Monday, February 1, 2016

Writers are special! Here's why...

I am a writer. Began my amateur stint as a blogger, almost six years back. It wasn't exactly the kind of start I would have desired. I was bad. But...
I persisted. 
And today. I have authored two novels - both of them self-published - with contrasting styles. The ride exactly hasn't been hunky dory though. I am not a celebrity novelist yet. Nevertheless, the confidence of having completed two books telling fictional stories in my unique way stands me in good stead in the corporate world. 
I now know that I can express what I think, in a way even the aam aadmi would be able to understand. In essence, verbal and written communication comes naturally to me. Same is the case with other 'good' writers as well. Moreover, writing a novel means that I had to be persistent and patient. Especially, given the fact that many writers endure phases, when the creative juices just stop flowing. I endured these phases, often known in the publishing realms as 'Writer's Block', and emerged victorious with scripts that eventually took the form of two books titled 'Once Smitten, Twice Shy, Thrice Lucky' and 'Blink!'.
I now make an assertion - 'Writers are special'.
Why? Writers - can be bloggers and/or authors - are inherently persistent, patient and have immense self-belief in their abilities. They learn, make mistakes, don't fear failure and eventually perform to deliver. Aren't those the very qualities desired in an employee? The very qualities a recruiter looks for in prospective candidates competing for a job.
Not that I am boasting! But yes, I can't help but analogize the inherent qualities a writer possesses with an ideal employee an organisation would love to employ. That's precisely the reason why I believe Writers are special and make for potentially great resource(s) in an organisation. Especially in critical projects with a high degree of uncertainty involved. That's exactly the kind of scenarios a writer encounters while working on a script/story.
To summarize, if you love writing, high chances are that you will make it good in the corporate world. Well, it's not always about good supervisors, is it? You need good communicators who with their immense self-belief are tenacious and never give up in the face of adversities. In writers, you have one ready-made!

Monday, January 11, 2016

How to bell the CAT?

I belled the CAT! Probably, it's been my single biggest achievement so far. More so, as CAT 2008, the one which I cracked was the last 'paper & pencil' exam before it went digital.
How to crack CAT though? How did I do it?
I am not going to pen a Dale Carnegie style 'How to bell the CAT and achieve success' guide. Instead, I will harp on those things which I did to ensure I was in the right frame of mind on the D-Day. That helps as CAT is more of a mental game than an intellectual one. CAT as a competitive examination is tough, not because the questions are puzzling and sometimes 'unfathomable', but because many candidates are busy battling their inner demons (self-doubts) rather than focusing on honing their Verbal and Quantitative skills.
Funda number 1 - The wise 'choose and pick'
'Aakankshi Prabandhak' was my best friend. We never missed attending our CAT coaching classes together. There were times, when he used to call me up, late in the night, discussing a problem that would have him wrack his brains and lead to frustrating outbursts when unsolved.
I would often tell him, 'Leave that behind and move on to other questions. It's not always necessary that you attempt all questions in a given section. Instead, the 'strike rate' and the 'accuracy' is important.' In his typical derisive manner, he would sometimes shoo me away and question,'What if the same type of question appears in the final CAT? What're you gonna do? Leave it unsolved?'
Aakankshi Prabandhak clearly obsessed over difficult questions, thereby wasting precious time that could have been used to 'obtain the low hanging fruits.' Remember, there're always low hanging fruits in a given section. The question to ponder should be, 'Can I identify them and solve them quickly?'
Funda number 2 - The curios case of 'inner demons'
Aah! Percentile. It's a scary word. Ain't it?
Over the course of attempting my mock CATs, I spent a considerable time analysing where I went wrong. I profiled my SWOT, thereby identifying my weak areas and did everything I could to focus on them. The idea was to ignore the result i.e. Percentile and focus on the process, which was to commit less mistakes. That's a habit that needs time to inculcate and you have to be really patient and committed to the process of dissecting each attempted mock CAT.
Whereas, my friend Aakankshi Prabandhak, was obsessed with Percentile. He would be disheartened when his percentile dropped and soon began to question his abilities.
That's DANGEROUS! Parents do have expectations. But you hardly have a control over them. Then why fuss and burden yourself? Manage your own expectations and focus on the process. That should do the trick!
Funda number 3 - Passion & Commitment
Why MBA? If you can't answer that for yourself, then I would suggest that you introspect a bit, before you even think of attempting CAT.
And of course, CAT is not the end of it all. Give time to your health as well. Sleep enough to keep your brain in good humour. If you can't laugh at yourself, then it's time you take a step back. FOLKS! ARE YOU SO SERIOUS THAT YOU CAN'T LAUGH AT YOURSELF? BECAUSE, I HAVE NEVER SEEN SOMEONE SO SERIOUS, CRACK CAT. PERIOD. Live life the easy way. In the process of preparing for CAT, don't become so thick skinned that you forget how to smile at the little nothings.
And yes. If you fail, but still want to be an MBA and are PASSIONATE enough, give CAT a shot again. Why not? I know friends, who have cracked CAT after multiple attempts. Now that's COMMITMENT for me.
I sign off here. Do feel free to revert in case you have queries for me.
Never say never!
Rock on!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Dudhsagar Falls - An experience of a lifetime!

