Eeeks! Last month it rained awards and I forgot to write about it here. My science book They Made What? They Found What? which shares stories of Indian inventions and discoveries, has won the Publishing Next Industry Awards 2021 for best book in children’s category. The eighth edition of the annual Awards were announced last month. The Awards were presented in 10 categories.
The same week that this book won an award, it was also a finalist in the Auther Awards 2022 (See the glamourous award night photographs here).
About the book
In ‘They Made What?’, kids meet India’s brightest scientists and read all about their incredible, groundbreaking inventions in this first-of-its-kind book. Whereas, in ‘They Found What’, they are introduced to India’s brightest scientists and read about their incredible, groundbreaking discoveries. It’s a marvellous, fun to read, fact-filled science flipbook. Buy on Amazon.
About the award
Established in 2011, Publishing Next was conceived as a Goa-based conference where publishing professionals could come together and discuss threadbare the issues that they face at work, or in the industry they worked in. The Publishing Next Industry Awards were established in 2014, the only ones of their kind in India, were presented in 11 categories in 2020, and seek to reward innovation and leadership in the Indian book trade.
How you can deal with guilt when not being productive, how watching Korean dramas helps and a cool, free futuristic game you can play online.
Dear Penpal is a fortnightly newsletter by me, Shweta Taneja, to support you in your creative journey with tips, opportunities, insights and inspirations. Subscribe or read the archives here.
How has your fortnight been? I’ve already become better.
When I wrote to you in April, I told you about the tough time I’ve been going through. Writing it brought me messages, emails and phone calls from a lot of you.
Most of these messages were like those unexpected gifts life gives you. I reconnected with a friend I hadn’t spoken to or thought of for years. A colleague who I had worked with a decade ago asked after me. I did a video call with an old friend, surprised that I hadn’t heard about the crazy upheaval her life had last year.
It was lovely to reconnect, to laugh and perhaps, grieve together.
Thanks to the pandemic, I’m regularly calling people I love, people I took for granted that they will remain in my life. My family, school mates, college mates, mates from different cities and professions that I’ve been lucky to travel through in life.
With Death creeping in to take from us, life has suddenly become valuable. I am thankful for the life I’ve led, for the conversations and the meals I’ve had with everyone, including you.
Countering nagging productivity prompts
All of April, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t think. My brain couldn’t process anything productive.
It was frustrating and I kept feeling guilty about it.
The other day, while scrolling one of the socials, I came across a well-meaning social post about Einstein who wrote part of his theories of relativity and motion under lockdown during Great Plague of London (the post was probably based on this article last year by The Washington Post).
The post suggested that you’re under lockdown, why not write your next novel? Why Netflix your time away? In other words, remember the guilt I mentioned?
I’ve put myself through pressure like this before.
Maybe you have too. Being the product of a data-based modern world that rewards productivity and efficiency, we all constantly feel guilty when we don’t produce things.
When I’m relaxing, or lazing or even daydreaming or reading – activities that I know help the brain create, think and get better ideas – there’s a nag in my brain that keeps countering these down times with productivity prompts. An author I know online wrote ten books a year! I should NOT take a break for I’ve produced only one. Another author has sold that many books. This one keeps doing events.
My society, peers and myself, perhaps even you, look at creativity as a productive machine that should produce more and more.
Put out new products in the market so we can get a good economic value for them (aka make them a bestseller). Isn’t that what success is for most of us?
Be over productive in creativity doesn’t always work
The truth is comparing productivity in creativity or forcing your brain through creative churns DOES NOT WORK.
We’re going through a tough time. Even if you are lucky to have health and money to sustain you, and a family that’s healthy too, you’re going through a seriously stressful time. Every day, you’re being exposed to media – relentlessly – on Whatsapp messages, on Twitter and Facebook and even in the news.
We’re scrolling through one tragedy after another, endlessly, without respite.
It’s okay to feel anxious and want to zone out.
It’s okay for you to give your brain some rest.
It’s okay to be selfish about this and NOT create things.
These letters to you are helping me, dear reader, find my creativity again. Find the creative activity that gives your brain rest, that sparks your creativity further. Don’t get bogged down by productivity expectations.
I bet Einstein never bothered to be productive at all times. And we don’t know about all the hard times he went through, all the daily failure and ridicule he faced in his scientific journey.
The story only has the rosy apple that fell from the tree.
Play a futuristic, free game online: Play Survive the Century, a brand new, indie, free online game written by some fantastic science fiction writers out there including my friend Rajat Chaudhuri.
