A personal interview with Mr. Manish Gupta, debut author of English Bites. It has been a great pleasure to be associated with him through his book. I hope you will like reading his views as much as I loved listening them. :-)
Hello Manish sir, what is your feeling after being an author now? What’s your perspective about life now after achieving a rare milestone in your life?
Abhilash, becoming an author has been an extremely surreal and uplifting experience for me. 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. Now I feel that I am a part of their tribe though still at the initial steps of a long journey towards excellence in writing. My perspective on life hasn’t had any radical shift after the publication of my book but the added dimension (after academia, profession, family & friends) this publication brings to my narrative makes 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.
When you saw your first novel- English Bites for sale on E-commerce websites and placed at a bookstore for the first time, what kind of thoughts dominated your mind?
I held the book for the first time when my publisher Chiki Sarkar sent it to me a few days before the book hit the bookstores and E-commerce websites. That experience and feeling is extremely hard to describe. I was thrilled to the core, felt light and liberated, and lit up with an inner glow which comes when a really old and cherished dream becomes reality. Thereafter, when I saw the book in the newly released section of major bookstores and on E-commerce sites, my first thought was to thank the Penguin brand that helped a freshly minted author get so much attention and visibility. The other thoughts that dominated my mind were around strategies to make the book reach people who will benefit most from it, the anticipation of the reactions and feedback from the readers, and an opportunity to spread a culture of making teaching less bookish and pedantic and making LEARNING more FUN.
Before we head towards discussing your book, we would like to know in spite of being an author, what do you exactly do? And do you wish to leave your job some day and come into full-time writing some day?
I, till recently, used to work as a Managing Director and Head of Sales for a major multinational bank. 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. I do not think that writing will become my full-time profession as I am keen to work on a broader canvass of education instead of specializing in English and related areas for the somewhat matured reader.
What made you write such an unusual book which is a fiction way of letting someone learn English language? How did you get this courage of doing something so risky?
Abhilash, 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 Rohtak. 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 was a matter, not of courage, but survivability. It was the only thing that could have rescued me from definite depression and elevated me to think and talk like an erudite gentleman.
How much long did it take to write this book from the moment you started developing the story to start writing it till completing it finally with editing and all?
Abhilash, 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.
Indian Publishing is too hard to deal with, was it easy for you to get a Publisher or did u wait for a long time to get your work published?
In my view, it is a myth that Indian Publishing industry is hard to deal with. Looking from publishers’ perspective, I will not be surprised if they have a similar view about the authors esp. the freshly minted types. Let us understand the fundamental reasons behind this feeling. 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.
What are the Promotional strategies that you and your publisher have applied to promote/market your book?
Thanks to the Penguin brand, the book received very good visibility in all reputed bookstores in India. It was available for Pre-Orders at all major E-commerce portals before it was launched. It received extremely favourable press reviews in some of the leading newspapers in India and South Asia. The blogger community also gave it a big thumps-up. We did some promotional activity through Posters displayed at major educational institutions, interviews, online chats and through social media. Given my hectic schedule in office, I wasn’t able to spare as much time as expected to travel to other cities for book readings etc.
What exactly is your target from your Books- 1. Getting most copies sold out, 2. Getting the love of readers or 3. You just wrote it because you wanted to write a book once in your life, hence you have no targets?
I guess when you write a book, you give it your all. At that stage you do not think of number of copies. You surely want to receive readers’ appreciation and some critical feedback to identify the gaps in your writing and expand and enrich yourself. 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.
In the end, tell us in 5-7 lines, what speech will you give if you win a Major Award for the Best Indian Author for your books?
I would like to thank my parents for raising me in Rohtak as but for this and other similar places, I would not have faced this challenge of gross linguistic deficiency, thank God for showing me the path to the beautiful city of Chandigarh and its rich crop of convent educated boys and girls, when I was veering towards joining IIT Roorkee (then known as University of Roorkee); my wife Deepali and kids Tamanna & Prakriti for stealing time that was rightfully theirs to write this book; my friends, particularly Jnanesh Kodical and Rajiv Rai for working for months with me to make this manuscript publication ready; my literary agent Kanishka Gupta for helping me make it more publishable and getting me a contract with my dream publication house Penguin; Satish Acharya for drawing wonderful illustrations and cartoons in the book; my commissioning editor at Penguin, Shahnaz Siganporia, for believing in the manuscript and pushing me to give it the shape of a story; and my copy editors Mudita Mubayi-Chauhan and Paromita Mohanchandra for creating magic with their word play and giving my pedestrian style of writing a contemporary touch.
Finally, to my dear readers, keep sharing your love and feedback with me. Only you have the power to spread the word about English Bites! so that language does not become a handicap for anyone to realize their ambitions and dreams!