would he do that? Because, he says he is tired of stereotypes, he has tried to unveil ‘the truth’.

IMG_0805 2.jpgAvik Chanda dons multiple hats. He is a consultant who has two collections of poetry in Bengali, a novel, Anchor (Harper Collins, 2015) and his acclaimed business book, From Command To Empathy: Using EQ in the Age of Disruption (Harper Collins, 2017), co-authored with Suman Ghose and featured in 2018 in Amazon India’s Best Reads, under ‘Business, Strategy and Management’. This year Dara Shukoh, The Man Who would Be King has also made it to second position in the Asian Age’s non-fiction bestseller list.

This book is different. The narrative weaves minutely through history in detail. Except at the end, the sources are not discussed. Though it is evident that a lot of research has gone into the narrative, only the author’s voice is heard. However, Chanda does bring in voices of writers from the Mughal era. For instance, Chanda gives two renditions of Dara Shukoh’s final words.

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Title: The Best Asian Short Stories, 2019

Editors: Hisham Bustani (Series Editor: Zafar Anjum)

Publisher: Kitaab

Year of publication: 2019

Pages: 377

Price: $25

Links: Kitaab Bookstore

About: War, loss, love, compassion, nightmares, dreams, hopes and catastrophes; this is literary Asia at its best. From a wide range of geographies spanning from Palestine to Japan, from Kazakhstan to the Malaysia, mobilizing a wide array of innovative narrative styles and writing techniques, the short stories of this anthology, carefully curated by one of Asia’s prominent and daring writers, will take you on a power trip of deep exploration of local (yet global) pains and hopes, a celebration (and contemplation) of humanity and its impact, as explored by 24 writers and 6 translators, many of whom identify with many homes, giving Asia what it truly represents across (and beyond) its vast territory, expansive history, and many traditions and languages. This book is an open celebration of multi-faceted creativity and plurality.

Contributors:JOEL DONATO JACOB (Philippines); LANA ABDEL RAHMAN (Lebanon): RAZIA SULTANA KHAN (Bangladesh); DEENA DAJANI (Palestine); ALAN IRID FENDI (Syria); SAMIDHA KALIA (India); SCOTT PLATT-SALCEDO (Philippines); ANITHA DEVI PILLAI (Singapore); ANGELO WONG (Hong Kong); ODAI AL ZOUBI (Syria); SIMON ROWE (New Zealand / Japan); SEEMA PUNWANI (Singapore); VRINDA BALIGA (India); NAMRATA PODDAR (India / USA); T.A. MORTON (Ireland / Hong Kong); HAMID ISMAILOV (Uzbekistan); SUCHI GOVINDARAJAN (India); YD CHANG (China / Malaysia); JOLIN KWOK (Malaysia); IMRAN KHAN (Bangladesh); YAN TI (Taiwan); ZIRA NAURZBAYEVA (Kazakhstan); KAISA AQUINO (Philippines); JOSE VARGHESE (India)

 

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Title: Scream to the Shadows

Author: Tunku Halim

Publisher: Penguin SEA

Year of publication: 2019

Pages: 360

Price: SGD 14.50

Links if any: Penguin Random House

About: Unconfined to a single theme, this new collection of twenty short stories by Tunku Halim offers five distinct worlds—the paranormal mysteries from ‘The occult world’, with its dark settings reveal supernatural existences in the characteristic Halim style.

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Chinese workers in the snow constructing the first American transcontinental railways

In the 1860s, roughly 20,000 Chinese from the Guangdong province were shipped to America to labour at building the transcontinental railways. They came for the lure of gold. However, few of them moved outside their camp or learnt English. They faced a lot of hardships, breaking rocks and living for a pittance. What drove them there? What did they face? 

Author Gordon H. Chang  has uncovered the plight of these workers in his latest book, Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad. Chang is Olive H. Palmer Professor in Humanities at Stanford University. He has written a number of books on Asian-American history and US–East Asian interactions. 

Washington Independent Review of Books says Chang “ has dedicated himself to speaking for a group that cannot speak for itself, even in absentia. He’s dubbed them the ‘ghosts’ of his title because, while the work they did was about as tangible as it gets, their individual identities have evaporated.

Reviewed by Mir Arif

A Feminist Foremother

Title: A Feminist Foremother: Critical Essays on Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain
Edited by: Mohammad A. Quayum and Md. Mahmudul Hasan
Publisher: Orient BlackSwan Pvt Ltd.
Pages: 312 (Hardcover)
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In an essay entitled “Griha” [Home] Rokeya Skhawat Hossain (1880-1932) says that Indian women are treated worse than animals since even animals have homes, but Indian women have none: they must always be dependent on a man for shelter. It was in such an unfavourable time that Rokeya emerged as a crusader for the emancipation of Indian women and dedicated her life to building a gender-just society. A Feminist Foremother: Critical Essays on Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (Orient Blackswan, 2017), takes a critical look into Rokeya’s struggle and becoming one of India’s most ‘courageous feminists’. Seen within the socio-cultural and historical context of her times, the book also examines her literary works and social reform activities to better appreciate the challenges she faced as a Bengali Muslim woman.

