The Journey is Mightier than the Destination

The first question of the English language paper in school was always a composition. Out of five topics, we had to write any one piece of 350-500 words. While the rest of the class would start scribbling the moment they got the paper, I spent at least twenty minutes of the allotted two hours thinking. I marvelled at how others could write a creative piece without prior thought! Middle school upwards I started scoring the best grades in my favourite subject and was consistently delighted about it. I secretly scorned those who ‘mugged up’ essays in a bid to score high. So deep was my satiety at doing well in English that I seemed to not notice that I was terrible at Math. Once, my composition ‘A House on Fire’ was read out in class and folks hailed it as the next big thing. The same day, the Maths paper revealed that I’d failed to score the minimum forty. I pondered upon what I ought to feel more—elation at the highest or dejection at the red line in the report card. That was Class VII. The thinker was graduating to a philosopher.

I used to take Math tuitions with a neighbour who also taught English to students. He gave me an assignment to write an account on ‘An Uninvited Guest’ once, although English was not what I went to him for. When I took it to him the next day, Bijon Kaku asked me if my mother had written it for me. He was amazed that someone who was so poor with numbers could have a way with words. That convoluted compliment remains one of my best ones so far.

Later, as a university student, I wrote a letter to my professor complaining about my room-mate who had no concern for her health, ate khichdi day after day, distressing me with her Spartan life and spent days poring over books. This girl, Subhalakshmi, was a diligent academic and would attend classes which she had not opted for. For the bindaas in me, this was not acceptable, especially because the professor urged me to ‘look at her, learn something from Subha’ all the time! The letter I sent to him through Subha—who had no inkling about the content of the envelope—as she went to his house after class for extra notes. He read the letter, declared it a mock epic and showed it to all who went to study under him. ‘Fame’ felt euphoric, especially as it came from someone with exacting standards.

In retrospect, all these stray incidents may have portended toward a glorious writing career! Except, I was so content teaching English and writing the odd article for the school journal that I never gave any serious thought to a literary pursuit. Didn’t reclusive people who lived in the mountains or by the sea go on to become famous writers? Surely not a small-town girl with two thick, oily plaits who rode to school on a cycle and thought life was all about Jagdish’ chanachoor, reading Mills and Boon hidden in the Geography book and scraping through the Physics exam! Just that, whenever life happened—and it always did—I found myself wondering how it would read in a book or look in a film were somebody to capture it.

Significant incidents I did capture in a diary, but the task of keeping it in a secret place was so bothersome that the practice discontinued, with the silent hope that someday when I became a writer, I’d write about things from my journal. The ‘someday’ took many years to manifest. And I thank God for making it later rather than never. There are so many people who sleep-walk through life without ever knowing where their heart lies that I live in eternal gratitude for my blessing and the awareness of it.

Love’s Labor came at a time when I was travelling for my husband’s posting and had quit my corporate training job. We were in London, had visited places, tried the local cuisine, seen museums and musicals and had had our fill of the sun and the snow. Gradually, when I’d exhausted my quota of euphoria of being in the land of literary giants, I took to blogging. I wrote about whatever I observed or anything I cooked, about the places we explored and suggested our friends do. The blog was well-received and people wrote in to say they enjoyed it or they missed it when I didn’t post anything. That gave me the shove to write furiously and I did it till I was in London. Blogging put me into the discipline of writing. When Indireads approached me, I knew I could sit for hours and type. The groundwork had been laid under the invisible supervision of The Greats.

There were shockers in store for me, though. After my second round of feedback from Indireads, I gave up all notions about my supposed greatness and felt like a student who is pulled up for every line she writes. The manuscript came back with so many red lines that I had to strain to see the original text. I shelved the book and told myself that blogging was all that I could possibly do, not a full length book. And then, after over a month of a dry spell, I got a call from the publisher urging me to ‘forget all feedback and write what you originally wanted to’! I was too stupefied to remark that by then I’d forgotten that too. This divine intervention made me resolute, though, that if I write just one book in my life, this had to be it. The story had been festering inside me for over a decade and I wanted the catharsis as much as I needed to see myself as a published author.

That’s how Andy Paula, the author, was born. I made my debut with a name my friends had christened me with and the added ‘Paula’ just gave it the right zing. When they ask me why Paula, I ask them why not. Being a published author has brought about changes. There are changes in my dimension for example. Writing is a fattening job and I had to shift to a floor arrangement when the chair shrunk without warning. It belongs to the cat now; I cannot fit into it even if I want to. What hasn’t changed is that when I go for a walk, people still don’t recognise me.

With the dynamic and the static is the realization that there are few other highs than seeing one’s name in print. The book reviews, the interviews, the blog posts—all so heady, so intoxicating. And ten years from now when eBooks are the norm rather than the exception, I’d like to look back and think we’ve been the pioneers. I live for those times.


Dr. Kalam’s Stamp of Approval

14th June
Dear Dr. Kalam

Hoping this finds you in good health.

I, Anindita Sarkar, a teacher for nine years and a corporate trainer for the last six, am delighted to be writing to you. A graduate of Banaras Hindu University, I started my teaching career in 1997. From 1997 to 2006 I taught English to high school students in various parts of the country, my last academic stint being St.George’s College, Mussoorie.

That was the year when you graced the Sesqui Centenary celebration of our school with your presence. I was the editor-in-chief of the school yearbook then, and with the editorial board, we tried to capture what you truly embody. The excitement that your visit created; your address to the students; your answers to their questions; your photographs with the faculty and all my memories associated with it have been frozen in time.

