01/26/2011 ~ New Madhouse Review – 2

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

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

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.

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

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Madhouse musings

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

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

11/29/2010 ~ Madhouse reviews and press

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Midday review “The baap of 3 idiots”

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:

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.)

9/30/2010 ~ Writing this…

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Working on another brutal deadline, and I upped the stakes for myself by taking on the editing for “Madhouse: True Stories of the Inmates of Hostel 4”. This was a wonderful project, and I am very glad I did it. But boy has that got me in the weeds… Still, I will be on target, and deliver my next book by the end of the year.

Some thoughts on writing it:

Why is it hard to write erotica? For sure, it’s hard. A friend asked me, joking, if I am “scared by my own ghost story.” The answer is, it takes so much concentration, such focus on the physical-mental-emotional state of the characters in each story that I forget myself. So no, I am not scared by my own ghost story. Or, to be clear, I am not turned on by my own erotic story. For me, writing sex and sexuality is very much a mind exercise, more than any other kind of writing I have done thus far.

It is very hard to stay where I want to. I don’t want the focus of any of my stories to be on sex or sexuality in an overt way – it has to be part of the story, of the people in the story. And sometimes the characters don’t play along. They do what they want, and sometimes they don’t want to be sexual. Maybe I should not have committed to write to such a narrow spec. But I have, and it’s interesting, to say the least.

This is the first post about writing, I may do more. It is interesting to pay attention to the process this time, something I haven’t done before…

The first thing I did was name the kind of writing I intend for this book. So after I finished my first story, I did just that: I named the book. It helps me to keep this in mind, it keeps me where I want to be.

It will be called

Slither: Carnal Prose by Urmilla Deshpande

Yes, Carnal Prose. My own genre. I am delighted by my own brilliance. I hope it doesn’t end with the title.

9/20/2010 ~ Curious Book Fans interview

Monday, September 20th, 2010

CBF: How did you suddenly decide on Kashmir as the main setting for this novel? Was it because of the current political crisis?

UD: I didn’t suddenly decide on “Kashmir” as the setting. This book was written in 2003-2004, not recently. I was interested in individuals who decide to stand against a power much greater than themselves, such as a government. I didn’t know much about it. The other thing I would like to say is that no matter how closely fiction is based on, or resembles reality or the real world, it is fiction. The Kashmir in my book is no more real, I think, than is the Alexandria in Durrell’s quartet or the London that Sherlock Holmes lives in.

CBF: The theme of wealth for protection is unusual. How did you happen to decide on that?

UD: Wealth, power, and distribution of resources is how the world works. Most rebellion takes place where there is an unequal or inequitable of resources. Anywhere in the world, the group with the most wealth has the most protection. I don’t know if it is an unusual theme for a novel – I don’t think it is – but it is certainly not an unusual theme in the scheme of things!

CBF: As most writers are asked, are any of the characters in Kashmir Blues based on people you know?

UD: Every character is based on people I know, or have read about, or have encountered in life, movies, even heard about. Most are composites of all these, and myself       too. Leon is the one I identify with most. Naia, slightly aloof, impenetrable, a catalyst more than a doer, came out just right for me. Many readers complained that she was a “cold, unlikable protagonist” – but that’s how she is, cold and unlikable. And I don’t think the book has a single protagonist. But she represents many people I have known, and found hard to reach, or just plain disliked.

CBF: What inspires you most when you start to write? Is it a person, a newsflash? What?

UD: Hard to answer this question. I think all through life we watch and absorb and think and react – and all of that comes into a book as it gets written. Usually I start a book because of a feeling I have. I’ve written just two, and the starting points for both were quite different. The first – Kashmir Blues – I just wanted to tell a story. The second, A Pack of Lies, had a lot of my own experiences as a starting point. The nextbook I’m working on is almost a challenge from my editor – she wanted me to edit an anthology of erotic short stories – and I said, after hearing what editing meant, “seems easier to write it myself” – and she said I should! I have just finished editing a book of anecdotes from the students of IIT Bombay about their life there in the ’80s – and am starting on the short stories. It’s not easy… but I am enjoying the work. And, I have to deliver the manuscript by the 30th of November.

CBF: Who are your favourite authors?

UD: The list is long, I’ll make it short – Jane Austen, Kurt Vonnegut, Borges, Marquez, Jane Austen, Steinbeck, Asimov, Lawrence Durrell, and – did I mention – Jane Austen!