Hi Folks,

It’s been nearly two months, since I and my adorable wife took the 14 kilometer rail trek to Dudhsagar Falls. I have been meaning to write a travelogue describing our experiences in this trek. As they say, ‘Better late than never’. And so, here it goes.

My wife had undertaken this arduous trek last year as well. It was through her that I got to know about a bootstrapped start-up called Crazy Yatra. Led by the eponymous ‘Crazy Ajay’, this group of motley individuals who share a common passion for travel and fun, arrange for the logistics and make sure you have a ‘crazy’ time on the treks and tours they organize. True to their motto, this trek had indeed turned out to be one hell of a crazy roller coaster ride, albeit for not exactly the right reasons.

About the trek:

The rail trek begins from Castle Rock railway station. A small but important junction on the South Western Railway line at the Karnataka – Goa border. Castle Rock has got an imperialistic air to it; something that’s instantly perceptible once you walk on its platforms and notice the generous doses of British Architectural influences on the Station building. A few blocks further to the west beside the tracks, lies a moss covered wall, part of an ancient ruin that witnesses trains slowly chugging their way towards Dudhsagar. 14 kilometers of trek on the tracks, passing through a series of pitch dark tunnels and evading dollops of dung and ‘shit’ later, you’re treated to a visual wonder. The route itself is also quite scenic, with small streams, and breathtaking gorges between the blue Western Ghats.

Dudhsagar roars! Quite literally. The auditory effect can best be described as ‘boisterously loud’. So much so that for a moment, you can’t hear yourself think! There’s so much turbulence and churning of water that the streams appear milky white from a distance. And hence, the name given to this massive waterfall.

So why was this trek so crazy?

What do you do when you hear a passing statement from a fellow trekker that Dudhsagar has been closed and trekkers are not being permitted an entry? I chose to ignore it, right at the start of the trek. But as we went straight up ahead, we crossed paths with fellow trekkers - wearing distraught faces – informing us that entry to the falls has been banned. Murmurs grew amidst fellow trekkers in the group and the naysayers were already discussing the possible ways to return back to base.

At Caranzol station, which lies midway on the trekking route, we did have our lunch. Ajay, the organizer who was leading us though continued to remain uncertain. There were quite a few times, when I played a devil’s advocate, incessantly bothering him with uncomfortable questions. Are we coming back? But, they say that the entry is not there, na!? I just confirmed with the workers at the station and they say there’s no entry to Dudhsagar now. And there was Karthik, a fellow volunteer for Crazy Yatra. An ever-smiling genial guy. He tried to lift up our sagging spirits. From Caranzol onwards, it was difficult to go on with the trek what with our prospects of witnessing the falls becoming grimmer by the moment. That’s when Ajay came up with a masterstroke.

We were up a kilometer further from Caranzol towards Dudhsagar. That’s when he asked us to take a break and he himself walked all the way to Dudhsagar to assess the situation. Trust him to return with an alternate plan and he did. Half an hour later, I saw him walking towards us with a poker faced expression that’s so typical of him. He waved to us to resume the trek and despite a pestering me, he didn’t quite reveal the plan till we reached Dudhsagar railway station.

Why was the entry banned after all?

