The Helpline – Making of the Book

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The Helpline is my debut novel. It took me roughly 18 months to finish this book. The book underwent a lot of changes during the period. After writing 50% of the book in third person style, I realized it wasn’t convincing enough. So I switched the mode to first person and finished the book in roughly 8 months.

I sent the first draft to a few close friends. The reviews were mixed.

Somehow, I knew there was room for improvement. So I opened the manuscript and started rewriting the whole thing again. Somewhere between the second draft and final manuscript, there were long, scary patches of uninvited blocks and what-the-fuck-am-I-doing phases. Chapters and characters were deleted, scenes eliminated, sentences annihilated; it only reminded me of 3 words…Kill Your Darlings.

It was late April 2013 when I had, convincingly, finished the manuscript and started sending it out to publishers. The book was sent to 25 publishers across India. I never heard from 23 of those publishers.

One publisher based out of Delhi called me up and expressed his opinion on the book. The publisher recommended some changes in the climax before accepting the book for publication. I wasn’t convinced. So I moved on.

A couple of months later, I received the letter of intent from Leadstart Publishing and things soon began to fall in place. On 29th March, 2014, the book was launched by Padma Shri Paresh Rawal at Sivaswamy Auditorium in Chembur – thanks to Tushar Gangoly of Rotary Deonar Club.

Several people have asked me – Is it based on your life?

I have always answered with a NO on my lips and a YES in my head.

No, the scenes in the book are not based on my life. All the situations and scenarios from page 1 to page 252 are purely fictional.

Yes, a part of the book is inspired from the people I have met and observed in my life. For instance, the character of Aslam draws a heavy inspiration from a 12-year-old boy living on the streets of Shivaji Park. This kid was sharp, smart and extremely passionate about studying. He went to a local municipal school and mostly struggled with English. We spent an hour everyday studying English lessons from his school textbook. This kid also became a reason why I decided to donate a part of book’s sale (Rs. 5 per book) as a charity for child welfare through The Rotary Foundation.

Some people have told me that the concept of the book is unique and wonder how it came about. The answer for this too has a relevance to an incident in my life.

It was the summer of 2007. I had recently had a breakup and being an emotional fool,  I took shelter among books. I spent my entire day in crosswords engrossed in books. I lost count of how many books I had read that summer. While on my usual routine at crosswords, I met a girl. I was surprised how easily we hit it off. A few days later, I asked her about the scars on her wrist and she confessed to having attempted suicide and several reasons behind it.

That incident somehow etched in my head. I had not discovered writing until the end of year 2008. When I did, I knew what my first book would be about.

The Helpline is not only about suicide issues among teenagers though. At the heart of it, The Helpline is a romantic-drama set in modern times. It is about relationships that bond and strengthen as well as of those that weaken and wither. It is about selfishness and selflessness. It is about failures in life. Above all, The Helpline is about self-discovery.

The Helpline is Samir’s story – his struggle to come to terms with unfortunate events in his life and his willingness to fight back. The Helpline is Samir’s journey towards his self-discovery.

You can buy the book here:

Flipkart: http://bit.ly/TheHelpline
Snapdeal: http://bit.ly/SD-TheHelpline

Read it. Review it.

 

The Helpline

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A Reason to Smile

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I had a dream – a flashback.

It is strange how memories work. You believe that you will forget something over the period but in reality, all those memories are stored somewhere in the back of your head. They pop out of nowhere and take you back in time to the place you were once in. They say you cannot go back to being a person you once were. I believe you can, through those memories within you.

I had a dream – a flashback. I was twelve again. It was just another day to school. I packed my school bag checking twice for my tiffin and crossed over to the other street. Even in the dream, this street was still so familiar to my eyes, nothing had changed. The boardwalk was occupied by a long line of zopadpattis. The family members living in these houses made from plastic tents mostly dwelled on the street throughout the day. Their morning began with bathing from a hot water bucket on the street near a naala. Then the women would set up their portable kitchen in a corner and start cooking for the day.

I walked on this street everyday towards my bus-stop. I walked carefully, keeping my distance from the slums  that reeked of all sorts of garbage. I walked paying no heed to these dwellers who I thought had no sense of living. Then I crossed a woman who sat with her legs tucked together, blowing air through a long pipe into her temporary choola. She tamed the fire to heat the vessel filled with water. To her right was the main ingredient for their lunch – chicken feet. Surprisingly, she cooked the same dish every day.

I always almost puked at the sight of the chicken feet. Gross, I thought. How could they eat the same thing every single day? To top it all, the smell of it was worse than the garbage can just around the corner. I covered my nose, held my lungs and crossed the woman. I paced ahead. I wanted to get as far as possible. I wanted to run away from that filthy smell she called her lunch. I did not breathe till I had reached my bus-stop. Then I turned around to look at the woman who was now adding the chicken feet to the boiling water.