8/21/2010 Deccan Herald Interview/Review

Saturday, August 21st, 2010
Lead review
Cinematic imagery
Monideepa Sahu
Urmilla Deshpande’s ‘Kashmir Blues’ is a story written with deep compassion and even the darkest characters are humane, says Monideepa Sahu
Kashmir Blues takes in its expansive narrative sweep the characters’ lives from southern California to the seedy streets of Mumbai, to the charmed circles of India’s rich and powerful, and to Kashmir, strife-torn vale of guns and flowers. Insurgency, socio-political unrest, smuggling, drugs, espionage and conflict cast their shadows. Yet this is a story told with deep compassion. Even the most potentially evil characters can startle by revealing positive human and humane facets. As the author says, “I don’t think either sapphires in my book or diamonds in West Africa are the basis of strife. Nor is religious fundamentalism. It is the inequitable distribution of resources, structural poverty, that sends people into conflict and civil war. Institutionalised injustice.”

Author Urmilla Deshpande began writing relatively later in life, though she always wrote and told stories. “Living in America without a work permit, between doing laundry, cooking, dishes, driving kids around, my mind wandered into strange territories. Writing may have been an escape from the intense grief of my mother’s death, and slow acceptance of her non-existence. Kashmir Blues is an escape, totally unrelated to my own life. It distracted me, yet gave me purpose.”

While there is no direct connection between the author’s life and the book, she chose to write about Kashmir and the divide caused by growing religious fundamentalism. “Maybe it wasn’t flashes of inspiration, “she explains,” but observation, experience, memory, everything I see and read and hear that is fodder for stories. I have to suppress fear of disapproval and consideration for peoples’ feelings and just write. I have been a photographer, but not like Leon, and I have smoked ganja on occasion but didn’t have a drug dependency, I was not adopted or stolen nor did I lose my parents, or child. And, I have never been to Kashmir. It’s a made-up story. Maybe living in post 9/11 America, or editing a book on civil wars had something to do with it, but these are all fragments of what’s around. I guess I just steal from everything.”

The unique Kashmir blue sapphires, the legendary tears of Shiva; the beautiful Kashmiri carpet symbolic of the land and its unravelling with growing strife; the ubiquitous brown dog which seems to follow Leon everywhere; the importance of taking, or breaking free from the spell of drugs; myriad enduring images bind Kashmir Blues. Urmilla Deshpande’s writing displays a cinematic quality. “While writing I feel as if I follow the action,” she says, “in the minds of characters and what happens around them. Like watching a movie and taking notes. I’m not saying it is mystical and ‘comes to me’. More, it’s free association of memories and experiences coalescing into a narrative. I find it hard to go back and say why something happened a particular way. I had to make the changes and address flaws my lovely editor pointed out, but I go back reluctantly. Because then I start reading it as a reader, and inconsistencies and doubts pop up.”

The ‘tears of Shiva’ is made up from stories Urmilla’s mother-in-law told of sapphires bringing bad luck. While the author herself isn’t into religion, superstition, or jewels in real life, she found these ideas interesting.

“As for the brown dog, he’s always around, isn’t he?” Urmilla quips with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.

Naia and her deep bond with Leon, the photographer with the urge to self-destruct; Samaad the well-educated and far-sighted carpet dealer and warlord in the making; Frank the addicted German wanderer; Viren the diplomat; Saroj who mourns the public loss of her daughter and the private loss of sexual fulfilment; the main players in the story are clearly and credibly portrayed. However, there is an odd note in the rather filmi melodramatic way in which Naia is adopted.

“This incident was one of the major changes I made in the editing process” Urmilla says.“I would have loved to leave it vague with not much explanation. But that might have led to different questions about inconsistency! It’s hard to write for everyone, and I don’t do that. I have to be clear myself. I love that you find it filmi—maybe someone will make this into a filmi film—starring Jeremy Piven as Leon (It has to be Jeremy Piven). Writing is a delight and a pleasure in itself. But it’s short lived. After that, my fulfilment comes from readers’ interpretations. People bring themselves to the books they read—and I am always surprised by what they come up with.”

As for the ideas and inspirations behind the characters, Urmilla shares how her mother once said that characters write themselves. “I thought her a bit mad, but find (as we do about our parents) that she was right. Once characters come to life, it’s hard to make them act in inconsistent ways without putting them in situations where they would break character, or reveal some unseen part of themselves.” Once Urmilla began to write Anne, her depression, her infertility, her fascination with babies and her distress over the street children in Bombay all led up to that moment when she did what she did. One of her favourite people  in the book is Saroj.

“I felt her, heard her voice more than any other. Odd, because I have almost nothing in common with her. I am unable to explain where these people come from or why they do what they do. It is a fast process for me, the actual writing of a novel, but I think life and experience should be counted as part of the process. In which case I would have to say, I’ve been preparing every day of my life to be a writer, and when I was ready, I wrote!”
Urmilla plans to go back to two unfinished novels as soon as she is done with erotic short stories that she took on almost as a challenge from Prita Maitra, her editor. Though she has never written erotic before—not intentionally as a genre anyway – she’s found it “fun so far.” She has also completed editing a book about IIT Bombay’s Hostel four.