SF in India: Challenges, Debutants and More

SF in India

Who is writing SF in India, you ask? Umm, let me tell you a story. A few years ago, as a naïve young writer, I enthusiastically knocked on an ancient door in a busy street of London. I was there to meet a reputed literary agent – a meeting which had been set up by a Booker long-listed author and friend. During the meeting, I introduced my (then) upcoming urban fantasy series, Anantya Tantrist Mysteries – an occult detective who solves supernatural crime in Delhi with a world built on myths and folklores of the subconti­nent.

Much to my delight, the reputed gentleman seemed enthusiastic. It changed the moment I mentioned that the series had been published in India. He shook his head. It was impossible, he explained sympathetically, to find a pub­lisher for the series as I did not own “British Commonwealth Rights,” something that all UK-based publishers would demand.

Quick Explainer of ‘British Commonwealth Rights’

To me, as a citizen of an erstwhile colonized land still reeling under the aftereffects of 200 years of slavery, the term “Commonwealth” bordered on the offensive. This was the first time I had heard it used by liter­ary agents and publishers. “British Commonwealth Rights,” in a contract, implies literary rights in 54 English-speaking countries which were erstwhile colonies of the British Empire. Ironically, the forward-thinking, language-conscious publishers who tweet using #OwnVoice and #BlackLivesMat­ter have not considered removing this clause from their legal contracts that divided the world along colonial lines of the 19th century.

The clause encapsulates the expectation that decision makers in the publishing industry have for genre works that emerge from the East, including India. “Big international publishers reinforce the existence of colonial and orientalist expectations when it comes to Indian writing, particularly when the writer is residing within the subcontinent,” says Lavanya Lakshminarayan, whose debut work Analog/Virtual (2020) got rave reviews in the subcontinent but is still not published in the West.

When Lavanya was shopping her novel, she was asked to write a “sellable” novel which could be the next “Slumdog Millionaire meets American Gods.” She developed the idea into a story, but couldn’t write it. “Why must we prove our ‘Indian-ness’ in colonially acceptable terms first?” she laments. Perhaps that’s why colonial­ism remains one of the major themes in Indian SF other than exploring an increasingly fractured democracy, gender violence, religious divisiveness and climate emergency through futuristic dystopias.

SF in India has themes of colonialism and climate emergency

“The legacy of colonial­ism, social and religious cleavages and climate change are the three core themes we find occurring and recur­ring in contemporary South Asian SFF,” agrees Gautam Bhatia, an editor with Strange Horizons who also debuted a SF novel this year. There is a reason. Most editors and their sales teams in New York and London continue to look for an exotic version of India meant to entertain a colonial, mostly white gaze.

Tashan Mehta, Kumar L, Sukanya Venkatraghavan
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I Spy a Salute: A tribute to John le Carré

johnlecarre

(This tribute to John le Carré was first published in The New Indian Express.)

In my pre-teens, I wanted to be James Bond. A daring hero who could save damsels (I saved sexy boys, swooning in my arms) while sipping on martinis in exotic bars of five-star hotels, in handcrafted expensive suits (designer gowns in my case). I imagined myself racing through the alluring world of espionage, delightful deceits and gun-totting, gasping action. I wanted to grab all the glamour with my grubby hands.

Smiley is anti-Bond

Then I grew up and met George Smiley, an espionage spy like Bond, in John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974). Smiley was anti-Bond. Instead of the swashbuckling suaveness, Smiley paraded reality. He was middle aged, balding, badly dressed, excessively polite, could be bullied, and constantly dealt with a runaway wife. In Call for the Dead (1961), le Carré’s first novel, he was compared to a toad; in A Murder of Quality (1962), he was called a mole.

Throughout his career of 25 novels, le Carré — whose real name was David Cornwell and who, unlike armchair writers like this one, worked in the British intelligence before becoming a full-time writer writing espionage — alluded to how the Bondian universe was a fantastical joyride. A modern day fairy tale, with a spy as a hero, cardboard archenemies and damsels in distress.

Smiley was anti-Bond. Instead of the swashbuckling suaveness, Smiley paraded reality.

Le Carré consciously made the characters that inhabited his fictional universe, like Smiley — spies, politicians, damsels, charming liars, villains — a little too real. They were bespeckled bureaucrats who wiped their glasses with their ties, dealt with budget cuts, deceptive spouses and girlfriends and confounding treacheries of their governments, leaving them gutted at morality’s knife edge. The almost satirical Looking Glass War (1965), for example, is plotted around an espionage mission that becomes pointless at the end. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1963), which put le Carré in international stardom, portrays methods that its spies employ which are inconsistent with perceived Western values.

