In conversation with Manish Gupta

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Manish-Gupta

About a month ago, Manish Gupta, the author of English Bites had contacted me requesting a review for his book. He sent me a detailed introduction about the book, a few anecdotes from the book and also links to the reviews of the books. Let me confess, I didn’t need to go through the reviews, I was already sold at the bio of the book. I was more than happy to read it and review the same for my blog. And I must say, the book surprised me, or should I say enlightened me on so many different aspects. It also taught me a good many new words of the  English language.
(The review of the book : English Bites)

Now, after about a month of reading the book, I had another conversation with Manish Gupta where he shared about his history, his learning process, the idea of penning down a novel and also about his future plans.

Over to Manish Gupta:

So tell us something about your debut book English Bites.

The book is a crazy mix of facts, fiction, and real-life. It is full of amusing incidents, anecdotes, jokes, and a lot of interesting trivia.  It is loosely based on the story of my life. It begins when I am in high school and much of the damage to my understanding and grip over the English language has already been done. It ends when, even after spending 20 years as a devoted student of the English language, and having achieved my goals of getting into engineering, securing one of the best jobs engineering has to offer, getting into a top-tier MBA program, a medico wife, kids attending convent school, and a reasonably senior position in a multinational bank, I am stumped by new discoveries every other day. So much so that I find some unfamiliar English words in the nursery rhymes of my kids. My extended student life as far as English language is concerned continues and it’s an exciting journey. Come, join the fun.

Going by your background, you didn’t really love English from the beginning. So, was it just to ‘fit-in’ that you started learning English? Or was it because when you started learning it, you found it really fascinating?

To answer this question, we need to get a little bit into my background. I grew up in Rohtak, a small and sleepy town in Haryana in the 1970s and 80s. The only English I spoke was in school and that too to respond to questions of my teachers in the class. I looked down at English as an alien tongue merely suited to the narrow field of academia and with no particular use once someone got into the real economy.

As a result, I was horrible in all aspects of communication. My active vocabulary was extremely limited, pronunciations & spellings were terrible (as I refused to accept English as a non-phonetic language that it largely is), sentence construction was poor, and my fluency was severely compromised.

I started thinking about improving my English in Class XI after facing acute embarrassment in front of my third and final crush (and her family) when I could not speak even one correct sentence of English with a foreigner we met during a family vacation (and she did).

This thought took a serious turn once I landed-up at Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh and came face-to-face with far more fluent and erudite specimens from convent schools from metros and towns much bigger than my hometown. I also noticed how I used to get tongue-tied while attempting to make a small conversation in English with or even in front of the convent educated colleagues and that really hurt.

This thought was further strengthened when I realised to my horror that English had long outgrown the narrow confines of academia and become extremely relevant and in fact an absolute necessity in the real economy. So much so, that I would need to face group discussions and interviews where my proficiency in this language will be put to the real test to get into one of the best engineering jobs offered on campus.

Having lived all my school life in disdain for this alien tongue, the grossly neglected subject of English made me realize its importance, its vastness, its complexity, and my far less than self proclaimed ‘photographic memory’ all at once. I needed something quick and in large doses to beat the convent educated types in their own game and seal the best job offered in the campus in my name and after gaining some industry experience, successfully compete with them once again for admission into a top-tier MBA program.

Let me confess here that I had drifted towards an MBA after realising that no specialist (read post-graduate) medico girl will consent to marry a Bachelor of Engineering in an arranged marriage situation I had found myself in after many crushed crushes. Marrying a medico was a childhood dream; the flexibility of working hours that profession allows (a must for raising a happy family) is only a later realisation.

Hence, I set aside the word lists, my failed attempts at mugging, and started creating interesting stories and anecdotes to make indelible imprints of this foreign language in my mind. This was the genesis of my interest in the English language and consequently this book.

Describe the journey from the thought of writing to finishing the manuscript.

Let me confess:  converting this hobby into a book was initially driven by very different (but normal) feelings of a 19 year old.

It started as an idea in my second year of engineering way back in 1989-1990 when two of my closest friends and I resolved to publish a book each before we turned 21. This, we agreed, had several advantages.

