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Raksha Bharadia, author of Me: A Handbook for Life, compiled and edited the 101 stories in the book. Here, in an e-mail interview with Resmi Jaimon, Raksha shares information about the desi version of Chicken Soup for the Soul and gives tips to budding writers.
Tell us a little about yourself, your family and educational background.
I was born and brought up in Kolkata. I was always academically inclined and participated in debates, elocution, public speaking and athletics all through my school and college life. I graduated from Loreto College, affiliated with Calcutta University with merits in both English and History.
Post-marriage to my childhood sweetheart, I have settled in Ahmedabad. I have two daughters and am proud of my family.
When did you start writing?
I've been an avid reader from as early as I can remember and took up journalism in a big way after my graduation. About ten years ago, after attending a workshop where we were asked to list our goals, I began writing my debut book -- Me: A Handbook for Life.
What kind of books do you like to read?
At present, I am reading War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I love reading classics, books dealing with philosophy, biographies and autobiographies. Of late, I have also gotten into reading compilations of correspondence -- letters from Tagore, Abraham Lincoln, Gustave Flaubert, George Sand, Madam de Sevigne and so on.
How did the deal with Westland take place?
Westland Ltd simply got in touch with me regarding Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul. I thought it to be in line with my interests -- self-help, inspirational stories -- and so agreed to work on it.
An exclusive extract from Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul
Can you tell us what Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul is all about?
We are following the format of the US-based Chicken Soup series and like all the other titles, the book contains 101 true-life stories based on themes like love, parenting, teaching and learning, death and dying, overcoming obstacles, living your dream etc. It stands at 302 pages and was released all over the country on May 10. It is priced at Rs 275 per copy.
Was it difficult to get people to share their experiences, considering Indians aren't generally keen on discussing their personal lives?
Yes, even I was under the impression that we Indians are not ones to talk about our personal issues with as much candour as perhaps Westerners would. But to my surprise, that was not the case. When it came to compiling the stories, we didn't need to convince them to share their experiences; rather, we needed to help them relive the events once more and write them down accurately, so as to capture the right essence of the tale.
On what basis were the stories selected?
We had the themes, which I have mentioned before, in mind, but apart from that I just encouraged people to share any events, episodes or learning experiences that may have created an impact upon their lives. Every life has a story and every story has a life. I just had to make sure that the two harmonised well.
How is Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul going to benefit the reader, considering it's a self-help book?
The stories in Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul carry the essence of an individual's learning experiences -- interaction with others, understanding and realisations. The book does not advise you how to live your life; instead, it talks about people who chose a certain path and what they gained from it. It does not preach that you should persevere; instead it tells you about those who persevered despite immense odds. Indians have always loved stories, you can trace that right back to the time when the Panchatantra was written. This book contains true stories of people who are living in the present. Also, we've had contributors provide their contact information in the book, so readers also have the option of getting in touch with them.
How different is the Indian version of Chicken Soup, compared to the American series?
Though certain emotions are universal -- like dealing with death or losing a loved one -- Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul does deal with certain issues that are particularly relevant to us. For instance, a few stories cover the way Indians deal with family and the stereotyped roles we are supposed to follow in our society. Also, the stories reflect what we see around us every day in this country -- poverty, disparity between the haves and have-nots and pressure to achieve from very early on in life.
Of all the stories which is your favourite and why?
Each story that is in there is close to my heart, but if I were to pick just one, I would pick my father's story -- A Miracle Called Commitment. In it, he writes about his wife, my mother, who suffered a haemorrhage and was paralysed 13 years ago. With help and support from the family, he nursed her back to health. She was bedridden twice more after that, once after undergoing brain surgery and again a few years later when diagnosed with bone tuberculosis. Even the doctors gave up on her and suggested that she did not have more than two or three years, since patients like her generally lapse into depression and lose the will to live. Today she is still with us and very much a part of our lives. That, to me, is the power of commitment.
What is the reaction of readers to the book?
As far as the feedback I have received goes, it has been warmly received and well-liked. The book has already gone into its second print run, and is on the bestseller lists.
Any upcoming titles in the Chicken Soup series?
I have already compiled Chicken Soup for the Indian Teenage Soul and will be working on a couple of other titles. There's also one for the Spiritual Soul in the pipeline.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Whatever you write about, be honest. Do not write just for the sake of writing. Also, do go over your work every few days. That way you will be able to assess it more dispassionately. But in the end, a good piece of writing to me is almost always about honesty. If you have been honest to the thought that you want to project, you are on the right path. The language and everything else will fall into place.
What's the best way to get published in the Chicken Soup series?
Tell your tale the way you have lived it. Put in the details -- the way you felt, the way you thought, the impact it made on you and why. Once you have your story in place, you can simply email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or then to email@example.com. You need not be a fabulous writer -- you just need to tell your story from the heart.
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