By Vishnu Makhijani
New Delhi, December 11 (IANS) Aparna Jain is not only a certified Integral Master Coach but has also authored two female-centric books - one that takes a searching look at women in the workplace and the other showcasing role models for young girls, as also their parents - and a volume on family recipes. She has now turned her attention to men who broke the mould as males are also subject to partiarchy and tropes.
"Since the publication of 'Like A Girl' (in 2018), there have been a number of books about Indian women. There was a time I was thinking of doing a Volume Two of 'Like a Girl'. But Karthika, my publisher, rightly observed that there what we needed now were some stories about incredible and inspiring men," Jain told IANS in an interview of the just-published "Boys Will Be Boys" (Context/pp 175/ Rs 799).
"I thought about it, and you know, men are also subject to the patriarchy. Not just tropes like 'Boys Don't Cry' or 'Boys Don't Wear Pink' but how men are subject from a very young age to be 'successful' to live their lives; to pursue a certain type of career; to be a certain type of man; toxic masculinity actually. So, it was important to showcase men who broke the mould," Jain added.
To this end, the book chronicles the lives of 45 Indian men who followed their heart and dared to be different - soldiers (Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, 2nd Lt. Arun Khetrapal), a sailor who circunavigated the globe (Commander Abhilash Tomy), a designer who took Indian fashion to Paris (Rahul Mishra), a doctor who revived rivers (Rajendra Singh), a barefoot artist (M.F. Husain), rocket scientists (A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai), entrepreneurs (J.R.D. Tata, Azim Premji), engineers (E. Sreedharan), sportspersons (Bhaichung Bhutia, Vishwanathan Anand), journalists (P. Sainath, Josy Joseph), writers (Perumal Murugan, Vikram Seth, Anant Pai) and activists (Sunderlal Bahugana), among others.
Speaking about the research that went into the writing of the book, Jain said this was of two types.
"Secondary - reading people's biographies and autobiographies. Then going to YouTube and seeing their interviews. And then primary - which was interviewing whoever I could. I would record the interviews, my colleague would help with transcriptions and then I would put together a skeletal story. It seems simple - the final product - but it was arduous. Getting interviews also was tedious," Jain explained.
As with "Like A Girl", 27 artists showcase their arresting interpretations of the individuals featured in the book. This involved Jain, Art Director Ayesha Broacha and the artists working as a close-knit team.
"Surprisingly for this book, many stories started coming in after I had commissioned the art. Oxfam thankfully agreed to come aboard as Art Patron for the book again. So based on my secondary research, I would send artists cue words or articles. Some were fairly straightforward. But the minute I interviewed someone, I would send an artist the unedited story so they would get a sense of the person in the way I wrote about them.
"That helped. Or I would call the artists and give them a sense of which part of the person's story I was going to focus on. For example J.R.D. Tata. The man is incredible right? He has accomplished so much. Which facet of him would I cover? So in the beginning the artist was trying to put an entire lifetime in the picture. Ayesha gave her art feedback and since we asked all artists to send us rough compositions it was fair to change it. So we had to work with the artists quite carefully.
"When the artist read the story she made this stunning picture of J.R.D. with a Puss Moth (in which he made India's inaugural airmail flight from Karachi to Bombay via Ahmedabad)! It was perfect and such a long way from the initial sketches," Jain explained.
What's next on the cards?
"Hah. Good Question. I was working on a book in millennials which was pushed to the back burner two years ago. I have pulled it back but it may take on a different shape or form. I have done 60 interviews for that so you know - the data is rich. But I am figuring out what would work now - two years later. No fixed address yet," Jain said.
Her first book "The Sood Family Cookbook" of traditional 'pahadi' recipes was published in 2013. Her second book "Own It: Leadership Lessons From Women Who Do" (2016) was based on interviews with over 200 women professionals in senior managerial and leadership positions and leveraged on her experience as a certified Integral Master Coach, where she draws on the themes and teachings of master coaches from a variety of disciplines.
"Own It..." was awarded a Laadli Prize and was shortlisted for the Tata Literature Live Business Book Award, while "Like A Girl" was shortlisted for the Crossword Popular Prize.
(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)