  • Till Class XII, I stayed in the campus of a girls’ college with our row house facing the girls’ hostel and had left this beautiful environment to join Mechanical Engineering at Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh (a subject no girl dared to join in our year and many years before and after). While this led to a deep appreciation and understanding of how God re-balances our lives, it also made our resolve to attract attention from the few girls from other depts., amid very strong competition, even harder. What better way to attract attention than project our multi-faceted personalities, mastery over the English language (we had declared we were writing books in English medium), and great sense of humour (my book was supposed to be a FUN book).
  • Make us look precocious in the eyes of potential employers after Engineering, interviewers during the MBA admission process, and potential parents and other family members of the post-graduate medico girl I was destined to marry in an arranged marriage situation that I had found myself in after many crushed crushes.
  • Give us an additional source of annuity income plus a decent advance, with which to fund the MBAeducation. Annuity income stream was reserved for annual vacations in exotic foreign locales.

Most of the research was done in the period 1989-1994 through books sourced from college and public libraries at Chandigarh, British Council Library at Lucknow and all kinds of magazines and newspapers. Most of all, it was at the circulating library run by a retired army colonel from his garage at his Sector 11 house in Chandigarh (close to my hostel) that I would source my reading material and use the nearby photocopy centre to keep a record of my sources.

Thereafter, the manuscript hibernated for close to 15 years as I got busy getting an MBA, implementing strategies to accelerate the pace of my career progression, experiencing holy matrimony and exploring its multiple facets, and contributing my bit in the all around development of the progeny.

In the last 4 years as I expanded on my earlier work, I banked on Google, Wikipedia, Answers.com, and several online dictionaries for my writing.

Both periods were so different and so much fun! In one there were dust mites in old books and in the other lots of bits and bytes….no wonder English Bites!

What’s the best part about being a published author that you’ve experienced so far?

There have been a couple of significant experiences and learnings. The most significant experience is that writing a book (and esp. if it is published by an eminent name like Penguin) finally and formally adds a new dimension to one’s personality. This is a very expansive and liberating feeling. The most important learning is that one’s own understanding and appreciation of the subject grows manifold during the process of research, deliberations, and writing.  And the best feeling is one of love and appreciation from the readers (and some critical feedback for the next book).

You’re taking up training and consulting as a full time job now. Being around people is the motivation or is it the love of the language?

The biggest motivator is the flexibility of time training and consulting offers. Instead of a corporate job where – especially at senior levels – you are either in full time employment or unemployed, this space offers the opportunity and freedom to pace one’s own life.  I can now spend much more time with myself, my family and friends, and in pursuit of unearthing and enhancing my interests and passions. The content of the role is also challenging and gives me ample scope to grow multi-dimensionally.  Finally, absence of bureaucracy gives me a feeling of a significantly larger productive output and that too by working fewer hours. Net net, it is looking to be a more promising and efficient way to live one’s life.

Any plans of dabbling into other genres like fiction or do you want to continue writing in the same self-help/non-fiction genre?

I guess when you write a book, you give it your all. My stock of ideas is now empty but it doesn’t mean that I will not write another book. Book sales and readers’ feedback and appreciation are extremely strong motivators in rapidly refilling one’s reservoir and giving new ideas and different perspectives to make more meaningful and interesting books. However, I would like to stick to writing in a similar genre (laugh as you learn). Feel strongly about and need to put in my bit to make sure that that language does not become a handicap for anyone to realize their ambitions and dreams!

Any words of advice for English learners?

Only a couple:

  1. Read, listen to, and speak a lot of English, especially the conversational type.
  2. If any one of you comes from vernacular backgrounds (like me) and believes that English language is a handicap (big or small) in your career advancement, your social acceptability, and/or affects your self confidence, you can also take a look at English Bites! and fast forward your learning from my experiences. If you are a language nut, you can take a bite too. There is something in there for you too to chew, relish, and cherish.

Thank you so much for interacting with us, Manish. All the best for all your future endeavors and I hope that you keep enlightening us along with some entertainment through your books.

Connect with the author :
On Facebook : English Bites
On Twitter : English Bites

(First published at The Viewspaper, an online magazine.)

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