This little encounter of ours was a daily thing. She cooked the same thing at the same time every day. I ran past her holding my breath trying to get away every day. Of course, she had taken a note of our morning encounters. She would simply smile at me every time I walked past; her partly stained teeth beaming in some pride. I wondered why.

In the recess, I opened my tiffin. Mom had cooked bhindi for lunch. I hated bhindi, and the smell of it. I frowned at this sabzi in my tiffin and involuntarily, the woman’s smiling face flashed in front of my eyes.

When you are growing up, you forget things easily. We moved to a new place and I forgot all about the woman and her smile. Or so I thought.

Then I had a dream – a flashback.

A Really Short Love Story

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A week ago, two pigeons started building a nest right above my wardrobe. Living in a 4th floor apartment means being closer to birds and their shit. So here I was, cleaning up the pigeon mess every single day. What made it worse was that the house was empty during the day and the windows could not be closed due to unavoidable circumstances (Read: Owner is an asshole) .

The 1st attempt of building the nest failed because I destroyed it, clean sweep. Yes, pigeons can get extremely annoying in the morning. And I had no intention of letting these two love birds make a home in my home, that too rent free. No way.

But one morning, these pigeons did the unthinkable. I woke up rubbing my eyes trying to buzz off my sleep. And there they were, sitting at the window, the two love birds. Not a sound they made, just stared at me endlessly.

“What?” I asked to no reply. The male pigeon rubbed its head against the female pigeon as if to say, “Dont worry honey, I will find us a home. Our babies will not be homeless.”

And my already soft heart melted like an ice in Sahara desert.

“Fine,” I said to the love birds. “But just this one time. Use protection for God’s sake.”

And so they built their home in my home, rent free. And yes, lived happily ever after.

P.S.: The owner is unaware of this situation, and I intend to keep it that way.

5 Authors you thought you knew

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5. Audrey Niffenegger:

Author of: The Time Traveler’s Wife.

My first rendezvous with this book was in crossword a year back. The title was so catchy that I was coerced into turning the pages. Usually before reading a book, I make it a point to know the author first. And what did I learn? Niffenegger worked at Columbia College Chicago as a professor. Although her job was satisfying, what bothered her most were her failed relationships. When another one went down the drain, Niffenegger lost all faith in love and came to a point of occasional nervous breakdowns. In between all the tears and cries, what was born was a master piece called “The Time Traveler’s Wife”. The story doesn’t end here. The manuscript was further rejected 25 times by publication houses. Finally when it got published, it won the Exclusive Books Boeke Prize and a British Book Award and sold over 3 million copies across the world.

4. JK Rowling:

Author of: Harry Potter Series

Here’s a confession. I have not read a single book from the Harry Potter series. Then why is it that I am talking about JK Rowling here? Every body knows Harry Potter, but not everybody knows that Harry Potter and his school of wizardry were born in a span of 4 hours while Rowling was on her way to London. Amidst a strained marriage, a financial crisis, a newly born daughter, a full time job and a suicidal tendency, Rowling managed the impossible. She spent the after work hours at a cheap café, completed her work on the first book and the rest is a legend. If you still haven’t taken a bow to this woman, now is the right time.

3. Sidney Sheldon:

Author of: Master of the Game

I happen to know a lot too many people who think Sidney Sheldon was not a good writer. Well I disagree. Sheldon was not only a good writer, he was a raconteur. And here’s a fact that should ‘tell the tale’. Sheldon wrote a staggering 20 novels, 5 broadway plays and numerous film and television scripts. That is way too much writing for one man. And that is what I appreciate. The man could write a book on a single strand of hair.

P.S: You remember that serial “I dream of Jeannie.” Guess who created it?

2. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Author of: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

I know people who can tell you the address of Sherlock Holmes fictional residence but don’t know who his creator is. Conan Doyle, was a medical practitioner who never treated a single patient. He failed in his own profession so miserably that he had way too much time in his clinic. That is when Sherlock Holmes was penned. The character came out so strong, that people actually visited the fictional place, 221B Baker Street to seek Holmes. At one point, Doyle was so frustrated at the fame of Sherlock Holmes, that he killed the character in “The Final Bow.” People revolted and the response was so enormous that Doyle was forced into bringing Holmes back to life. A century later, people might have forgotten who Doyle is, but have they forgotten Holmes?

1. Homer

Author of: The Odyssey and Iliad

It would have been a crime to not include Homer in this list. Everything related to Homer is conjecture. Experts say that Homer is the first writer the world has ever seen. That makes The Odysses and Iliad the first books to be ever written. But here’s what is surprising. Nobody knows if Homer was a man or a woman. And probably that will always stay a mystery.

Note: This is just a random list of authors that came to my mind and having read most of them, I was compelled to write about them. Many other authors who missed the list, such as Charles Dickens, Ayn Rand, and Agatha Christie have conquered their own space in the realm of literature.

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