Friday, September 23, 2011

Meet ad executive Swapan Seth, the man who buys a book every day

Swapan Seth is a man after my own heart.

The chief executive of Equus, the ad agency, and author of This Is All I Have to Say writes in the latest issue of Businessworld that he buys a book every day. "I buy most of my books online," Seth writes. "From Amazon, and now Flipkart."

What does he read?

Everything. ... I also speed read. That allows me to wrap up books pretty fast. And I read three of them simultaneously. Currently, I am reading about smiles, shoes and one book on the state of America. I also read on the strangest of topics — pineapples, salt, wine and wisdom. Even pronouns. And genes.

The strange thing is that Seth came to books late:

For most part of my life, I was just not a book person. The only thing I would read about was the Royal Family of England. So I would go to the British Council and read whatever there was to know about them. To that end, I know more about Queen Elizabeth than, perhaps, Prince Charles does.

It was only at age 33, Seth writes, when he visited a friend at home, a friend whose house was just filled with books, that he lost his heart to books:

I was mesmerised. [Books] served as tables. They worked as stools. The smell of paper was captivating. I lost my heart to books courtesy [Kaustav Neogi] and his infinitely inspiring home. All that I have rigorously read has been read over this past decade.

Seth has his quirks. For instance, he says he does not read fiction. He also "stays away from Indian authors as far as possible", only reading M.J. Akbar and Tarun Tejpal because "they both make me feel like a worm. And I like that". And Seth never reads in bed (one of my favourite places to read).

But for all that Swapan Seth is a man to admire and a role model for many youngsters who have not yet learned to appreciate the uncountable benefits of reading. The message to be taken to heart here, perhaps, from a man after my own heart is that it is never too late to develop an interest in reading.

Read Swapan Seth's article in its entirety here: "Not by the book".
  • Photo courtesy: Businessworld
  • UPDATE (May 14, 2013): Yesterday Flipkart delivered a copy of Swapan Seth's book, This Is All I Have to Say. It will be placed in the Commits library ASAP.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What does a production designer do?

If he's Wasiq Khan, he pulls off the improbable, writes Sunaina Kumar in the latest Tehelka.

And how does he do that?

In Dabbang, it was Wasiq Khan who was responsible for "the sepia tints, the rustic colours and the stylised yet authentic sets of the film". In Anurag Kashyap’s That Girl in Yellow Boots, for which he had only two days to prepare, Khan set up "a cramped apartment with peeling walls, a crummy massage parlour, and a BEST bus".

He got his start in production design with Kashyap’s short film Last Train to Mahakali and though he has had some stupendous successes in commercial Hindi cinema, his speciality, he says, is in conjuring up the grime and sweat of reality.

“It is certainly the work I find most challenging and rewarding. It is also the toughest to shoot,” he says. He gives examples from Aamir and Black Friday. In Aamir "there was a scene where Rajeev Khandelwal had to enter a filthy slum toilet. He puked on the sets and I had to reassure him that this is only a set and nothing is real. In Black Friday, for the bomb blast sequence, instead of junior artists, I got disfigured beggars from Haji Ali, and got them fitted with artificial limbs for the before-and-after scenes.”

Curiously, Wasiq Khan says he never uses design software for his work, so he sketches every frame by hand. For Dabbang, he says, he created more than a hundred sketches.
  • Photo: Courtesy Tehelka

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Tell me, please: What role has reading played in your life?

Dr. Mardy Grothe is a phenomenon. A psychologist by training, he is an author and, as his website puts it, an engaging and entertaining speaker who gives scores of seminars every year to CEO groups that are part of an international network known as The Executive Committee (TEC).

I connected with him last April after reading his book Viva La Repartee, subtitled "Clever comebacks and witty retorts from history's great wits and wordsmiths". We had an engaging, entertaining, and enlightening e-mail conversation, which later formed the basis of a Reading Room post: "It all depends on the telling, sure. But surely who does the telling matters?"

Soon afterwards, Dr. Grothe added my name to his mailing list now every Saturday I receive an e-mail from the good doctor with the subject line "Dr. Mardy's Quotes of the Week".

When I checked my e-mail this morning, this was waiting for me in my in-box:


When I was a young boy growing up in North Dakota [USA], I took to reading very early, and my mother, an eighth-grade graduate and an avid reader, did everything she could to encourage me. When the library bookmobile made its weekly visit to our small town, mom always came home with an armful of books. I would quickly make my way through the ones she chose for me, and then move on to the ones she selected for herself. I'll always be grateful for her role in establishing what has become one of my greatest joys.

The quotations below are a testament to the importance of reading, especially when it is developed at an early age. No matter what your age, though, reading is one of the keys to a meaningful life. Over the years, I have collected well over a hundred quotations on the value or importance of reading. This week, I feature a dozen of my favourite observations on the subject:

      "Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life."
             Mortimer J. Adler

  "The reading of all good books is like conversation
   with the finest men of the past centuries."
         Rene Descartes

      "Who would call a day spent reading a good day?
       But a life spent reading that is a good life."
             Annie Dillard

  "There is creative reading as well as creative writing."
         Ralph Waldo Emerson

      "My early and invincible love of reading
       I would not exchange for all the riches of India."
             Edward Gibbon

  "To read a writer is for me not merely to get an idea of what he says, but to go off with him, and travel in his company."
         Andre Gide

      "To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all of the miseries of life."
             W. Somerset Maugham

  "No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting."
         Mary Wortley Montagu

      "I've never known any trouble that an hour's reading didn't assuage."
             Charles de Montesquieu

  "Reading is equivalent to thinking with someone else's head
   instead of with one's own."
         Arthur Schopenhauer

      "Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body."
             Richard Steele

  "How many a man has dated a new era in his life
   from the reading of a book!"
         Henry David Thoreau

Thank you, Dr. Mardy, for renewing my faith in the belief that you are what you read.

Also read:
  • (March 6, 2011) Commitscion Padmini Nandy Mazumder, Class of 2011, shared this link on her Facebook wall: "Date a girl who reads". It is a beautifully articulated argument in favour of reading. So read it. Please.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Mistakes that annoy readers

Among other things:

I think my favourite correction from the past 12 months apologised for the paper praising a whisky as "a genuine classic which never fails to disappoint" — so wrong it looks right.

This excerpt from a column written by the Readers' Editor of the London Observer is just a sampler of what astute readers of the newspaper have pointed out in the past year. To find out what really annoys readers, go to "Observer readers feel passionately that we should always get the story right".
  • As far as I know, The Hindu is the only newspaper in India that has a Readers' Editor.