Surreal but dark read on Prague: I somehow tumbled into the surreal The Ultimate Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera which made me miss Prague. Save it for it’s beautiful, but don’t read it if you can’t do dark fiction right now.
Beautiful North-South Korea romance to watch: Talking of dark, I’ve become hooked to good, average and bad Korean shows on Netflix. (Thank you, Gunjan!) The old-fashioned, real love stories of hope are helping me navigate the dark times. Of course, beautiful boys always help. Highly recommend Crash Landing on You.
My Writing Joys
A laugh-out-tale about a robotic bride: An Indian family heads to a boutique in Delhi to look for a perfect robotic bride for their boy. Read my just released, hilarious science fiction story, for free on The Antonym magazine website.
A Live Session on National Technology Day: I did a Facebook Live Session on teaching science to kids with Professor Amit Agrawal from IIT-Bombay who is part of my flipbook on science They Made What? They Found What? It was an insightful panel hosted by Starmark Bookstores. See it here.
Hilarious Screen Time diktats: I’ve put Screen Time limits on all social and video apps on my phone. I was recently tossed out of my Instagram Live chat because time for Instagramming was up. Once at work, I was tossed out again. But I still use these limits. Still using them, as the blanking out of screens does kick me out of my scrolling daze.
I’m sitting in the dusty, but cuddly, indie bookstore Goobe Book Republic in Bangalore. This was a Sunday afternoon in early March. I signed a whole box full of my latest book to ship to people across the world. Finished it off with a three-way conversation over samosas and piping hot filter coffee with supportive spouse and Ravi, the owner of the bookstore.
Ahh, a perfect day.
Is guilt a productivity motivator for you?
Do you feel guilty when not being productive? Do you compare yourself to other writers, other creative people, and constantly feel this need to be productive? To write more, to sell more, to be more? Does this push motivate you or bog you down?
I would love to hear how you do it, dear reader.
Signing off with a warm hug and positive energy towards you,
Welcome! Dear Penpal is a fortnightly newsletter by me, Shweta Taneja, to support you in your creative journey with tips, opportunities, insights and inspirations. Subscribe or read the archives here.
It’s been a tough month for all of us. For me too.
I heard the news that all my family, six of them, in Delhi were covid-19 positive. I wanted to go to them, help out with food, logistics, hugs, anything really. However, covid-19 is such a creature that it builds walls around all of us, closing us down in worrisome loneliness.
The same week, my spouse also tested positive. Now I was a caregiver, saving up millions of advice and emergency contacts from the online world. I was heartbroken, suffocating, panicked, and unwell too. I vented online, vented to friends, worried and perhaps added to the chaos.
Then I called up my mother
My mother, who was going through the infectious disease, dealing with breathlessness and extreme body pain. I called her instinctively as I always call her when I’m stressed and need assurance. You know what she said?
“So what?“ she said. Her voice was weak, but her spirit, oh her spirit vibrated with power. “Now that we have it, we will see how it goes,” she said. “Whatever will happen, will happen. You worrying for it won’t change a thing.”
She was suffering physically as she said it, and I knew she was suffering, but the sheer mental strength of her approach to her body’s suffering, brought me out of my piteous wallowing.
Why do we always think of the worse given a stress situation? And cloak this thinking, this panicking and worrying as being realistic? And this is not limited to reality. It’s a habit. It’s a habit that I’ve decided to consciously break out by starting this newsletter.
My mother gave me strength in that five-minute phone call. I decided not to ponder on the worse. I consciously, with a lot of effort, to take the most positive, most hopeful route in the logical turn of events in my head.
That all of us will come out of it in a few months.
That it would be all okay.
A newsletter of hope when everything is dark?
I decided to channel my frustration, my sadness into writing these letters to you.
Use the medium I love – of writing – to tell you about what I’m going through. Use these letters, as a process of collective, creative healing, for you and me both.
This is about encouraging you to make the best of your life and ambitions, as a creative person, a writer or a reader or a prodigy whose time hasn’t come. We are all together, struggling, and I want to struggle and hope and cope with you.
These letters are about optimism and delight in living our lives. About not allowing our fears to become definitions of who we are. I’ll use all my emotions and skills to fill these letters with stories that make you and me feel good.
I’ll talk about the art of writing, things that inspire me, of living life to the fullest and capturing these moments through my art. And I hope to encourage you to do the same. I’ll be there for you all, my dear readers, through your ups and downs. We will together become our best, most joyous creative selves.
For we all need that little optimism when we’re low. And we all need – more and more – those friends who can listen without scrolling us into a void.