Check this link for details

The Moment of truth:

So guys. Officially, there’s no entry to Dudhsagar now. However, there’s a goods train that’s going to stop here in a short while. The moment it stops, we all sprint our way to the Guards Cabin and board there. That’s our only chance! Okay!?’ 

I was worried for my wife, for sprinting on the rocks wasn’t exactly a child’s play. Ajay’s heart was racing. A moment gone wrong in this melee and that would be a big blow for his start-up. Yet, he was icy calm on the outside. Eerily calm, I thought.

The goods train chugged along and stopped. And then, as if in a flash, the entire group of 30 odd trekkers swiftly boarded the Guard’s Cabin. All of us, jam packed and squeezed in as if we were a sheep herd being transported for a mass slaughter. The goods train jerked violently during transit, scaring the hell out of us. And yet, when we passed through Dudhsagar, the deafening roar we heard and the gigantic fall of milky-white water that we witnessed blew our fatigue away. All this super-tiring effort wasn’t for nothing! It was sheer awesomeness…

Nevertheless, there are other means to reach Dudhsagar that are highly recommended. You wouldn’t want to miss one of the tallest waterfalls in the country. And if you do visit the falls, please, please, please don’t carry plastics and dump there!

A word about Crazy Yatra

Ajay & Co – the team at Crazy Yatra, showed admirable courage and persistence in handling the group in such uncertain and treacherous conditions during the trek. Kudos. And I am pretty sure, they must have already learnt from their mistakes (information asymmetry in this case - of no prior knowledge of a blanket ban on Dudhsagar rail trek). However, there remains scope for improvement for Team Crazy Yatra. What would that be? The way they organize ‘fun filled’ activities during transit in the tour bus. Can be much better! Would I recommend Crazy Yatra? Yes. Ajay & Co will make sure you have a crazy memorable time!

signing off,

Friday, June 13, 2014

A bit more about OSTSTL (Once smitten, twice shy, thrice lucky)...

Now that my debut novel titled ‘Once smitten, twice shy, thrice lucky’ is out for sale, people have started asking me a lot of questions. But there is one question which has stuck to me and the answer to which, I haven’t been able to give so far. But, now I think the time is just right.

What made me write this story?

To begin with, I started off with this script in the second half of 2011. Back then, I was angry, frustrated at my inability to do things that made me happy. In other words, I was undergoing an identity crisis – ironically it is something, I shouldn’t have after passing out as an MBA graduate from IIMA. My life had changed completely and I was financially independent. But I continued to feel a void inside me, which I couldn’t attribute to anything specific and that made matters worse. And if you are wondering how something like this could happen to someone, then either you are plain lucky or not have gone through the inflection point called ‘Quarter-life crisis’.

So, at that stage, one fine day, I just started writing. And this process continued uninterrupted for about three straight months. I transformed in those three months for the process itself had a therapeutic effect on me. I had a story, I long wanted to write. Though, the outline of the story was based partly on real experiences, I had to fictionalise it. That was one challenge, I loved.

If you ask me if there was anything specific or tangible that acted as a trigger before I decided to be an author; yes, there is. Writing allows me to visualise and shape characters I have always loved. Writing allows me to set stories that I have always wanted to be a part of. So, when I write, I invest a small emotional part of me in it, something that hopefully makes me different from the rest.

In this case, the story of Varun was something that I wanted others to be a part of. It’s not every day that an MBA from IIMA decides to shift gears and go for a supposedly offbeat career that actually makes him/her happy. Varun is that guy, who eventually becomes a photo-journalist. But what makes him do so? That is essentially the crux of Once smitten, twice shy, thrice lucky.

If you think OSTSTL is just another love story, then think again!

There are multiple layers to the story. Characters like M.C Aaliya, Sasha make a fleeting but a special appearance; either triggering an onset of an emotional roller-coaster tsunami or making Varun realise the importance of being alive and loved.

Quite a few scenes in the story revolve around socially pertinent issues like Corruption, Black money, AIDS etc. Look out for the part where Varun decides to take on a Machiavellian landlord and nail him down for his innumerable sins. Don’t expect Varun to be a super-hero when he does that though!

A brief sneak peek into the characters of OSTSTL...