So potent was my meeting with you Dr. Kalam, that when I made a foray into writing, this visit of yours to the school became a backdrop of my book! My book, Love’s Labor, deals with the caste and communal differences that so plague our society. How the protagonists sometimes bow down, and, at other times rebel against the limiting influences of family and society; how the role of parents defines our choices as Indians; our deference to the collective consciousness rather than upholding individual wishes form the fabric of Love’s Labor.

Please permit me to present to you a hard-copy of my e-book.

I am publishing under the pseudonym of Andy Paula, as Anindita was shortened to Andy by well-meaning friends from my school days!

I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience, Dr. Kalam. My husband, Prakash Chandra, a software engineer, and I will be the two people present for the presentation. And we shall not take too much of your time.


Anindita Sarkar

drkalam_01There are some mails we send and forget; others keep us awake. This one, definitely, belonged to the second category. There was no reply from the former president’s office for ten days. TEN HARROWING DAYS! The Missile Man was traveling; he would be back by the 3rd of the next month. Did I actually think he would invite me for high tea the same evening he got the mail?! Aah, the vanities of an author.

It took a couple of calls for the president’s personal secretary to forward my mail to Dr. Kalam’s personal inbox. Duly done. Wait begun.

Good things come to those who wait, they say. And it seems, they do!

28th June
Dear Ms Anindita Sarkar,

Ref your request to meet Dr Kalam to present a copy of your e-book to him.  Dr Kalam will be happy to meet you on Wed, 03 July 2013, at 1950 hrs at his office No.10, Rajaji Marg, New Delhi.

Please confirm if you are coming for the meeting.



Please confirm? Please confirm?! I have been waiting for a fortnight for just this, Mr Secretary. But then you wouldn’t know the thrill, the apprehension, the excitement, the palpitations, the zoning out that happened on receiving a mail from someone like HIM, or, technically, from his office.

drkalam_03The first thing I noticed about the former president was how frail he had become in ten years. He was as inspirational though, taking interest in the digital format, appreciating how we are saving trees by not paper-printing, fascinated about how global Indireads is with the authors, editors, publisher, marketing all working out of different countries; complimenting entrepreneurs that they are the employment-generators and not employment-seekers and saying all the things a budding writer would take home with her.

Was I inspired to write more, write better? Of course! The moment I come down to Mother Earth, I will…and that’s a promise.

News & Events

Minister of State, HRD, Dr. Shashi Tharoor unveils Love’s Labor


Who better to unveil the cover of a digital book than IDMA’s (Indian Digital Media Awards) Digital Person of the Year? Dr. Shashi Tharoor, writer, diplomat, politician, inaugurated author Andy Paula’s first e-book at his office in Shashtri Bhavan, New Delhi, on 18th July 2013. In a private ceremony with the author’s husband, Prakash Chandra, a software professional, Dr. Tharoor unveiled the cover of Love’s Labor, and autographed it, much to the author’s delight.

An e-book published by Indireads, a Toronto-based publishing house, Love’s Labor targets a South Asian audience. The conflicts that the protagonists face stem from their strong traditional upbringing, and a sometimes illogical deference to authority over one’s own pursuit of a dream. Andy Paula answers some questions about Love’s Labor and her meeting with Dr. Tharoor.

Why an ebook, and not a traditional hard copy, we ask Andy?

“A friend told me about Indireads and connected me to its founder Naheed Hassan, who lives in Boston. The concept of South Asian stories appealed to me, and this whole idea of working with a team spread all over the globe got me hooked. Indireads is launching authors from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, ex-pats from these countries who are based in US, UK, Canada, and the best part is that we are all connected to each other and learning about our neighbouring cultures along with writing tips.”

stharoor_00What prompted Andy to present the book to Dr. Tharoor?

“Dr. Tharoor is a literary person and he is the recipient of the first ever Digital Person of the Year award; did I need more reasons?” smiles Paula. “As this is a digital book it is apt that someone of Dr. Tharoor’s standing should present it to the world.”

What was Dr. Tharoor’s reaction to your book?

“When I requested an audience, he replied from his Blackberry. Can you imagine—a personal reply, not routed through his office! When we met, I was amazed at his detailed questions like, ‘are you happy with the way the book has turned out?’ He autographed the cover of Love’s Labor and wished it success. Coming from an author of over a dozen books, what else does one want?”

What prompted you to write, considering you also hold a full-time job?

“In 2011, I quit my corporate job and followed my husband to the UK. Days can be lonely in a foreign land and that’s when I found enough free time first to start blogging and eventually, writing.”

How long did it take to finish this book?

“(Laughter) Oh God, embarrassing question! Let me tell you though, I’d given up even before I’d started. The first round of feedback that came from the editor was so shattering that all my grandiose ideas about my own capability were jolted to the core. It was Naheed Hassan, the founder of Indireads, whose persistence egged me on and I managed to finish it in…eight months, I think.”

Probe her about Love’s Labor and the author smiles. “Yes, I know what you mean. Every first-time author faces the trap of writing an autobiography, so a tight rein is important, unless, of course you want to write one!”

stharoor_03So is this an autobiography?

“No, I’m not Piali Roy. Nor am I Sathya Nair. If anything, I am Mussoorie in the book.”

When is the next book coming?

“The second manuscript is underway; let’s see when it’s ready.”

Will it be set in Banaras, you being an alumnus of B.H.U?

“You’ll have to wait for that,” smiles Andy.

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