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The Cover Story: Author of ‘A Year of Wednesdays’, Sonia Bahl, on what went into the beautiful, minimalist cover

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Author Sonia Bahl has always spoken about her cherished collaboration with the editor of both her novels: Pooja Dadwal, Deputy Managing Editor—Fingerprint! Publishing. We asked both of them to take us behind the scenes and unravel some of the workings of how A Year of Wednesdays came into being.

This is what Pooja Dadwal had to say.

Someone impossibly wise once said that knowing that now is all there is, and living every now for the rest of all your nows, is all there is to it. And if you do this now right, the rest will follow suit.

The story of A Year of Wednesdays began on one such now. But not between the characters. Not yet. The first now happened hundreds of Wednesdays ago, between the writer and her editor.

The editor who had collaborated with the writer on her first book. The writer who had never thought of writing a second one. And yet she did. The first book introduced the two, the second solidified their collaboration. But there was that in-between—there always is, isn’t it?— in which the editor, one fine February afternoon, finally coaxed the writer to send her anything, even a paragraph, of what she was writing next. No, not one of her screenplays, she said. (The author writes for the screen too. Or mostly for that.)

Pooja Dadwal (Editor)

The writer wasn’t, not on paper anyway—but aren’t we all writing stories in our minds and hearts always. And so the writer humored her—with an opening line sent in the space of a few minutes. Which the editor gulped down in a moment and asked for second helpings. Legend has it that the writer humored her editor again. And again. And again.

Lines, paragraphs, chapters, shared initially over WhatsApp, soon gave way to mail. The length increased, the story continued, but both never mentioned publishing. Not that it was a foregone conclusion—it wasn’t. Even though both now belonged to the same universe of books, publishing the story as a novel had never formed part of their conversation.

The story which had started as a message in February came to its conclusion in November. Only, it couldn’t. For that’s the other glorious thing about being in the now. After living in every now you manage to gather so many of them that they shine brighter than a thousand suns. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Specially so in the case of A Year of Wednesdays. It is the most superlative testament of the writer’s genius. And her heart. 

Sonia Bahl (Author)

And so the editor, who understood the literary weight of what lay in her hands, asked the writer if she’d consider bringing this out as a book. The writer, Sonia Bahl, agreed, eventually. And so started the formal literary journey of Seat 7A and Seat 7B, two strangers who meet on a flight from New Delhi to New York and end up talking through most of it. Actually all of fifteen hours and thirty minutes of it. Touchdown, and they go their separate ways . . . only, something stays. Something that refuses to leave. There are some knots which cannot be untied. Some bonds which cannot be explained away. All you can do is honour these. A Year of Wednesdays explores this very rarefied bond between people.

Heart aching and achingly familiar, the story gently manages to fuse itself not only into your thoughts but also into the very spaces between your thoughts. And in the bargain leaves you with an incredible wealth of emotions. Of being human. Of being alive. Indelible marks on ephemeral us. 🙂

A Year of Wednesdays: Behind the Cover

We asked author Sonia Bahl how the stunningly simple and Zen-like cover came into being.

“If the process of writing is a dream, the book cover represents the awakening.”

  • Jhumpa Lahiri, The Clothing of Books

The cover for A Year of Wednesdays was a protracted, meandering, getting-lost-more-than-found journey. Here I must acknowledge the design team at Fingerprint! Publishing for working with me to find my way home. We started at point A, skipped point B, forked into dramatic detours, screeched into dark alleys, changed direction, and finally reached a destination we had definitely not anticipated when the journey began.