I have tried to sketch characters, who are ordinary, like you and like me. So, I hope many of you are able to connect or relate to how the characters behave and act in response to a given situation.

Meera – Varun’s sister. She’s Varun’s sounding board. Intelligent and way more mature than her age. Is a banker. When she says, ‘I know you are one hopeless romantic,’ she reads her brother like no one else.

Rekha – A fashion designer, she’s Varun’s best friend, who doesn’t shy away from chiding Varun when he has acted stupidly or done something not expected of him (which Varun does quite a few times!)

Satish – Rekha’s husband. He’s Varun’s partner-in-crime in college and his other best friend. Satish is probably the only one who gets Varun when no one does.

Vishu – She falls madly in love with Varun and so does he. But she doesn’t acknowledge the same for reasons Varun refuses to comprehend. She’s the ‘Once smitten’ part of Varun’s life, who returns back into his life as a good friend.

Nancy – Varun and Nancy share a special bond. A special bond that Varun shies away from labelling it as love. Nancy though after a bitter turn of unintended events, decides to walk away from Varun’s life. Destiny brings them together though, yet again.

Lahari – A neuro-surgeon who brings back Varun from the brink of certain death. Her presence changes Varun’s life for the better. But she has a rather violent past that Varun has to embrace.

Zamindar – He’s the villain!

Kishore Naidu – Vishu’s father. A caste obsessed politician and someone who Vishu abhors. He’s the other villain!

Shivaiah – Lahari’s guardian, he’s the one who brings Lahari up as his own daughter and helps Varun plot the downfall of Zamindar.

Artists crave appreciation for they toil hard to bring alive their figments of imagination. In a sense, I too am an artist. An applause or a pat on the back is something I am never tired of. So, if you find that Once smitten, twice shy, thrice lucky has in some way or the other made you sit back and contemplate on your life, inspired you to fight for what is right or made you realise that true love is all about trust, then don’t forget to share your thoughts and give your rating for this book on Goodreads.

I would also appreciate a constructive feedback on how I could improve in my quest to becoming a better storyteller.

For more details, please visit the official facebook page.

Sandeep Kothapalli

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The making of OSTSTL...

Love? I think ‘Love’ is the most misconstrued and abused word of all time. Most people don’t quite understand what love is all about. I don’t have any qualms in admitting that I too have failed to decode the mystery that’s love. And yet, I have managed to write a contemporary romantic novel titled ‘Once smitten, twice shy, thrice lucky’. I proudly unveil the cover design.

Many thanks to my current roomies Srinivas Drona and Siddharth Varshney for ideating and coming up with the cover concept that’s before you. It’s pretty simple – depicting the three emotions, the protagonist experiences. Heartbreak. Then, the rebound when the protagonist is unsure what to make of his friendship with a girl he likes. And then finally meeting his soul-mate.

Published by Notion Press, OSTSTL will be soon available in Flipkart, Amazon, Bookadda and other such leading portals. An e-book version will also be released along with the paperback.

My tryst with this book began about three years back. I started giving shape to the protagonists after Diwali 2011. By then, I had written many short stories that I kept to myself. Most of them were wildly imaginative and some were outlandish. But with OSTSTL, I literally let my imagination run amok. There were days when I would skip office and come back home early, for I knew what the protagonists were about to do next. I feared that if I don’t pen down my thoughts soon enough, I would lose them. And that wouldn’t be fair to the protagonists and the story in general. OSTSTL has been my baby. And I have nurtured it for so long that I sometimes find it hard to let go.

I have never been a morning person, so to speak. So my nocturnal habits that I inculcated at IIMA, came in handy. I would spend the evenings visualising how the protagonists would think and hence act, taking the storyline forward. After dinner, my fingers would start rolling on the keyboard. In between, I would listen to music that would more often than not suit the mood the story would be set in. I have come to realise that I can’t be a good writer if I let my personal life tamper with the engine (my brain) pumping the creative juices. So, in that sense, writing was therapeutic.