I’ve committed to you, fortnightly on alternate Sundays, and I’m hoping to keep that up. If you don’t get a letter from me (for I’m known to break promises), you’re most welcome to write to me and demand one. I would try to not miss one, though!
Artificial assistants in smart speakers can do some tasks for you to make your life easier but they are a long way off from turning you into a couch potato. Vinay Ram, a 30-year-old product manager, bought his Echo Dot (Rs4,499, Amazon.in) as soon as it was launched in India in November. “I’d seen an Echo a year ago when Alexa could only understand the American English accent, but mine is very responsive to Indian accents, switching seamlessly from Odia, Malayalam and north Indian English accents,” he says.
How smart speakers work in India
Ram who works for a Bengaluru-based smart-home automation company, Silvan, has set up the TV set-top box with Alexa and now asks the device to change the channels for him. Alexa also controls the air conditioner and room temperature and is automated to switch off all lights if the device hears “Good Night”.
Ram’s wife, Sapna who works from home, plays interactive games like Hangman with the smart speaker, and streams music from Saavn. Together, they give Alexa up to 50 commands in a day. Though he loves it, Ram reluctantly admits, “It’s a luxury rather than a necessity.”
According to data released in January by Amazon, Alexa smart speakers now offer integration with more than 12,000 skills tailor-made for Indians using its digital voice assistants, including the ability to play devotional songs, interactive games, services like Housejoy, Zomato, music apps like Saavn and informational apps like ESPNcricinfo—all of them free, without any subscriptions.
Each time you finish a new novel, you think you’re more experienced and will be able to write the next one faster and in a more efficient manner. Doesn’t happen. My novels are messy, individualistic creatures to whine and throw their own unique tantrums. And I love them (and at the same bipolar time, throttle them) for it.
All of last two months I have been hiding under a rock, rewriting and editing the third instalment of Anantya Tantrist mysteries to make it for my deadline. The good news is it’s coming out later in 2018. The better news is, I will be talking about it and my love of speculative fiction as a whole with Factor Daily, this fantastic online geek-out that you should check out if you haven’t already.
Do come over, say hello, ask us questions and give your thoughts on what you’d like to read in life. You’ll have to register for this event. Details below.
The much-awaited New Worlds Weekly on FactorDaily – #NWWonFD – Sci-Fi meet up is here again!
Whether you’re a sci-fi fan, an avid reader or interested in SF, then mark your calendars for an evening of catch-ups and conversations about all things SF/F with fellow fans and Shweta Taneja – SF fan, geek, journalist and bestselling author of the Anantya Tantrist mysteries.
Is speculative fiction beyond mythology possible in the literature coming out from our country? Till now, most of the speculative fiction that has come out of the country (even mine) has been heavily inspired or uses characters from our rich Hindu mythology. I take the topic head on in this talk at the LitFestX. This video is from 2015, so a little dated and since I’ve spoken there, there has been a lot of amazing books that have come out in the genre, but I’m adding it now because frankly, at that time, I lost track of things and never added this in my blog. See if you’re interested in hearing my thoughts on the topic. Have thoughts, disagree? Add to the comments below.
Whether it’s finding a sports partner or places to play, your phone has it covered with smart sports apps. During college, Gururaj Upadhya was a badminton champion. But once he started working, he left sports behind. “After 10 years of work, I wanted to pursue badminton again,” says the 37-year-old chartered accountant from Bengaluru. Expensive club memberships would have been a waste, given that he was travelling a lot. This is when he came across Playo, an app that connects people who play sports. He not only found sports mates but also badminton courts he could book at an hourly rate. Upadhya now plays four times a week, hosts badminton matches and runs a 70-people badminton group within the app.
If, like Upadhya, you want to follow your passion for sports, here are some apps that can help you find a place and/or a partner.
While browsing the layers that is the internet, I came across Global Slavery Index and found the facts that they’d written about India after research quite intriguing. There are lots of little nuggets there to mull over and think about various ways we ignore, encourage and are okay with slavery in our country. I had hoped this is not true, that it’s fiction, or something that can come under my Tall Tales section, but unfortunately, that is not to be. An excerpt from the report.
How many people are in modern slavery in India?
India is undergoing a remarkable ‘triple transition’, in which economic growth is both driving and is being affected by rapid social and political change. Economic growth has rapidly transformed the country over the past 20 years, including the creation of a burgeoning middle-class. In 1993, some 45 percent of the population were living in poverty; by 2011 that had been reduced to 21 percent.In addition to economic growth, ambitious programmes of legal and social reform are being undertaken right across the board, from regulation of labour relations to systems of social insurance for the most vulnerable.