The book held so many themes. A moment in time when two unlikely people, from polar opposite worlds and world-views, are hermetically sealed in a common world for fifteen hours. A long haul flight. A forced  interaction due to a bizarre, near-absurd reason. It’s an amalgam of crackling moments of stiletto-sharp bantering and a brazenly honest sharing of what matters and why. Mostly, an uncanny, inexplicable connect that is entirely borderless. Age, time, place, religion, childhood, financial status, marital status, likes and dislikes don’t matter when you are sealed together for fifteen hours, never to meet again. The big one, which you don’t realize until it is much too late: the person will stay with you forever . . . maybe even change you incontrovertibly. Unconsciously paying homage to the Japanese notion of ichi-go ichi-e. Every encounter comes just once in a lifetime. No one encounter can ever come back. But it could last forever.

The cover art’s journey was almost as multi-diverse in thought as the journey of the two protagonists. It began with images of the sky. We worked relentlessly to communicate why it means much more than just the literal meaning of a plane in the sky. No matter which way we visualized it, it lacked in the richness, the fullness of the story. There were obvious, sometimes unimaginative, attempts to play with seats on a plane. Or a plane window juxtaposed with an unexpected view. Everything ended up being uni-dimensional, showing exactly what we were saying. Unable to create the perfect equation where one plus one will add up to the ah-ha of three. Seat 7B’s favourite number. Still, it felt imperative to acknowledge the sky. How could we not? There was such an undeniable role played by stars in their lives (without revealing too much). So we kept clocking up miles, kept moving down the star-studded flight path. The arresting beauty of a night sky, a stylised star map, a view of the changing skies across a long haul flight . . . all visually staggering. Some covers looked clichéd, others looked like they were textbook pictures for celestial lovers. We acknowledged it was time to opt for a dramatically different change in direction to get out of the loop we’d gotten stuck in.

Where was our true north? It’s A Year of Wednesdays. What can organically and emblematically embody the moving of time: one whole year? A year can contain multitudes. The passage of time, transformation, the cyclical nature of life, the ups and downs, the routine, the unexpected curve balls in the routines, birthdays, celebrations, important dates, daily minutiae, love, loss, redemption. And the inevitability of things. 

Nature. It says it every day, every month, every year. Naturally, eloquently, immutably. An artist’s impression of a leaf changing through the year became the understated, poignant symbol of all that we wanted to say. A subtle grey background, gave us the minimalist, Japanese aesthetic. A quiet nod to ichi-go ichi-e. The gold signature by the author, a suggestion from the editor, was used instead of typical font, to make the intimate story even more intimate.

We had landed. Home. To use Jhumpa Lahiri’s words, again: “The right cover is like a beautiful coat, elegant and warm, wrapping my words as they travel through the world, on their way to keep an appointment with my readers.”

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Books & Authors

Bookshelf: Books that spotlight children’s mental health

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In these unprecedented times, when isolation fatigue, gloom and the fear of losing a beloved has also come to grip children, taking care of their mental health is of paramount importance.

Here’s a list of books that address the various emotions children struggle with, and can be companions to them during the hard times.

‘The Room on the Roof’ by Ruskin Bond

A classic coming-of-age story which has held generations of readers spellbound! Rusty, a sixteen-year-old Anglo-Indian boy, is orphaned and has to live with his English guardian in the claustrophobic European part in Dehra Dun. Unhappy with the strict ways of his guardian, Rusty runs away from home to live with his Indian friends. Plunging for the first time into the dream-bright world of the bazaar, Hindu festivals and other aspects of Indian life, Rusty is enchanted, and is lost forever to the prim proprieties of the European community. Written when the author was himself seventeen, this moving story of love and friendship, with a new introduction and illustrations will be enjoyed by a whole new generation of readers.

‘Who Stole Bhaiya’s Smile?’ by Sanjana Kapur

Bhaiya does not feel like playing these days. Could it be because of his new monster friend Dukduk, who is always hanging around him. No one in the family takes Bhaiya seriously. But Chiru knows there is more than what meets the eye. A story about the lingering effects of depression. The book is illustrated by Sunaina Coelho.