A honeycomb of distrust, fragilities and broken people

The writer in me guzzled le Carré’s honeycomb of distrust, human fragilities and broken systems, shaking off the simplistic, glamour-verse of Bond. While developing my tantrik detective series, that two spy worlds inspired my world-building. My protagonist, Anantya Tantrist, was very much a Bondian heroine, trolling Delhi’s streets at night, kicking supernatural threats while swigging somas-on-the-rock; the world she inhabited however was filled with grubby treachery, inspired by the greys le Carré brought into his universes, where friends betrayed and there was no right path, but murky choices, rendering all heroic efforts insufficient.  

David Cornwell unlike armchair writers like me worked in the British intelligence before becoming a writer

It’s this constant tension — between the values protagonists stand for, and the murky methods they employ to protect them including deception, violence and betrayal — that manage to shred the same values to scraps of null, and elevate yet another fiction to a deeper reflection on our realityIn our world of disinformation campaigns, ego-boosting echo chambers and fake news, le Carré’s fictional world, like powerful fiction today, slithers underneath our fabricated reality, forcing us to dive into the murky, filthy truth about ourselves and the murky morals in all their grubby glamour.

(This tribute to John le Carré was first published in The New Indian Express.)

Tribute to John le Carré: le Carré's fictional world, like powerful fiction today, slithers underneath our fabricated reality

How to use Facebook groups to get a job

  • Find the right groups with keywords that are most relevant to your industry
  • Prefer local groups so that you can develop city-based professional networks
  • Introduce yourself by posting a message about you and what you’re looking for.
  • Don’t lurk in a Facebook group.
  • Don’t spam. Post links that show you to be someone who is genuinely interested in the profession.

Facebook groups are perfect for niche hiring

When Bengaluru-based Vishwadeep Gautam joined industry-specific Facebook groups, he was not specifically looking for a job. “My primary goal was to find people from my industry to exchange ideas with,” says the 25-year-old data analyst.

What attracted him to Facebook groups was that it gave him freedom to choose groups specific to his area of interest—data analysis. “The groups were a gold mine of current trends so I could update myself, learn more and understand what kind of development I can expect in the future in my field of work,” he says.

An additional opportunity that the groups offered was job postings. On one of the groups Gautam was part of, Indegene, a healthcare tech company based in Bengaluru, posted a job requirement for a data analyst. He already knew about the company since it had been active on the groups he was in. “I saw it, found it interesting, and applied,” says Gautam.

There are jobs on the largest network

With 2.27 billion monthly active users, Facebook is the largest social network on the planet. LinkedIn, the straightforward professional networking site, has 260 million active users in comparison.

“Attracting talent from social media is an integral part of our recruitment strategy,” says Bina Patil, vice president (human resources) at Indegene, the company that hired Gautam. Patil and her team are present and constantly on the lookout on all company social media platforms—LinkedIn, Facebook, GitHub, even WhatsApp.

Find the right groups

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How podcasts can help you be a startup founder

Startup founders are enhancing their learning skills by listening to podcasts despite busy workday schedules.

For a busy startup founder, who has to learn a lot about every aspect of business, every little minute of a day counts. That’s the reason Ami Sata, founder, Amouve, an organic bed and bath brand based out of Mumbai, has turned to podcasts to learn.

“Since listening is non-intrusive,” says Sata, “podcasts can be heard when you’re multi-tasking, convey an idea in 20 minutes and allows you to gain immense know-how while doing mundane everyday things like travelling to work.”

Podcasts makes to discover new

It was listening to a podcast about Sarah Blakeley, the founder of Spanx, that Sata discovered the power of cold-calling. Sata tried cold-calling prospective retailers for her brand in Mumbai and found leads, follow-ups and clients. Since then, she’s hooked to kernels of knowledge offered by podcasts, constantly on the lookout for new ideas.

Other than listening to podcasts while commuting, Sata has even added other podcasts on entrepreneurial journeys (How I Built This by Guy Raz, Masters of Scale, The Tim Ferriss Show and Freakonomics) to her bedtime routine so she can learn and get inspiration before she sleeps.

New job? Learn with podcasts

Like Sata, Jayant Paleti, co-founder, Darwinbox, a software services startup, also prefers podcasts to learn and get inspired from. “I’m leading business development for Darwinbox, which means I spend a significant amount of time on the road, heading to meet clients all day,” says Paleti.

Most of his transit time is spent on calls with sales team and on podcasts about other entrepreneurs’ experiences. His current favourites are Masters of Scale and The Joe Rogan Experience, which is his “daily dose of inspiration wrapped in good humour”.

