Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Reinventing myself, once again

Over the last 10 years, there is one question readers have asked of me over and over again: “When will you write fiction?”

My standard reply, “There are so many amazing entrepreneurs out there! As long as I still find it exciting to tell their stories, I will continue writing this genre ie non-fiction.”

But somewhere in my mind, a seed had been planted. I often tossed around ideas in my mind, but none was truly compelling. Besides, would anyone really want to read my fiction?

Then one day I got a request from a friend, to write ‘something’ – my choice – for a coffee table book he was releasing for his company (a PSU). Along with me, he had invited a few other Indian authors – all fiction writers. Initially, I thought I would contribute something in my usual style. But a part of me felt, it’s time to tell a new kind of story.

So, I allowed it to pour out of me. The 2000 word short story was published and that spurred me on. I wrote a few more such stories – as and when I was in the mood – and it was so much fun. I didn’t have to stick to the interview, double-check the facts, read the balance sheet or find out ‘industry mein is bande ki reputation kya hai’.

I could make up anything. Go back into someone’s childhood, go deeper into their psyche. This became something special and magical for me, but I kept it to myself.

I would wait for inspiration. Which was elusive. Then came coronavirus. For the first 30 days, I felt bored, irritated, lethargic and ‘ab kya karein’. Like countless other startups, MSMEs and large industries, my product suddenly went ‘out of stock’. Books are not essential items, you see, so you cannot buy them right now, even on Amazon.

But more importantly, when business is in lockdown and the economy in ICU, there is no point in publishing stories of entrepreneurs. In time, there will be. But what to do RIGHT NOW?

One morning, I woke up, and started writing… in less than an hour, I had my first short short story (600 words). I shared it with a few friends, who liked it. I posted on Linkedin, got positive feedback.

By that afternoon, I had an idea for another story. Which I wrote the next day.

And suddenly I was in a mode where I could write a story every single day. Sometimes, even two.As of today, I have written 29 stories!

I have decided not to wait to publish as a print book or ebook but to share them online: https://rashmibansal.in/.

Kicking off (what I hope!) is a new model in publishing. Do leave your comments / ratings as what a writer desires the most is knowing if her words have touched the reader.

Happy Lockdown Reading!

Monday, March 30, 2020

When the Saints Go Marching In

If you are reading this on a laptop, with high-speed internet, in your air-conditioned apartment… you are PRIVILEGED. Think about the migrant labour who is walking along the highway on an empty stomach… because of the lockdown.

Multiple messages like this have been shared on Facebook, twitter and Whatsapp groups over the last 48 hours. The agitated Indians sharing these messages are consultants, start-up founders, journalists, students. They are exhorting the rest of us to donate to various relief initiatives. And that’s a good thing.

But let’s go a little deeper. This is the same India which existed before March 25, when the lockdown officially started. An deeply India divided by the accident of birth and lack of opportunity.

Let’s take the start-up founder who’s going blue in the face today. May I know the profile of her employees? How many Dalits, OBCs, Muslims or even first-generation graduates are in supervisory and managerial positions at the company? ‘Oh, that’s not how we recruit.’ Of course, you don’t.

Every company want the most competent candidate, who can start performing at the earliest. Who has the time to train, to hand-hold and provide mentorship?

The journalist who is aag-baboola over injustice, and rightly so. Surely, he employs a driver and maid, uses the services of a dhobi and vegetable seller. Not to mention Amazon and Swiggy. Have you wondered where these service providers live? Visited one of their jhuggi colonies and taken a ‘bathroom break’ at one of their common toilets?

Every journalist wants a ‘good story’ and this doesn’t qualify. It’s simply stating the obvious, like ‘there is sand in the Sahara desert’.
Then we have the consultant, who wines and dines her American client at a 5-star hotel and pays the bill of Rs 12, 000 (for one dinner with drinks) via American Express platinum credit card. How about building a relationship by inviting the client for a home-cooked Indian meal?. ‘But that would look cheap’.

Every employee wants perks, which for some reason means ‘fancy’, ‘much too expensive’, ‘things I would not pay for myself’. It just makes the pain of being a corporate slave, a little more bearable!

As for our students, unki to baat hi kuch aur hai. Their parents are human ATM machines, who provide for anything they could possibly want. The ‘best’ education (in India or abroad) so they can get the ‘best’ jobs after graduating. As consultants, start-up founders, journalists. ‘My child has worked hard and earned it’.

And here lies the crux of the issue. Each of us is working hard — the student, the start-up, the corporate employee, the journalist, the migrant labour. Some earn more. A LOT LOT more.

Is it only getting what we deserve? Or do we need fundamental changes? Such as:
- Higher minimum wages (eg Rs 5000 more per month to your bai, with weekly off).
- Good quality, low-income urban housing (slum redevelopment that actually delivers).
- Government schools that function (and so well, that your child attends one).
- Garbage-free cities (so we don’t aspire to be Europe, America and Singapore).
- Eradication of tuberculosis (which, alone, kills 3000 Indians a day)

Well, that list can go on. And on. Just reading it an alarm bell goes off in my brain ‘nahin ho sakta hai’. Not in my lifetime, which is the next 30 years.

But then, a small voice whispers, if we can mobilise the administration and civil society to ‘act as one’ and defeat the coronavirus, we can do it again. Poverty too is a virus, an insidious but clearly visible one. If the amount we read and researched about corona could be transferred to understanding and taking decisive action against poverty — imagine the results!

It may require drastic actions, which affect your lifestyle and mine. Is your privileged bum prepared to get off its armchair and do what it takes? For an India which is more equal, more dignified, with more opportunity and mobility, can only be built on blood and sweat, redistribution of income and creation of solid public goods.

And a moral backbone which remains upright, in times good and bad.

Read my latest book ‘We are the Champions’ for the inspiring stories of children from ‘the other India’ who are changemakers in their communities.

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