‘Hearts Do Matters’ by Anita Myers

What the world needs now in these times is love. ‘Hearts Do Matter’ supports children and adults through the losses and grief in their life. It teaches us that even when loved ones cannot be with us, we can feel their presence in our hearts. The new release is a beautiful picture book about a little girl who has a very special relationship with her mother. Her mother promised she would always be with her, and she shows in the book that she kept her promise in the most loving way.

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Flowing Musings and Journal Entries of a Lazy Author – Sabarna Roy

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Sabarna Roy is a much awarded, critically acclaimed bestselling author of 6 literary books: Pentacles; Frosted Glass; Abyss; Winter Poems; Random Subterranean Mosaic: 2012 – 2018, and Etchings of the First Quarter of 2020. He is the lead author of a technical book, which has been published from the European Union and has been translated into 8 major European languages.

He has been awarded the Literoma Laureate Award in 2019, Literoma Star Achiever Award 2020, Random Subterranean Mosaic: 2012 – 2018 won the best book of the year 2019, the A List Award for excellence in fiction by the NewsX Media House, Certificate for The Real Super Heroes for spreading a spirit of positivity and hope during the COVID-19 Pandemic from Forever Star India Award 2020, and the Certificate for Participation in the Indo Russian Friendship Celebration 2020.

1. Intuition is the key to understanding and unlocking of any kind of mystery. Whatever enables the power of intuition is good for the human race. And, this power is also genetic but requires intense nurturing. Educational institutions especially would have to pitch in in this effort. Munich University where Albert Einstein had studied and many other great intellectuals did, was/is a place, which is famous for nurturing intuitive geniuses. What makes an institution so special? I wonder but get no specific answer. There are many things operating at the same time: autonomy and non-interference of the political establishment, the liberal atmosphere, the quality of the faculty and infrastructure, the faculty-student ratio, the faculty-student relationship, the way classes are delivered, the syllabi, stress on creative and thinking capabilities rather than on the mugging and examination mode, permissibility of various opinions to co-exist, and, possibly many other things. In India the reverse is happening now; well, it has happened earlier as well but now things are taking a very worse shape. Take the examples of: Trinamool’s interference in every administrative step in the cases of Jadavpur University and Presidency University in Kolkata (earlier the Left Front had literally killed all the educational institutions worth its repute in Kolkata barring JU and Presidency College, which are now being gobbled up by the present dispensation) and the primeval comments of Dr. Subramaniam Swamy when he was mooted to become the VC of JNU.

2. In my late youth I saw her for the first time on a train. Immediately thereafter I started conjuring an indescribable companionship with her. I chased her for years. Later I came to know she is a happy mother of two bonny sons. She would not give me any attention for she had a secret lover too.

3. In Fallen Man, I made Rahul – my protagonist – to retreat into the mountains with his old mother, having been defeated in life in a growing metropolis.

It was a childhood dream I nurtured in my soul that when I would grow old enough I would live with my mother alone in a high mountain.

But then life has very different things in store for you!

You become a different man as you grow up and confuse yourself with the choices that life offers you.

4. During my University days in the dry summer months (March 15 to May 15) I had a strange obsession of roaming around the labyrinthine deserted alleys of North Calcutta in the afternoons when the scorching sunshine would cause havoc on my shoulders and back, and middlemen, traders and housewives and children would be enjoying a desperate siesta in their cool and shaded bedrooms. Occasionally, to rejuvenate myself, I would smoke a cigarette and drink a cup of syrupy milk tea at a forlorn street-corner.  Where did this passion stem from? When I look back now it seems it was an effort to transpose my loneliness onto the parched, dilapidated and crumbling ambience of Calcutta that was gradually withering. During these walks I have come across strange faces looking at me from the shadowy iron-grilled openings of the tall windows of old mansions (probably tenants forcibly occupying spaces of decaying rich families because of the laxity the Rent Control Act provides to tenants – coming to think of it a pretty smart colonial way of redistribution of wealth). Some of the grotesque faces are etched on the walls of my consciousness till now. Mementos of memory in a loner’s studio. This was also the time when I was introduced to Bismillah Khan’s shehnai and D V Paluskar’s bhajans. Rendition of shehnai recital is a tradition at Indian weddings – presumably a happy occasion. But Bismillah saab’s rendition had an underlying melancholic glory, which attracted me early on. In the bhajans of Paluskar (although I was a non-believer at that time and remain so till date) I could recognize the echoes and angst of the lonely faithful devotee, which left me in awe. My afternoon walks would be accompanied by Bismillah saab’s wind instrument and Paluskar ji’s voice playing in the dark recesses of my mind. Background score!

