Thursday, August 29, 2013

Author Interview: Manish Gupta

In a country where incorrect usage of Hindi is mocked upon, but it is acceptable to speak wrong English, despite it being one of the official languages of the country; Manish Gupta has come up with a book which not only talks about his own experiences of conquering the English language but also, assists anyone willing! When I read the book, I was highly impressed and sincerely feel that this book should be read by any competitive exam aspirant or even if you just want to master the language. Because, as the author says - Learning English is fun!

Here is a bit of a conversation with the author of English Bites! :

Congratulations on such a huge success of the book! Did you expect it to be so well received?

Thanks very much, Samarpita. As a book in the category of non-fiction/self-help and with a novel like storyline; I was expecting the book to be well received. I am sure that with more word-to-mouth publicity, the book will become a bigger success in the times to come.  

Untouched topic, in a way. How high was the anxiety?

Having started reading books outside the curricula only after I joined engineering, I started with a feeling of awe and admiration for the writers of non-academic books, which only grew stronger with time. Hence, it was a dream to see myself published and especially in an area that bridges the gap between academia and fun reads. This made my journey of research and writing very purposeful and focused. The only moments of anxiety came after submitting the manuscript to the literary agent. The publication of this book brought another dimension (after academia, profession, family & friends) to my narrative making me feel more creatively fulfilled and complete. I am at peace with myself having fulfilled a long cherished dream of sharing my ideas, research, and experiences on making English learning FUN with all. 

Tell us something about your struggle with getting published. We have a fair idea that it isn’t a cake walk. But how was the real deal for you?

There has been an explosion of books in the Indian market in the past 3-4 years as new breed of writers have emerged from sectors like banking and finance, software, media and entertainment, etc. and invaded the bastion of litterateurs, political thinkers, economists, civil servants, and Oxbridge scholars. Naturally, the number of submissions has also multiplied. I am not quite sure that the new age writers have given enough time to the publishing industry to get adequately capacitised to handle the volumes of work pouring into their offices. 
Knowing this, I did not directly approach the publishers but went through a literary agent, who critically assessed the quality and marketability of the manuscript before submitting it to the select set of publishers that are interested in publishing this genre of books. It took less than 4 months after submission of the manuscript to the literary agent for me to sign a publishing contract with Penguin Books India. 

Writing English Bites! must have taken a lot of research. To add so much from which readers can learn, and also, to ensure the read doesn't get boring, must have been difficult. Was it a difficult gamble to play?

Samarpita, to answer this question, we need to get a little bit into my background. I grew up in Rohtak, a small and sleepy town in Haryana in the 1970s and 80s. The only English I spoke was in school and that too to respond to questions of my teachers in the class. I looked down at English as an alien tongue merely suited to the narrow field of academia and with no particular use once someone got into the real economy. 
As a result, I was horrible in all aspects of communication. My active vocabulary was extremely limited, pronunciations & spellings were terrible (as I refused to accept English as a non-phonetic language that it largely is), sentence construction was poor, and my fluency was severely compromised. I was shocked by its increasing relevance and necessity in the real economy once I landed-up in at Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh. 
Here, I came face-to-face with far more fluent and erudite specimens from convent schools from metros and towns much bigger than my hometown. I also noticed how I used to get tongue-tied while attempting to make a small conversation in English with or even in front of the convent educated colleagues. 
Having lived all my school life in disdain for this alien tongue, the grossly neglected subject of English made me realize its importance, its vastness, its complexity, and my far less than self proclaimed ‘photographic memory’ all at once. I needed something quick and in large doses to beat the convent educated types in their own game and seal the best job offered in the campus in my name and after gaining some industry experience, successfully compete with them once again for admission into a top-tier MBA program. 
Hence, I set aside the word lists, my failed attempts at mugging, and started creating interesting stories and anecdotes to make indelible imprints of this foreign language in my mind. This was the genesis of the book. It took a lot of research and creativity, but it was a matter of survival. It was the only thing that could have rescued me from definite depression and elevated me to think and talk like an erudite gentleman.     

A lot of people, most I would say, see no reason why grammar is important. They speak whatever they know, this is a country where, "I didn't knew", is allowed to be said. How would you convince them the need to perfect whichever language they are speaking?

On one hand, it is indeed extremely gratifying to see that when someone says “I didn’t knew” or “I am more better”, masters of this craft let it be. Over a period of time, with subtle nudging and their own effort, I have seen a majority of these people correct such errors, and get better in all aspects of verbal communication: fluency, pronunciation, grammar, and use of correct English words. 
On the other hand, it is distressing and a sad reflection of the state of affairs in the vast majority of schools and colleges in our country, and spoken English is only a small exhibit of the massive improvement that is required in teaching methods and in elevating the standard of our teachers. 

How and when did you decide to be a published author? Was it always a plan, or did you start thinking on the lines when you thought you had a plot with you?

Samarpita, you may find it hard to believe but this manuscript has been in the making for over 20 years. It started as an idea in my second year of engineering way back in 1989-1990 when two of my closet friends and I resolved to publish a book each before we turned 21. I thought I had written a masterpiece by the time our final placements ended (spoiling my grades in the process) and was still a few months shy of turning 21. My other friends, who were writing on ‘quizzing’ and ‘poetry’, had pulled out of this pledge while they were still in their teens.
My manuscript then hibernated for 20 years as I got busy with my first job at Tata Motors, an MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur, my banking career at Citibank, and family life. The manuscript was preserved on a 3.5 inch diskette in Microsoft 2000 that refused to open on my old PC, when I thought of reviving my work of art in the year 2008. Fortunately, the handwritten version (‘manuscript’ in the real sense of the word) had survived well on loose sheets of paper, which I promptly transferred on my PC and started editing and expanding it at the same time. By the time I finished in 4 years (working on weekends), I had landed up re-writing the entire book.    

Is it difficult to write with a full time job?

It is indeed extremely tough, especially when the subject is research based and the writer is not a natural story teller. I admire Indian writers like Amish Tripathi, Ashwin Sanghi, Chetan Bhagat and Ravi Subramanian who have done a bulk of their writing while managing full-time careers and an active social and family life.

What do you do apart from writing and cracking us up with your tweets? Give us a sneak peek into the real you!

I, till recently, used to work as a Managing Director and Head of Sales for Treasury and Trade Solutions division of Citibank in India. I have now decided to take a plunge in the field of education, training, consulting, and executive coaching and will shortly start working with an organization that works for the underprivileged children at the school level. 
In my personal life, I now live by the principle of learning one new skill every year (pity, I understood and adopted this only a few years ago) and have dabbled in adventure sports (like skiing, para gliding, bunjee jumping), getting off the beaten track while travelling, and plan to hone my moderate skills in singing, gardening, and cooking next.
I also like to delve into human psychology and waiting for the day when someone will actually pay me for my wise counsel.

What next? New genre; or you would want to stick to comedy, self-help?

I guess when you write a book, you give it your all. My stock of ideas is now empty but it doesn’t mean that I will not write another book. Book sales and readers’ feedback and appreciation are extremely strong motivators in rapidly refilling one’s reservoir and giving new ideas and different perspectives to make more meaningful and interesting books. However, I would like to stick to writing in a similar genre (laugh as you learn). I strongly feel about and need to put in my bit to make sure that that language does not become a handicap for anyone to realize their ambitions and dreams! 

Who do you read, who are your favourites?

I stick mostly to non-fiction, and there are far too many favourite books and authors to mention. In the recent past, I have read and thoroughly enjoyed books on Mind, Passion, and Happiness by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, Dr. Carol S. Dweck, David Rock, and Ken Robinson. 

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