Presenting the first of the FWBA Book Spotlight, and we kickstart it with Mahevash Shaikh’s short and profound nonfiction book Busting Clichés.
The book will be up here for the entire day today, and you may feel free to ask the author questions in this post. At the end of the day, we shall select some of the random commenters to win copies of the book. There are 10 copies to be won. (Print copies for India; eBook outside India.)
So, go ahead, find out more about Busting Clichés and ask interesting questions.
So this is what happened last Saturday: Busting Clichés was the very first book chosen to feature in FWBA’s book spotlight initiative. The icing on the cake was that it was chosen by the founder of the group: Neil D’Silva himself.
For those who don’t know, For Writers, By Authors (FWBA) is one of India’s largest literary groups on Facebook. And Neil D’Silva is one of the most prolific horror authors I have ever come across. He has rightfully earned his nickname ‘the scariest man in Mumbai’ owing to works such as Maya’s New Husband and Pishacha.
So anyway, the event went well and was a lot of fun. I had interesting conversations with quite a few people. Here are some snippets of the day-long Q&A session. For the sake of simplicity, I am omitting names and replacing them with a Q instead. Here we go:
Q: You say that the book explores 20 major clichés. Can you give a few examples?
Me: Hi Q. The clichés I have picked are ones we all learned at school. Some of them are: look before you leap, blood is thicker than water, where there’s a will, there’s a way and practice makes perfect.
Q: I have read Busting Clichés. It was quite profound even for its short length, and that’s a good job. How do you distinguish a cliché from a proverb? Are all proverbs clichés?
Me: Thank you so much, Q! Oxford Dictionary defines a cliché as “a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought”. A proverb, idiom, saying…anything can be a cliché as long as it is commonly used by people.
Q: Which of the 20 clichés was the most difficult to dissect? Which of them posed the greatest problem? Since so many of us already have most of these deeply ingrained into our psyche as hand-me-down truths…
Me: Thanks, Q! The cartoon for sticks and stones was the most difficult to break down. It was hard for me to depict just how much harsh words get to us, often for many years. And this was really important for me because people tend to undermine the extent of hurt. I guess that’s one of the prime reasons why verbal abuse is not even given half as much importance as physical abuse.
Q: Congratulations, Mahevash. It looks like an interesting book indeed. I would like to know which one of these 20 commonly misunderstood clichés do you think is the most common one?
Me: Thanks Q! Hmm, I think the most common one is probably time heals all wounds. People misuse it all the time, don’t they?
Q: But isn’t that true? Time does heal all wounds. Even the most disruptive incidents of our lives become more acceptable with the passage of time.
Me: That’s true only when we actually do something to get rid of the wound. Most of us simply expect to heal over time without actually taking any steps to make that happen. In the book, author Vishnu Subramaniam talks about how he too fell for this common misconception after his divorce. He then explains how he had to actively work on his pain and grieve to feel better. So, he healed with time, but only because he used it to process what he was going through.
Q: I agree with you Mahevash that it is important to accept our situation and take steps to move on. If we leave everything up to time, we may never be able to cope up with our situation. I never thought of it this way, that people might misconstrue one of my favorite idioms, ‘Time heals all wounds’… You are good at this!
Me: Thanks Q! My pleasure :) Which other phrases do you like? These are the ones I have covered in my book.
Q: Mahevash, I like ‘One good turn deserves another’ because I find myself indebted to the kindness shown by others and love to do something for them in return. Kindness should be reciprocated I believe. But I don’t expect others to do the same of course. It’s just something I feel deeply from my end and I am very grateful if someone does something for me because it is always unexpected… Now don’t tell me you are going to bust even this as a misunderstood cliché :(
Me: I really love that one, Q! I don’t need to bust it as you interpreted it right.
I believe kindness should be reciprocated as well. But a lot of us—and I am guilty of this myself—want it to be reciprocated in a certain way only. When we don’t get what we wanted, we pout and get bitter. Expectations ruin things, we should try to be grateful for whatever we get in return. Everyone has their own love language, their own way of showing gratitude.
Q: What’s wrong with ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’? Don’t you think we should be determined to achieve what we aim for?
Me: It sounds like great advice because hard work and determination do help us out of trying situations. But taken to an extreme, the ‘don’t quit no matter what’ school of thought is dangerous. In my book, I have illustrated a common situation. Let me just find that image…ah, here it is:
In a situation like this, won’t being unrealistic and never quitting ruin the person on the left, Q? Sometimes, we have to cut our losses and quit. Society hates quitters and keeps trying to force the winners don’t quit mentality down our throats. In reality, winners do quit when the situation demands it. And sometimes, quitting doesn’t even have to be permanent. For eg, the entrepreneur in the cartoon above can try again after some time, when they have the means to do so.
Q: You’re young and the book that you have written is mostly expected to be picked up by older and more experienced people. How do you deal with awkward questions? Any anecdotes to share?
Me: Hi, Q. One of my favorite teachers purchased a few copies of Busting Clichés – one for himself, and some for friends older than him. I was quite terrified when he told me this over SMS, I was afraid he would find my writing immature or flippant. I was pleasantly surprised and very grateful when he told me that he and his friends enjoyed reading it. While I was blown away by all the positive reviews from people with so many years of life experience…one review, in particular, stayed in my mind.
This guy is in his eighties, and my sir said he is super cool, like a character from a Majid Majidi film. The gentleman said that he “should have got this book 50-60 years ago.” I don’t know whether I should be grateful or sorry that he didn’t say this to me in person. I guess I am a bit of both because glowing praise from such an intimidating person would probably make me both super happy and awkward. Either way, it is one review I am sure I will never forget!
Q: Why didn’t you play safe by choosing another topic as your debut? How did you get rid of the fear of failure? Do you find the fear of failing somewhat like a cliché/an excuse to not even try?
Me: I was hoping for a question like this, Q! I picked this topic because it was the one I wanted to work on the most. Truth be told, I had no idea how to go about writing a book, I just knew I had to. I was pretty satisfied when I found I was able to turn this vague idea into a fully finished book. The main motivation to write it was to fulfill a childhood dream, so to me, it was a successful project the instant I finished it.
That’s a classic question, one that plagues creative people in particular. That fear is always there somewhere. All you have to do is deal with it and then go back to doing what you want to do. And yes, fear of failure is a common excuse to not even try. I have been there in the past, and honestly, the more you give in to your fears, the more they are going to dictate you. There’s a great book on conquering fear by Susan Jeffers called Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway. While writing my book, whenever I felt stuck due to self-doubt, I would repeat the title to myself or glance at the cover. Try it for yourself and see :)
Q: Well, I’m satisfied with your answer. You sure have a way with words and I believe it’ll be showing in your book. Congratulations and good luck!
That’s the kind of fun and introspective questions I got to answer all day. No wonder it was tough to pick only 10 winners! I am immensely grateful to Neil D’Silva and the members of FWBA who made this event successful. Oh, and Facebook too for letting us communicate in real-time…never thought I would actually be thanking technology one day!
Oops, almost forgot…click here to get your own copy of Busting Clichés on Amazon.