5. You demystify one cloud. Another appears. You demystify this cloud, that cloud appears. Between this cloud and that cloud there are other clouds. And, then there are many other clouds. The series is relentless and unending.

Human beings are secret islands. Their actions are not completely comprehensible. Why they act in a specific way, is a secret that lies deeply embedded in their own souls! Yet we trust human beings – islands of secrets – in due course of time. Specifically and generally. The science of trust is by and large a very mysterious science.

6. Some erotic stories do not kick-start in our lifetime although they have the potential spark to generate enormous electricity. On the other hand there are many erotic stories that wither away in the long run with time like leaves die. We all go through a mixture of such stories in our lives. The stories that did not start linger in our mind like dolorous reminders – what if! Mind you, the potential of those uninitiated stories to change the course of our lives, including how we evolve as persons, is very high compared to the initiated stories of erotic love.

7. Reverse jump cut – in the past – 25 years – almost – approximately – a full-moon night – after midnight – on the terrace of a G+3 newly built apartment block – on the fringes of the city violently pushing against the margins of a crumbling suburban landscape – full of dreams – a series of conquests – a bright disc of silver hanging in the sky – an elderly friend of mine and I – a telescope in between us – a gazer of stars and galaxies – well, planning to show me what is a sky and infinite continents of space – a wise man – hating my absolute love for rock music – dismissing it as ‘boyish elitism’.

A night redefined!

We smoked hard. We smoked hard – only nicotine fellas! We discussed Dakghar. We recited Wasteland. Death was looming large on our sub-conscious.

Then he asked me to take a drooling walk to the phallic instrument chilling in the night – his love and work of love.

“Boy you could look at the moon both ends from! This end from it looks like a shining piece of nut. And this end from it blazes on you like a scorching sun … So you see; there is nothing right or wrong!”

I asked parched in smoke, “Is there no perfect way of life on earth? Ideals to follow? Creating and adding on to the civilization of men? No right and wrong! Live like dogs, do we?”

He whispered in my ears, “You hate dogs, don’t you? There are ways. There are no ways still. A creative man must learn to suffer multiple takes on life. A creative man must strive for his absolute solitude to unburden his load on us. He walks through the world but returns to his cave. Your cave is this universe of galaxies, constellations and pacing heavenly bodies. You are a banished soul attempting to be a part of this colossal space. Don’t you feel like that? How tiny you are, my boy!”

We fell silent for a long time – looking at the sky – and then we fell asleep! Dreaming: this sleep will take us away …

8. Sanchita Guha aka Mimi, my very talented saali, wanted me to write my own obit page in her friend’s blog. I thought about it and concluded that I would never remember a wasted monkey (and, fat) like me. So why would anybody else remember me! Secondly, I would neither like to be remembered because I just do not qualify the minimum credentials. I have been cruel, selfish (now that my children are grown-up I have also started hating children: angels of light and hope), self-centered and vulgar all my life. I have never stood up for anybody or even myself (that is the biggest crime I have done). I have never been overwhelmed by the sufferings of fellow human beings. I have always looked the other way. Contrarily I have put on the mask of a concerned gentleman looking for an eager audience. I am not gentle in any case; I am arrogant. I have not enjoyed my life for I was never passionate enough. My comparison of myself to a monkey is misplaced, I am factually worse than a monkey. And monkeys are not bad by any stretch of imagination, Mimi would agree with me.  Am I a godzila then? Animal lovers like Mimi would protest my comparison of wretched me to the varied heavenly animals on this planet. I have no consistent body of work. I cannot sing. Nor can I play any musical instrument. I cannot even dance. In the name of love, I have done duties by actually organizing them through others. Secretly, I have always wished to own a company of slaves who would be at my beck and call. I am a good womaniser (although I am fat) and I have neglected even this talent of mine. What a perverse waste of your only life?