Bangalore dosa map? Now that’s called craziness. As I write this, I giggle. A friend recently asked me why do people in Bangalore make early morning plans for dosa rather than evening plans for a drink. It’s true. If you’ve been in Bangalore long enough, or have turned to become one with the city like I have, well, you do talk dosa and breakfasts.
My husband, Ashwani, who is absolutely crazy about dosas have always thought about making an ultimate map of all the dosa places that come in our favourite haunts. Which is why when we came across this map, made by a friend of a friend, Niranj, we were absolutely thrilled. It lists down all places where you can have a scrumptious dosa. Know of some they’ve missed? Add them in. So if you’re in Bangalore, explore these spots. For others, come over, we’ll take you there! For there’s nothing better than that sumptuous, delectable thing we call dosa (or dosai, dosha, doshai, dhosa, anything. What’s in a name till oodles of ghee is added on top of it?)
Note: The above dosa image is not from Bangalore. We rarely take dosa pictures, for obvious reasons. This was in a small darshini somewhere in Andhra Pradesh. I can give you the town’s place, but only if you comment below and ask me!
In workshops at schools, at literary events, festivals, interactions with writers, strangers and friends, I’ve met some really funny responses to the fact that I am a writer. The awkward conversation starts in a party or a hangout, when you chat to a stranger. Or when one is trying to get through immigration or getting a passport renewed. (shudders)
‘What do you do?’ someone asks jovially, a drink down. Heading for another. ‘I write,’ I answer with my winning smile. Blank stare. ‘Books and articles and stuff,’ I try again. Blank stare. ‘I am an author,’ I venture. ‘An authorpreneur?’ I try again, my tongue doing Patanjali-trademarked yoga on the twisted word, desperate now, mentally kicking myself for paving in to the popular perception and respectability of the word ‘author’ rather than the more humdrum ‘writer’ which is how I see myself.
‘Oh,’ says the stranger.
What follows can be any of these responses and my response to it.
‘You know, I’ve always wanted to write a book.’
‘Great. Write it.’
‘I have an idea about a book.’
‘Great, write it.’
‘I wish I could write.’
‘Practice makes people perfect.’
‘Will you write a book for me? I have an idea.’
‘No. Ideas are like flies. They’re everywhere. Why don’t you go flush yours down the toilet? See where that leads you?’
‘Do you make any money?’
Oh, you mean like Chetan Bhagat?’
‘Yes. We both write fiction.’
‘Give me your book, I want to read it.’
‘I don’t carry my book, the same way you don’t carry a factory or the excel sheets you make at office all day long.’
‘Will I get a free copy?’
‘Sure. Can I drill your empty head and stuff it with empathy. Please?’
‘Oh. I need a signed copy.’
‘Great. Order a book, call me. I am always up for signing copies.’
‘Acha hai. You have to do something for time pass.’
‘I am rather fascinated to find the overflowing vat of idiocy behind that bushel of hair that grows so proudly on your head.’
‘Isn’t writing a hobby?’
‘It can be. I just do it all day long.’
‘Wow! So you will become famous like Chetan Bhagat and earn lots of money?’
‘Not really. Most of us don’t earn. It’s a silly profession. Work hard, get nothing. We have no idea why we do it. But we do. Kind of like being addicted to alcohol. Or cigarettes. Or coffee.’
‘Why don’t you make a movie out of it and earn lots of money?’
‘Did I say I was a director?’
‘I have this fascinating idea, which I think will make a really good movie.’ (From a hair stylist, cutting my hair)
‘Ok-ay. (politely, since I did want a nice haircut) Did I say I was a producer?’
‘You don’t look like one.’ (From a rather judgmental 11-year-old)
‘Oh. See my name on the tag of this literary festival? See the name on the book I’m holding? Can you even read?’
‘Oh, I am so jealous. You have an easy life. Sitting at home, making stories.’
‘Try it, will you? Please do. Practice by staring at a screen all day long, waiting to see if your brain will work and produce a publishable phrase.’
‘So how do you earn?’
‘I don’t earn from books. Period. I get my income, depending on mood, from selling peanuts on the road or stealing from overpaid MBAs, by hitting them with a running shoe.’
‘So you will get famous soon?’
‘One hopes, but no. Most authors don’t.’
‘Where can I buy it?’
‘Everywhere. Do you go to bookstores?’
‘Sorry, I don’t read.’
‘What a loss of a perfectly sound brain. Oh, wait…’
‘How was the response to your latest book?’
‘Umm. How many times have you had sex this week? This month? …year?’