The book contains 13 essays by reputed academics and critics. It is co-edited by Mohammad A. Quayum, Professor of English at the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), and Adjunct Professor of English and Creative Writing at Flinders University, Australia; and Md. Mahmudul Hasan, Associate Professor of English at the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). They both have decades-long research on early feminist movement in the Indian subcontinent, especially in undivided Bengal. Professor Quayum has previously edited and translated The Essential Rokeya: Selected Works of Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain 1880-1932 (Brill, 2013). Dr. Hasan has a Ph.D in comparative study of Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf, Attia Hosain and Monica Ali.

The first essay, “Rokeya Skhawat Hossain: A Biographical Essay,” by Mohammad A. Quayum provides a comprehensive discussion on Rokeya’s life and works. Professor Quayum highlights how Rokeya—overcoming all kinds of hurdles coming both from her family and society—continued to learn Bengali and English from her elder sister Karimunnesa and elder brother Ibrahim Saber, who contributed immensely to her early literary growth. Her father Abu Ali Saber—whose ancestors migrated to India from Tabriz, Iran in the sixteenth century and settled in Pairaband in 1583—did not want her to learn Bengali or English. For one thing, the Ashraf migrant community and its members, such as Rokeya’s father, looked down upon Bengali as it was spoken by ‘low-born Ajlaf Muslims’. It also deemed Arab and Persian traditions to be ‘authentic Islamic culture’ and detested English as it was the language of a new colonial power. The essay critically evaluates Rokeya’s literary endeavour and social reform initiatives and argues that ‘both her school and her literary works have survived the test of time; both serve as enduring testimonies to Rokeya’s genius and vision as a writer, educationist and social activist.’

Paradise at War

The Siege of Hazratbal

In April 1993, the same month Prime Minister Sharif promised Prime Minister Rao that Yakub Memon would be extradited to India, the valley was rocked by a JKLF occupation of Hazratbal, a delicately beautiful Shia shrine built in white marble, rising from the banks that separate the majestic Dal and dreamy Nigeen Lakes. Hazratbal was the most popular shrine in Kashmir, a place that Sunnis also worshipped at and that Sheikh Abdullah had made a centre of his political mobilization. The JKLF controlled the streets and outlying areas of the Hazratbal area and had gradually moved to occupy the shrine and adjoining buildings in the Hazratbal complex. The Indian Army cordoned off the mosque and, after negotiations led by Rajesh Pilot, then minister of state for Home Affairs, the guerrillas accepted safe passage in return for vacating Hazratbal.

The Indian Army protested the offer of safe passage. A siege of the mosque, they argued, would force the guerrillas to surrender and be arrested. But the Rao administration, through Pilot, was committed to restart backchannel talks with the JKLF that started under Governor Saxena and continued under his successor. Rao had just taken office when the April occupation took place. On the JKLF side, Hamid Sheikh, who was imprisoned with Yasin Malik, was principal messenger in the backchannel. Released in 1992 in the hope that he would persuade the JKLF to enter a peace process, he ended up rejoining one of its militias and was shot by the BSF in November, along with a group of guerrillas who were trying to cross the Jhelum to flee across the Line of Control. The Hizbul Mujahideen, security sources added, set up death squads after Sheikh’s release to ensure peace negotiations would fail. In April 1993, the Hizbul guerrilla Zulqarnain murdered Abdul Ahad Guru, a doctor and JKLF mentor, who negotiated the releases of Congress leader Saifuddin Soz’s daughter, Naheed, and Indian Oil executive director, K. Doraiswamy, in 1991. Though it was a Hizbul guerrilla who killed Guru, the police colluded in his killing, according to Habibullah. Guru presented ‘a reasonable face of separatism’ and was widely respected, so he was a counter-insurgency target. Zulqarnain was killed in a security operation soon after. Frustration in the security forces grew in the months to follow. In Sopore, the aftermath of the market firing saw growing support for insurgency. Reports of guerrillas massing in the town began to flow from May 1993, but the state and union governments did not react. ‘Intelligence and others urged decisive and early action’, wrote Arun Shourie, editor of the Indian Express. ‘Nothing was done. By September, about 600 [of the guerrillas] were reported not only to be there, they were reported to have entrenched themselves in bunkers dug out in some houses at various points in the town. Minimal action in May–June would have seen the end of them. By September, a Blue Star-type operation alone would have sufficed. And intelligence was warning that if that sort of action was not launched immediately, and the snow were allowed to set in, the mercenaries would get another four to five months to fortify their presence. What sort of an operation would be necessary then?’