Learn as you gym, travel or before sleep

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How to be a successful gig economy worker

  • Choose your clients wisely to make sure you are paid on time
  • Be transparent and upfront about the mistakes you make,.
  • Learn to say no to projects that pay too little.
  • Plan ahead financially as there will be down times.
  • Manage the time between projects. Learn something new then.

In April 2018, after a year of considering it, Bengaluru-based Sonali Dash finally took the plunge. She quit her 10-year-old corporate career of management consulting to become a yoga teacher. It was a big step in her life. “Quitting corporate was challenging as I was used to the financial security my 10-year-long career had offered me,” says the 34-year-old.

To push herself to give up her comfortable salary, she planned it all—she did a post graduate in yoga to upskill, saved for two years and took worst possible scenarios into account. The combination of financial and emotional support helped Dash till her new career became stable enough.

Brush up your skill sets

What helped Dash through the turmoil of the initial few months was that she had researched well. Before you jump off your existing career, you should understand opportunities in the new line of work you’re heading into, says Sanjay Lakhotia, co-founder, Noble House Consulting, a platform specializing in finding HR consultants for companies. 

Choose your clients wisely

To make sure you get paid at the end of a project, do a background research on people you work with and be sure they are able to pay.

Be transparent

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How millennials revamp old family businesses

  • To take their existing family businesses to greater heights, the younger generation is trying out new ideas
  • Being in business with family as a second or third generation has its pros and cons

When Bengaluru-based Chaitanya V. Cotha, the scion of the 150-year-old C. Krishniah Chetty (CKC) Group of Jewellers, joined his family business in 2010, he identified an important market that his family hadn’t given much thought to. “For my father, business to business (B2B) wing of the business was never a focus area,” says the 31-year-old.

Owning it up, Cotha got on the road for 20 days a month, meeting potential small jewellers who could sell the CKC products. Within 18 months, the CKC Group started to supply their products to over 200 stores across four states with a team of just nine people.

A lot of change in family businesses stems from the aspirations, outlook and thinking of the next generation of family, according to Ganesh Raju K., partner and leader, entrepreneurial and private business, PwC India. “Young blood is crucial for a family business to keep abreast with changing times, dynamics, business environment, customer outlook, and digital changes,” he says, adding that it’s important to encourage this as family businesses account for nearly 85-90% of gross domestic production contribution in India. The PwC India Next Gen Study 2018 on family businesses, that interviewed more than 137 next generation leaders, 45 of them from India, found that even though more than 81 % of millennials have a clear idea on how to take the business forward and more than 89% of them challenge their seniors’ decisions when they feel it would benefit the business. A key component of success for the new generation is a culture that supports their efforts, gives them room to make mistakes and provides for independent decision making.

It’s all in the family

Family support and her father’s open mind was one of the major reasons Suzannah Muthoot, zonal strategic consultant with Muthoot Fincorp Ltd (MFL), was able to implement changes at the regional levels of her company.

Fresh out of college, when the 24-year-old joined her father’s company in 2017, she was told to travel extensively across small towns and villages where the company’s branches had set shop, to gain real on-ground experience. The travel was useful as she found inefficiencies at the zonal and regional levels across functions. “I came back with a proposal to redefine the role of a regional manager, who is responsible for profitability and performance of nearly 70 branches,” she explains.

Suzannah Muthoot
Suzannah Muthoot
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How to find a job on Instagram

  • Creative professionals are using Instagram’s visual storytelling to showcase their work and get a job
  • According to Statista, Instagram has 71 million monthly active users in India.
  • Be professional on Instagram
  • Rewrite that bio
  • Create a visual resume
  • Build your network
  • Send positive messages to brands

Always be on the lookout

It’s on Instagram that Achin Bhattacharya, CEO and founder of Notebook, an edtech startup based in Kolkata found Debangshu Moulik, a Pune-based graphic artist. Impressed by his credentials, his Instagram portfolio and the fact that he had 41,300 followers on the social media platform, Bhattacharya’s team hired him.

For 19-year-old Moulik, who is still in college, Instagram has been a good place to showcase his art. He joined the platform in July 2012 as a teenager and after six years on the network, has more than 40,000 followers. Recently, he showcased his graphic art, and as a result, has received few projects through the network.

“It is a norm for artists like me to use Instagram as an instant portfolio,” Moulik says, adding that for most visual creative professionals, the platform is a perfect place to put out “free advertisements” of their work. “Clients approach us based on both the quality of the work as well as our social media influence status. I am fortunate to live in a time when anyone has the tools to showcase their work,” he says.

