News & Press

03/04/2011 ~ New book, soon…

Friday, March 4th, 2011

I just delivered “Slither”, my book of short stories. Westland’s new blog talks about this genre of fiction…

http://tranquebarindia.wordpress.com/

01/26/2011 ~ New Madhouse Review – 2

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

http://johncheeran.blogspot.com/2011/01/madhouse-true-stories-of-inmates-of.html

By John Cheeran
Here is an awesome book.
Madhouse: True stories of the inmates of Hostel 4, IIT-Bombay is going to be a trendsetter. It puts together utterly common and uncommon moments from the lives of a group of students, achievers of some sort, for they cracked the JEE to get in to the IIT.
Though all the recollections in Madhouse are specific to one of the hostels in IIT Bombay – there are 9 others, including a ladies hostel (hostel 10) but you don’t have to be an IITian to enjoy these true stories on hostel food, ragging, pondies, phone, entertainment programmes (EPs), copying, girlfriends and other assorted adventures.
These stories cover a timeline of less than 10 years (roughly a period ranging from 1972-1985) out of IIT Bombay’s more than 50-year history.
It’s an unputdownable book, especially if you remain young at heart. Any reader should be able to recall more than one occasion from his student/hostel life similar to that Madhouse speaks about. These colourful tales do make you nostalgic of a time of infinite freedom and immense pressure to live up to parental expectations.
Madhouse shatters a few myths regarding how above average and brilliant the guys and girls who make the cut to the IIT are. May be, after reading these true accounts, you would feel that what a bunch of quirky, degenerate and spoilt characters are these people, with no qualms about flouting rules of all kinds.
Some of these tales are absolutely wacky. Bakul Desai (contributing editor and a successful businessman based in Hyderabad) wanted to bring an elephant to the campus for the H4’s EP (entertainment programme). An enterprising Bakul, in his desperation, went to Antop Hill and had a negotiation with underworld don Varadaraja Mudaliar for renting out an elephant without knowing who the guy was. Later Bakul tells how they invented ways to use the public coin phone in the hostel without inserting coins. I burst out laughing when he described the day when a telephone department official came with a big bag to collect all the coins from the phone box but only to be shocked when he opened the box by the sight of matchsticks, broken strings, crumpled computer cards, rubber bands, clips, pins and an assortment of wires made of steel, copper, plastic, a wad of chewing gum and a 50 paise coin in the middle of it.
Who thought IIT students could be so enterprising?
Most of the heroes and heroines of Madhouse have done well in life. Many here recount that they learnt more by bunking classes than from classrooms.
Sudheendra Kulkarni, who was a commie then at IIT Bombay has traveled quite distance to become BJP ideologue and now an advisor to Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee. Manohar (Manu) Parrikar is another H4 inmate who became BJP chief minister of Goa and now the opposition leader in the assembly.
Urmilla Deshpande (editor) and Bakul Desai (contributing editor) deserve a toast for putting together this book. It was Bakul who took the lead to get the project on track. Urmilla played her role as a sensitive editor to perfection by letting these stories speak by themselves without the writer in her taking over to shape them. She realized that in these stories style and content were inseparable. She should know having married an H4 inmate Hashish Koj La (Ashish Khosla).

Posted by johncheeran at 12:17 AM

01/26/2011 ~ New Madhouse Review -1

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

http://thebookloversreview.blogspot.com/2011/01/review-madhouse-true-stories-of-inmates.html

As soon as someone mentions IIT, it conjures  respect and awe but also at the same time we  imagine a non-interesting, studious and serious life. What many don’t know is the whackiest, weirdest fun is had in the hostels of IIT.  The life at IIT Hostel always intrigued me, since I am married to an IITan. Anyone who is married or has dated an IITan would agree that it is almost like a secret brotherhood, the stories and the fun or things that they have done in those years remain strictly between them. It is almost sacred and not for public sharing. One knows a wild time was had, weird nick names shared, whacky things done but it is never discussed with families.

Madhouse: True Stories of the Inmates of Hostel 4, IIT Bombay is a book that will give the reader an insight of what goes around these hostels. It is a compilation of all the ex-students of IIT Bombay who lived in Hostel 4. Starting from their ragging days to their graduation ex students have recalled memorable incidents of their life in hostel.  The compilation is specifically of IIT Powai, Hostel 4 passouts but the episodes will give the reader a fair insight into the life at IIT.  Happy stories, funny stories, laugh out loud stories the book has it all. Most of the stories though are from the students of 80s.

Reading the book made me realize why these men bond just so much, how friendships are made forever, why such elaborate efforts for a reunion are made whenever even a single friend comes visiting from abroad.  The shared experiences, the shared jokes, the shared past every time they meet come alive. Even as an outsider you can’t help but notice the bond of friendship, trust they share.