Meanwhile, I had to endure a debilitating mental condition, known to afflict even the best of writers called ‘Writer’s Block’. A well lubricated knee allows you to walk normally. An inflammation of the knee joint is debilitating. A writer’s block is the inflammation of your creative thought process. It’s debilitating for it jams that part of the brain that churns out ideas. And yet, writer’s block is an intrinsic process, a result of your own undoing. Why? I think part of it has got to do with the process of writing itself. Writing is a confusing profession to be in. While developing the story, most writers often keep to themselves and seldom share what they write for fear of getting influenced. I was no different. As a result, when I reach the so called ‘saturation point’, I am no longer able to think rationally. I am not happy with what I try to write. Ask my ‘backspace’ button on the keyboard and it will tell you the extent to which I sometimes subjected it to insurmountable levels of cruelty. I will not mince my words. I was depressed as hell, when I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t able to write. Of course back then, I wasn’t aware that I was experiencing writer’s block.  And that further made matters worse. Luckily, I knew that I needed to take a break, which I did. But a writer has to stay afresh and inspired for you never know when you experience a brainwave. And you got to be ready for that moment to arrive, like a flash, like a thunderbolt that jolts you into writing again. I guess I was ready. So, this is how I ended up completing what I thought was OSTSTL.

But then by the end of January 2013, I felt that my draft needed a little refining. The vocabulary was far from impressive. The narrative lacked the depth, finesse and dimension. And the grammar was horrible. That’s when destiny brought me and my editor Divya Lavanya together for a collaboration that was to last for the next 9 months or so. I can’t thank her enough. Of course, this collaboration wouldn’t have been fruitful without the unflinching support of her husband Sarat. And how can I forget Divya and Sarat’s cute little daughter Baby Satvika. I hope that she picks up my book when she starts reading fiction! Divya, Sarat and I share the same alma mater – JNTU Hyderabad. So, it didn’t take us much time to connect in a big way.

Anyway, so what my editor brought to the table did wonders to the book. The draft underwent further revisions. Dots that didn’t connect were done away with. Some tracks were removed. Ruthless editing was done. In the process, Divya pushed me to the limits. She was critical which a good editor should always be. And yet, she sometimes sang paeans, telling me how dramatically I had improved under her tutelage. Looking back, I think Divya was the best person to edit my book. Why? She understands what it is to love and be loved. I am pretty sure that we have many more such projects to work on together. The final draft was ready by January 2014. Now, it’s time for some more acknowledgments.

Writing is a lonely process. And yet requires that your support system be strong. My unassuming little sister has always been a source of inspiration and rock solid support for me. Thanks Sindu. You rock! Many thanks Dipika, Srinivas, Divya for the constant stream of morale boosters that helped me clear all shreds of a lack of confidence in my abilities.

Manoj Motiani, Abhilash Gudla, Aditya Shekhar, Abhinav Pathi, Avinash Singh, Soumya Poddar, Vikas Nigam, Prasad Dhake, Rachit Kumar, Charu Lata Sharma, Arulin Jajorea and Anirban Samajpati – Special mention to all of you for sharing your life experiences and insights on love, money and women. Thanks a ton for making my living life at IIMA a memorable experience. Did I mention that a small part of the story in OSTSTL is set in IIMA? Don’t worry. I have tried my best to paint a very realistic imagery of IIMA!

Surya Chandrika Bondada – Now you know why I constantly kept on bombarding you with queries. Thanks a lot. Your medical insights have contributed immensely in shaping an important protagonist of this book. I am sure you will rock as a great surgeon some day.

Kiran & Divya Gone – To be an integral part of your tryst with unbridled love has been both an honour and something I take great pride in. I have taken the liberty to sketch characters based on you both and I hope you connect to them. Many thanks to you both. Keep rocking!

Lakshmi Yadavalli and Sonali Korada – I have immensely enjoyed listening to your version of how men fail to understand women. Or rather should I say your version of a dummies guide to understanding women? Can’t thank you both enough though. For making me a better person and labelling me with the proverbial ‘nice guy’ tag. It sure does feel good, listening to you both.

Special mention to PVR, Sandeep Yerra, Abhinav Agarwal, Shekhar Raj for bearing a silent ‘me’. All of you have been very supportive of my creative endeavour. We shall raise a toast some day!

And of course mom and dad. I have inherited many traits. But the one thing I will cherish the most is the power to remain silent for long periods of time. This has sure helped me. Silence is golden? Naah. I say, Silence is Platinum! And of course, all of life is a chance...

signing off,
Sandeep Kothapalli