Debangshu Moulik, a freelance graphic artist
Debangshu Moulik, a freelance graphic artist

Always be professional 

The first rule when you’re looking for a job through the social network is to post professionally only. That would mean no selfies or drunken party pictures. It’s best to separate the personal and professional accounts.

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Why some millennials are quitting Facebook

  • If the idea of quitting Facebook makes you anxious, irritable, or you miss out on work, it may be time to let go
  • Millennials are feeling overwhelmed by the way Facebook requires their attention and misuses personal information

In July, more than a decade after joining Facebook, Mumbai-based event manager Jason Menezes decided to delete his account. It was a big move for the 30-year-old because, like most people in his generation, he got on to the social network bandwagon in his teens and spent a chunk of his life there, broadcasting his first love, his first job, breakup and several parties to a multitude of friends.

Are you overwhelmed by Facebook?

Over the last couple of years, however, Menezes had been feeling overwhelmed by the way the network required his attention. He would log on multiple times a day, check notifications during most of his breaks, comment on most posts, engage with people, put down his thoughts at least twice a day.

He felt obsessed, almost like the platform had taken over his life. He wanted to quit, but, each time, a notification would take him back, and he would end up scrolling endlessly. “Time flows differently in the virtual world,” says Menezes, “as there are multiple things that happen simultaneously, a multitude of people saying things. You find interesting facts or information and before you know, your whole day is gone. I was addicted,” he says.

A study published in December in the Journal Of Behavioral Addictions established a parallel between symptoms of substance use and behavioural addictive disorders to symptoms of excessive use of the social network.

“The social network uses various behavioural techniques, like building up a need to validate through likes, fear of missing out, and making your status temporary—all this to create a need for you to return quickly to the network to keep engaging.”

Venkatesh Babu, consultant psychiatrist, Fortis Hospital, Bengaluru.

The result is that it’s hard to quit, and, when you try to, you face withdrawal symptoms and often relapse into scrolling despite your decision. “If the network makes you anxious, irritable, or you miss out on your work or spending time with family, take it as a warning,” says Dr Babu.

Find it hard to quit?

Apoorva Kulkarni is worried about personal information being misused.
Apoorva Kulkarni is worried about personal information being misused.
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How to negotiate a holiday with your boss

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to negotiate a holiday with your boss. And no, you don’t need to lie about a relative’s sickness, you just need to plan ahead.

  • Approach the boss with a solution
  • Find a replacement
  • Plan ahead
  • Be flexible

Approach the boss with a solution

What can you do to ensure that your work does not get impacted during your absence? If you approach your seniors with a solution, half the battle is already won.

Find a replacement

It can be a colleague or someone hired temporarily. Work should’t suffer in your absence.

Plan ahead

Don’t decided to go on a leave last minute as it would burden your colleagues. Plan it ahead so your manager also has time to figure out what to do in your absence.

Be flexible

Build your leave request around others who might be planning to take time off. Your thoughtfulness will be appreciated and reciprocated. 

Be honest

What you need to do is plan in advance and approach your boss honestly. “Clear communication helps your seniors plan the team capacity in advance, shows them that you have the company’s interest in mind and ensures that there is trust between you and your seniors,” says Rakhee Malik, head and director of human resources, AT Kearney India, a management consulting company.

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How to avoid a burnout in a job

Three professionals tell us how they beat the burnout and went back to managing their work life through personal time and professional help.

Symptoms of a burnout

About four years ago, in late 2014, Nida Sahar, a computer engineer based in Bengaluru, started to feel a lack of interest in her work. Every morning, she felt fatigued, didn’t want to get out of bed and go to work. At work, she would become anxious faced with the tasks she had to do and would head to the bathroom to cry.

“I felt like I was wasting my life on things that didn’t matter. I wanted to win awards, to excel at my work, but I felt too tired and felt like I wasn’t going to achieve much in life,” says the 32-year-old. Much as she tried, she couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong.

When the feeling didn’t go away for a month, Sahar consulted a psychologist and found that she was experiencing the classic symptoms of a burnout. “I was too emotionally attached to my work environment and was a workaholic. All my happiness was attached to achievements in my job,” she says, “so much so, that I had forgotten how to live.”

Burnout happens from chronic stress

Burnout is a syndrome that results from chronic stress at work and can happen to anyone. Sessions with her psychologist made Sahar realize that she couldn’t go on like this—she needed a break. She broached the subject with her senior manager and was surprised at the support. “He had gone through the same thing early in his career. Taking time off would help, he assured me,” she says.

Neelesh Hundekari de-stresses through regular breaks, classical music. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Neelesh Hundekari de-stresses through regular breaks, classical music. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

How to bust a burnout

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