An interview with author Jaishree Misra

by Nandini Muralidharan

Jaishree MisraIndian writing in English has won a lot of critical acclaim in the literary world, and Indian authors have really made it big with some fantastic masterpieces. Jaishree Misra, is one Indian author, who took the literary world by storm with her debut novel “Ancient Promises”. Misra was born in a Malayali family, in New Delhi and has spent her childhood in New Delhi, Bangalore and a part of it in England. She has worked in the fields of Special Education, Social Services, as a journalist for BBC, and also in the British Board of film classification in London. Misra’s first novel Ancient Promises really made its mark in the world of literature. Her subsequent works “Accidents like love and marriage” and “Afterwards” too had the themes of love and loss, which her first novel had highlighted. But these are different and enjoyable in their own right.

Jaishree Misra signed a three book deal with Avon, the commercial fiction imprint of Harper Collins in the UK. The first of these was “Secrets and Lies”, released in June 2009.  “Secrets and Lies” is a poignant tale of friendship, murky pasts, insecurities and love.  The next in line is “Secrets and Sins”, which is all set for release in July 2010.

In an interview with, Misra tells us about her passion for writing, the predominant themes in her novels, her endeavours in setting up a unit for young people with special needs and shares some tips with budding writers.

1. The themes that runs across ‘Ancient Promises’, ‘Accidents like Love and Marriage’ and ‘Afterwards’ are love, heartbreak and marriage in an Indian setting. Any specific reason for focus on these? Would these have been written even if you spent your entire life in the UK?

[Jaishree Misra] With the possible exception of ‘Rani’, my writing does seem to traverse the broad territories you mention and, to a large extent, even ‘Rani’ is not entirely free of these! I do think, however, that most novels encompass, broadly, themes like ‘love’ and ‘loss’. If you write about life, these are stories that are hard to escape. I doubt that would have changed much, had I never lived in India. Such themes are universal.

Rani by Misra2. Rani was a change from the previous three. It’s a beautifully written work about the Rani of Jhansi, and Mani the little girl who will always be at the heart of whatever the Rani does. Her evolution from Manikarnika to the Rani of Jhansi has been depicted with superb craftsmanship. How were you inspired to choose this powerful life to write about?

[JM] I was looking for a strong Indian female character from the British-Indian period and Rani Lakshmibai was the obvious choice. So obvious, in fact, that I relegated her to the bottom of the list and looked at a whole lot of others first (our history is rich with strong women, you’d be glad to know)! But something kept pulling me back to Lakshmibai and, the more I read, the more fascinated I grew. Especially on finding that she was a far more interesting character than the uni-dimensional martial figure my school books had told me of. I realized what a modern sensibility she was blessed with and was doubly fascinated by how hard she tried not to go to war until pushed to the wall. A pacifist and a diplomat made for a far more layered biography, in my view, than a fighter and warrior and thus I was hooked!

3. You have grown up in Delhi, Bangalore and have lived in the UK for a while, before moving back to Delhi again now. How has the diversity of cultures in these cities, mingled with the Keralite upbringing influenced your writing?

[JM] Again, all my books cover these physical territories. These places have certainly informed my writing but I’m not sure if they’ve influenced it. Yes, all these places enjoy greatly diverse cultures and I’m surely enriched by them I do think it’s quite possible to be a sensitive and empathetic novelist even without varied experiences. Too often the examples of Jane Austen and the Brontes are given to illustrate this but they do bear thinking about.

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An Interview with Sachin Bansal, ex of Amazon India and now CEO of – Read India Read !

While E-commerce in India has a long way to go before it can catch up with some of the western countries, it is surely growing by leaps and bounds. Leading bookstores like Landmark and Crossword have enabled buying books online, thereby catering to a very large market.

A relatively new player in the bookselling space in India, is Flipkart was founded on 5th September, 2007 by two ambitious and talented young men, Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal. Both of them are Computer Science graduates from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, and love what they do with a tremendous passion. Having worked in Amazon India, their love for books coupled with their desire to start on their own soon took concrete shape as they quit and started in 2007. Having started with 50,000 titles, now the number of titles that are available has doubled. What has struck me the most about, is their fantastic service, in terms of delivery time. I have received books a couple of days ahead of schedule, even. Their range of books is also quite commendable.

Having interacted with a couple of members from the flipkart team, here’s an interview: (Inputs from Sachin Bansal, CEO and Co-founder, Flipkart)

What are the challenges you face as a purely online 24*7 bookstore?

[Flipkart team] Initially when we started out, it wasn’t easy for us to earn the trust of the customer. Our quality of customer service, coupled with the fact that books could be bought at a low transaction size, helped us get trials and gain the trust of customers.

Handling customer complaints, without having a ‘face’ to our customer service proves to be bit of a challenge at times. Not having the ‘display’ advantage, the ‘browsing’ feature and not being able to carry out promotional activities are some other obvious challenges.
The discomfort of paying by cards, on account of security fears is another challenge. We have now tried to address that by introducing the ‘cash-on-delivery’ option.

The fact that highest number of orders and sales get registered during weekends proves to be tough at times for logistics and customer service. The fact that we have to work 24 / 7 and the customer perceptions around it also bring some difficulty (For example, the customer places an order at 12 am and counts the number of hours for delivery right from then!)
In spite of al these challenges (however big or small) we still enjoy and prefer working on the online model because of all its plus points.
Do you think people take one more seriously when one is a bookstore with a physical presence, and then launches into the online business as opposed to a model like yours? (In terms of apprehensions, concerns)

No, it is quite different as we feel that across the world and across business categories, the leaders in the online and offline segments are different. And the largest name in the e-commerce segment,, is an example of this. Customers also view the online business differently from that of the offline business. Therefore there is no advantage for an online store to have an offline presence.

In fact, being a leading offline player can prove to have some disadvantages as people could perceive them as not having expertise in the online model. What is required to run an offline business successfully is very different from what is required to run an online business successfully, whether it is a book store or any other category.

One of the many positive things we keep hearing about Flipkart, is the fantastic range of books that you source. What challenges do you face when you need source books from different countries?

International distributors are far more transparent and easier to work with than Indian distributors. The Indian ecosystem is only beginning to mature and may take time to reach international standards. Yet, our effort is to constantly reach new international distributors so we can provide what our customers desire.

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Bookshops in Mumbai

Have you ever entered a bookstore and felt swept away by the atmosphere? Rows and rows of books lined in mahogany book cases or simply stacked to the ceiling without a care about stylish interior design? Have you met a bookstore owner who knows exactly where a particular book is in that stack, and is … Read more