The book, as one reads it, one can figure out the tremendous effort that would have gone into getting stories from all the ex-students, considering most of them lead busy lives in different corners of the world.

Excellent initiative but honestly a book that would be enjoyed strictly by people who have lived in that hostel.

03/01/2011 ~ new review of “A Pack of Lies”

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

Happy new year! A Pack of Lies, which was published October 2009, is still being read and reviewed, I’m very pleased! A friend sent me this link today. Nice new year present, an inspiration that might help me to finish the book of short stories I have promised to deliver to my editor by the end of January…

Sheila Kumar, the reviewer, has alluded a few times to “autobio masquerading as fiction” as several have done before, but she has stopped short of making any further assumptions, and has actually given me the benefit of reading the book as fiction. More on this later, it’s time I wrote about it. A book to finish first – a challenge from my dear editor.

http://www.thehindu.com/arts/books/article1020913.ece

The text of the review:

Mommie dearest

SHEILA KUMAR

Sometimes, telling a tale of childhood can also be an exorcism of sorts.

A Pack of Lies, Urmilla Deshpande, Tranquebar, Rs. 295.

The pulling down of the covering veil is not a gentle gesture here; it is a brutal act of ripping. Yet, when the reader reaches the end of this coming-of-age novel, autobio masquerading as fiction, the utter imperative behind it does not fail to impress. Deshpande has a story to tell and she tells it, consequences be damned.

It is the improbably named Virginia who comes of age in the early 1980s here. The girl was never the shy, retiring sort to begin with; add a strange, preoccupied mother who swings between languid condemnation and an equally languid neglect all through, throw in generous pinches of dope, drink, men, women, modelling contracts, unsavoury relationships and the occasional bout of introspection, and you get a very readable account of a young life lived to the hilt.

Of course, it is anything but a pack of lies. The novel deals with truths, mostly unpalatable. Virginia a.k.a Ginny, named after the doomed Woolf is ironically enough, not much of a Woolf fan. She tires early of trying to live up to her moody mother’s unpronounced expectations and decides to go her own way. That particular road involves the jettisoning of any remnants of inhibitions, taking up with a glamorous woman mentor, an unsavoury boss who quickly become Ginny’s live-in partner, and sundry other quick gropings and one-night sessions with attractive men who come her way. There is a career of sorts in photography that is slowly coming together, there is the occasional reunion with her separately re-married father and mother and their new families. There is the immediate bonding with her sister who lives with her father and his awful new wife, as well as the small stepsister born to her mother late in life. Tumult but not all bad, either.

Real lives

It’s the old cliché come alive: Ginny isn’t really short of money, she even has her own apartment in Mumbai. What she lacks desperately and seeks hungrily, is unconditional love and acceptance, mainly from her parents. Ginny’s mother, the distant writer with longings both the girl and the reader can only guess at, as well as a predilection later on for drink, tends to steal several scenes from the young girl throughout the narrative and is someone who leaves quite an impact.

What shines through is the truth (again, masquerading as distinct possibility) that Ginny’s story is a true one. Love, lust and life, the three strands inform the narrative in a clear-eyed manner. The story is written in a no-frills, direct style, and the reader warms to the heroine despite the best efforts of the writer to create a no-sympathy-needed character. That ultimately is the book’s winning formula.

© Copyright 2000 – 2009 The Hindu

12/21/2010 ~ Madhouse Musings – Deccan Chronicle review

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

http://www.deccanchronicle.com/tabloids/madhouse-musings-823

Madhouse musings

Madhouse
Edited by Urmilla Deshpande
Westland Limited
Rs 295, pp. 335

Is it a flying saucer, is it a time-traveller, is it a Martian…? No. It’s an IITian. Much has been written about IIT and the exotic species that goes by the name of the IITian, most of it by GenNow authors who have been graduates of an institution that counts inarguably, as one of the most prestigious in the country. Weaving fiction around existing facts, this band of youthful writers have covered almost every aspect of contemporary campus happenings ranging from ragging woes, angst, insecurities, food, culture shock to budding and doomed romances — the entire gamut of emotions in short. Giving a unique and unconventional angle to the much written IIT story now arrives, Madhouse: True Stories of the Inmates of Hostel 4, IIT-B, a book that, unlike its predecessors, unabashedly goes into rewind mode. Composed entirely of snippets and reminiscences put together by past students of IIT-B and covering a timeline of 10 years, Madhouse is an uninterrupted trip in sheer goofiness.