9. If we would make museums out of our memories they would serve as very good benchmarks to understand our own lives. And some of them would be works of art, which could be appreciated by one and all. What stops us from making personal and private museums? Effort, of course, because you would require tons of it and patience in doing so. This idea struck me when I was reading Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence a few years back. We as a nation and also as a continent are not much inclined towards museum construction, refurbishment and maintenance and also paying a visit to a museum. Our major museums are poorly maintained and attended. Museum is a habit of the West – mainly, Europe. Our own museums unlike the public museums should be reconstruction of our own lives, revolving around all kinds of incidents and anecdotes: happy, pensive, important, unimportant, passionate, compassionate, all. This will have substantial anthropological value and would require training, which should be inculcated at the school and high-school levels. Museum construction requires a meeting of various kinds of skills. This will throw up a serious branch of training not to be trapped in the mugging-and-examination mode and would seriously become a fountainhead for many hidden talents to flower. At the end of the day, we take resort to serious art because we want to comprehend our own incomprehensible lives. What better way could there be if we could recreate it with our own hands and brain?

10. Nowadays I cannot argue beyond a point of making my case, that is all; I have just lost the steam. Another proof that I have become an old man. I love listening to various points of view instead. I will make my opening move and then withdraw. There was a time when I was a reasonably good debater. Well, long time back … maybe. I also do not feel the emotion of anger nowadays. There is more or less a feeling of resignation. In general, I am always searching for words while talking in a group. But I am very comfortable while writing. One thing that I love is silence: locked inside a chilly, deathly-silent room with random thoughts passing through my mind like a north-westerly wind. Silence excites thoughts.

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Books & Authors

‘Bikhre Sapne’ by Author M. Murtaza – Dreams Did Not Fall In Place But The Story Did

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Author M. Murtaza is already a known name in the realms of Hindi literature. Murtaza stirred the Hindi literary world with ‘Ankur’ – his first Hindi novel which got published in 1985. Post that he had penned many masterclasses like “Gosha E Noor” (Urdu 2002), “Roshni kaa Minaar” (Hindi 2003), “Tasawwuf” (Urdu 2010), and “Baagh ki Khooshbu” (Urdu, 2019).

Each of the above-mentioned books got critically acclaimed due to apt reason. So, when a writer of this calibre comes up with his next book, it is bound to have a lot of expectations from the readers. M. Murtaza lived up to that expectation in his latest book ‘Bikhre Sapne’. The story is about Raajan – a resident of Shivpur village and his mother Rukmini – a poor widow. The different episodes of the lives of Raajan and Rukmini are beautifully narrated – some are heart melting while some are gruesome.

Just like his other works, Mr. Murtaza treats the plot and the characters of the book ‘Bikhre Sapne’ in a cinematic way. The readers can surely hope to see this story getting transformed into a movie soon. The narration is so good that it’ll create a strong case as a screenplay with an immediate effect.

The two most important points which click for the book are the simplicity of the language used to narrate the story and the holistic nature of the characters sketched. These two aspects work as the manual for any aspiring Hindi writer.

The only aspect which could have been better about the book is its cover page. The publisher could have been a little more careful on this aspect. However, as a whole, ‘Bikhre Sapne’ qualifies as one of the books which readers from all walks of life will cherish for a very long time.               

Buy “Bikhre Sapne from Amazon for just Rs.301

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