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

Friday, February 21, 2014

Bragging is good!

Hi folks,

There are only three sports I play fairly well – Badminton, Football and Cricket. My tryst with Football though ended in an absolutely humiliating defeat, topped with the fact that I got my knees heavily bruised. In school, I was a lanky guy – timid and looked down upon with utter disdain by the usual bullies. They never messed with me in the classroom. But out on the field, I was virtually non-existent. How was an unfit guy like me supposed to compete with the champion players on the field? I mean wasn't it already bad enough that they were being humiliated day in day out, being compared to me when it came to how good I was in academics? There was no way they were allowing me to steal their thunder in something they were so good at. 

Looking back, I realise that the only time I felt inferior and utterly worthless was while playing football. The last time I played football was in the eleventh standard. I was the goalkeeper and our team was leading in the first half. But like always, my team choked when it mattered. Well, I choked! Why a team I am in, always chokes? It felt terrible. I was dejected and that wasn't the first time, you see. No wonder, I am all at sea when my peers have a passionate discussion on EPL and Champion’s League.

Badminton was an indoor sport I played, more for killing time than anything else. And to be frank, playing Badminton allowed me to vent out my feelings whenever I was frustrated or angry. I was really good at smashing the badminton cock, sometimes literally to smithereens. Quite something for a stick-thin guy! Even then, I was a good doubles player. But that was just about it.

So, needless to say, I was a really good cricketer. So much so that had my father been rich enough to send me to a cricket coaching institute, who knows! I can say this with a fair degree of pride that I am a self-made cricketer. *Laughing at myself* I never managed to play beyond the school level. But it was simply because Cricket wasn't my priority. And look where that has landed me to! Pun obviously intended...

Anyway, I have fond memories when it comes to Cricket. I was a very good deep fielder. I have held stunning one handed catches – each one of which I vividly remember till date. I have effected run outs for my team in crucial match winning moments. And sometimes in one of those days gone horribly wrong, I have also spilled the simplest of catches. My lean personality didn't allow me to go for lofty shots. So, as a batsman, the ‘Dravid’ school of batting technique suited me the most. I would be dismissed mostly while attempting a lofty shot or try an adventurous cheeky run. Otherwise, I was so good at sticking around and converting the ones into twos that the opposition would instead try to dismiss the other batsman. My tall frame allowed me to play even the short balls better. But if you look at my wagon-wheel in batting, I was a dominant leg-side batsman. The only shots I played really well on the off-side were the late cuts. Enough of boasting, Sandy! I never bragged like this before and you might be wondering why.

Because, two weeks ago, while playing for league matches organised by the HR guys, I opened the innings for my team in a 15-15 over match. At the team meeting held a day before, I volunteered to open the innings. Call it the effect of monotony at the workplace, but I actually wanted to be under pressure and feel the surge of adrenalin through my body once again. Weird, I guess. But sometimes, monotony takes a toll on you. And that’s when people like me take impulsive decisions – most of which are associated with a high risk high returns payoff. The last time I felt butterflies in my stomach was on the day of graduation at IIMA. So, when I had pre-match jitters, going through the motions rather anxiously and pacing to and fro in the room, my roomies were amused; wondering why I was taking the match so seriously. ‘Dude, it’s a bloody HR team-building endeavour. Just play for fun and enjoy,’ is all they said. 

But I wanted to do well. I really wanted to be a match-winner, again. I wasn't feeling like a winner for quite some time. Do you know how it feels to be on top of the world? ‘Utopian-exhilaration’ is the word! I have been a winner for most part of my life. IIMA was a humbling experience though. So for me, this league match was a golden opportunity to redeem the winner in me. Now you know why my tone in this post is boasting in nature. For a change, that feels good. It feels great to tell you that I did a pretty good job as an opening batsman, especially when wickets around me were tumbling. Literally!

We won the toss and decided to bat first. The team felt that anything above 100 was a pretty good score to defend. And I was to play the anchor, at least till the first six overs. Alas, the team lost three wickets in the first three overs itself. The opposition was bowling well, keeping it tight. Even my personal score was in single digits. There was no way to let loose and attempt stupid shots. It was time to build a partnership. Thankfully, the new batsman started playing his shots right away and that allowed me to rotate the strike. His strokes released the pent up pressure and lifted our spirits. I was happy taking the ones and twos, with occasional boundaries and giving most of the strike to him. Our partnership ended in the twelfth over, when I holed out to the fielder in the deep. With a personal score of 30 and a strike rate of 85, I was applauded for my performance. It felt great, when my teammates patted my shoulders in appreciation.

But then again, my team choked pretty badly. As a part-time pacer, I did my bit, trying to resurrect my team’s fortunes when I got a batsman out caught in the gully. But three catches off my bowling in the next five balls were spilled or not attempted at all. I was dejected, not because my team lost but the way we didn't try to win.

Nevertheless, I was still happy with myself. It felt great to feel the surge of adrenalin in a strange way. Exhilarating, when you have realized that there is no need to run, for the shot you have hit is going away for a boundary. It took a good performance in Cricket to remind me how good I was in school, winning mostly and being a pretty sore loser. I realised that for a winner, being humble is the greatest virtue anyone can ever possess. But who doesn't like a little spice sometimes? It’s alright to deliberately put yourself under pressure and come out triumphant. You’re humble and that’s fine. But sometimes, it’s okay to be bragging about your successes under pressure, however insignificant and silly it might seem or look. It’s critical that we sometimes indulge in something that invokes the warrior spirit in us. It’s a win-win bet. You win, you brag and feel good. You lose and it is a humbling experience. You learn from your mistakes and try to emerge victorious the next time.

Hail the philosopher in me! Although, I must admit that most people who know me well avoid invoking my philosophical alter ego. Probably the reason why I am a better listener!

signing off,