In the heartwarmingly sincere introduction, editor Urmilla Deshpande (closely associated with many IITians in real life) ruefully confesses that all initial attempts at polishing (and censoring!) the text interfered with the spirit of the book to such an extent that she was forced to set free the stories, allowing them to blossom in their own way. The result is a rip-roaring account of the madcap capers that distinguished the inmates of Hostel 4 between the early 70s and 80s and it is difficult to believe that this bunch of goofballs now head the nation’s vital spheres.

Thus, guided by the pens of contributing editor Bakul Desai, his hostel mates Fish, Dabba, Ghoda, Piggy and others, we learn about the boy who rode to organic chemistry class on a horse (even tethered it in the company of bicycles in the parking shed), the student who got aroused by cats, the Parsi bawa who took a bus ride dressed merely in skimpy bathing trunks (of a blinding red colour!) and the great escape from hospital with the inebriated patient being carried piggy-back.

The Mumbai reader, in particular, will find this book a delightful read as he stumbles over familiar landmarks like the Powai and Vihar lakes, the Devi Padmavati and Hanuman temples just outside IIT and Navrang studios… a long way off from an age when Powai came to be defined by the snazzy Hiranandani colony. The characters of Madhouse are straight out of the pages of a Wodehouse classic and the crazy escapades of the inmates related in quick succession by various ex-students makes for a deliciously entertaining read.

The actual story, however, lies hidden between the lines. For Madhouse is not merely about the boy who kept travelling for hours only to arrive at Chinchpokli repeatedly or the inmate who killed, roasted and fed five pigeons to his hostel mates (one pigeon having had the audacity to crap on his head). It is about a bygone era, the loss of innocence, the passing of an age where human bonding was spontaneous and came above gizmos and gadgets and where life flowed unhindered by digital clutter. An age of black and white television with just Doordarshan supplying entertainment and information, a sole phone on the hostel premises to connect one with the outside world, an age of camaraderie, practical jokes and clean fun.

For the young reader, Madhouse might involve a spot of time travel into the past, for those who grew up in the 70s and 80s, it’s a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

Kankana Basu is the author of Vinegar Sunday and Cappuccino Dusk

12/14/2010 ~ Madhouse reviewed… and enjoyed!

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

http://ibnlive.in.com/news/madhouse-is-a-candid-provocative-narrative/137422-40-101.html

'Madhouse...' is a candid, provocative narrative

11/29/2010 ~ Madhouse reviews and press

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Midday review “The baap of 3 idiots”

http://www.mid-day.com/whatson/2010/nov/201110-Madhouse-Hostel-4-IIT-Bombay-book-novel.htm

And various sightings…

11/22/2010 ~ More Madhouse!

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Madhouse: True stories of the Inmates of Hostel 4 is an anthology of memories from now slightly above middle aged (is that end-aged?) guys who were in IIT Bombay’s Hostel 4 in the 80s. Some of the stories are funny, of course. I should know, I edited this book. But my favorite are those that inadvertently and unintentionally hint at what it must have been like to be a young male in a repressive time and stressful place. There is more to this book than alcohol and bhang induced hallucinations. You have to read between the puns and look between the tales to really see these young men as the sincere, insecure, driven, sometimes lonely and confused people they were.

I wonder if they learned anything from their time there. They got engineering degrees, so I will assume they learned something about science and technology and how the world works. But I wonder if they learned anything about the way people work. I am curious about the way these guys brought up their own kids.

I can answer some of my own questions, being one of those kids. And I have seen my own children partially (I say partially because I’m the other parent) brought up by one of these IIT graduates. There are no engineers so far in my family – but while editing this book, I began to understand some things, if not all. For example, while I have a tendency to ask my kids, “are you having a good time?” their Hostel 4 father is more likely to ask, “what happened to the other 2%?” when he sees his child’s Algebra paper.

These guys spent five or more years in the company of others from all sorts of families, and from all parts of the country. The one thing they all had in common was a certain kind of intelligence – the kind that got them through the qualifying exams. I often wonder what the political and social views of these men are, and if they did in fact internalize the obvious and not so obvious lessons from their H4 experience. I wonder how many of them are socialists, how many atheists, how many of them live their lives within the social constructs that they came to Hostel 4 from, and how many think of themselves as the elite of the elite.

This was an extremely interesting project, it brought me into contact with IITans other than my own husband and fathers. It was a lot of fun to do it, to read through stacks and stacks of stories, to sift through the funny and serious and even grim ones, to argue with the committee about censorship and honesty, to understand their reasons (which didn’t always jibe with mine) for keeping something or removing it, to give in to changes for the sake of sales – something I have never done as a writer but had to because the proceeds from this this book were being donated to a charity.

I will never do a project like this again. I say that because, along with what I learned about IIT graduates, I learned a lot about myself. For one, I don’t enjoy working with groups of people. Especially when there are no other women in the group to bring a dose of normalcy. I learned that I am not charitable – I just didn’t care about the plight of the mess workers in IIT Bombay, especially not over literary considerations. I loved the work itself – reading, sorting, editing, re-arranging, re-writing. But in the end I have to say, if I had two or three lifetimes I might edit in a bit of one. But I love writing, and would much rather be doing that.

Which reminds me – I have promised my editor a whole book by the end of the year. I must get to it!

11/14/2010 ~ Madhouse:True Stories of the inmates of Hostel 4

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

This book is available for preorder at: http://www.iitbombay.org/initiatives/hats/hostel4/madhouse-book-order

When my husband Ashish Khosla, once an inmate of Hostel 4 himself, told me a tale about one of his hostelmates going to lectures on a horse, I was not impressed. Though he is not given to flights of fancy, I thought he was perhaps making a lot of a single incident. Then he showed me the photograph. It had that unmistakable stamp of the early ‘80s in style and substance, and there was the white horse, and its rider, on their way to a lecture on organic chemistry. I realised that it was not a one-time event. I also commented then that it would be a fabulous book cover.

One thing led to another, and in March of 2010 I was given the privilege and frustrations of editing this book.

I have known IITans intimately through my life– my father, step-father, husband, boyfriends and many good friends. I made several good friends during the creation of this book. None of what I read and heard explains these guys, though. I still cannot tell whether they chose this gruelling and most prestigious of educational institutions because of the way they were, or they became that way because those five years they spent at IIT.

In spite of censorship (some language of course, and some entire incidents were left out due to the sheer indecency of the matter) it is quite clear that these boys – and they were boys then, indulged in very questionable behaviour. There was substance abuse, and it wasn’t the substances that were abused. There was people abuse – in fact abusing each other in picturesque and imaginative ways was a normal pastime. There was delinquency and there were criminal acts. Instincts of various nether levels were indulged endlessly and continuously. This book has chronicled many instances. It is my feeling that these memories are stronger than mundane ones of lectures attended or disciplines learned or even engineering degrees earned. In any case, these were more interesting to both listeners and narrators, and now, writers and readers.

There is something that I must make clear to the readers of this book. In spite of all the unsavoury behaviour, I must point out that these same rowdy and rude young men are now captains of industry, science and technology, some are prominent in the political and social arenas, and most are productive members of society. I say this as a reminder, because while reading about their early lives in their own words, a reader might, understandably too, forget this fact.

It is my feeling that in safe and tranquil IIT Bombay, these young men felt free to experiment physically and intellectually. The feeling of safety came from having made it into IIT – not an easy task. All they had to do now was make it through the next five years, and life after that could only be easy.  They were far from the rules and conditioning of their homes, thrown together with  some like and some utterly unlike themselves.  They had unbound and yet protected freedom that allowed them to find themselves. And they looked hard, and pushed themselves and their mates over and under and any which way they could beyond known boundaries.

I think such investigations, that might be thought of as foolhardy at best and immoral at worst, informed their morality. These men left IIT with a degree, and also with a self-made morality. Like the degree, that morality, though not conferred, resulted from a process. It involved hypothesis, argument, experiment, and conclusion. It is more personal, and more solid  than the societal rules and regulations that pass as moral code.

As a project this one was interesting to me in another way. Here was a large number of stories coming to me as they were remembered. One or two or three of the guys are good writers, and I had no trouble with their pieces, other than chopping down some unnecessarily verbose bits, or changing the sequence of the narration to make it more appealing to a reader, moving the twist to the end, emphasizing foreshadowing, deepening suspense. But some of these guys are not writers. They simply put down in words their memory and feeling about an incident with a few relevant and irrelevant details, and sent it off to me. These are the ones who taught me something about writing. In the beginning I would think, this story has meat, if only I write it in my own words. So I re-told the story, in my own “better” words. And every time I did that, I found that the whole feeling and content changed. I learned firsthand something I had struggled to understand for a long time – something I knew to be true in theory, but didn’t understand until this project: that style and content are inseparable. That by adjusting Raj Laad’s piece to make it sound more like me, I was in fact losing the voice of Raj Laad, of course, but also his perspective. And it was his perspective, in his words, which was the content of the piece – not the sequence of events . And I promised myself I would not convert all these pieces to fit an acceptable grammatical or linguistic correctness, and I would not make the stories into a homogenous list of rude and crude incidents in the lives of teenage boys from a certain hostel. I hope I achieved this.

(Excerpt: My introduction in the book.)

9/28/2010 ~ Review Kashmir Blues

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

http://simplyani.wordpress.com/2010/09/26/book-review-kashmir-blues/#comment-1810