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The new family album
I wanted this book to be a gift to my parents, but ultimately it turned out to be a gift to myself, my sisters and our children, " says Madhavi P, 38, a Bangalore homemaker. A few months ago, Madhavi read about a small firm called My Life Chronicles that specialises in putting together personal histories. Her parents deserved one, she thought, as she got in touch with Sumit Chowdhury, the founder of the firm.
Over the next three months, Chowdhury and his team got to know Madhavi's family - her parents, two sisters, their husbands and children - more intimately than any outsider possibly could. They conducted lengthy interviews, followed them up with questions on phone and email, particularly with Madhavi's sisters who live in the US. Chowdhury also flew down to Hyderabad to spend a day with her parents. Madhavi's sisters live in the US, and there were phone conversations to take the place of personal interviews.
At the end of the exercise, Madhavi's family was presented with a family chronicle. It detailed her parents' distant childhoods, had a chapter each on her grandparents, on her father's professional life (including interviews with his former colleagues), on her mother's cooking and favourite recipes, and so on.
Even for those who were a part of the events, a lot of details came as a revelation. "One of my sisters is involved in philanthropy. During the interviews, she revealed that our mother had reprimanded her as a child for being mean to the maid's daughter. In a way, this changed her life, " says Madhavi. "This chronicle is a way to preserve the values our family believes in and pass them on to future generations. "
My Life Chronicles or MLC describes itself as a memoir-writing and biography service. It offers its services to individuals, families as well as corporates. The memoir could be in print or digital format. "Every life is unique. Every life has a story to tell. We believe these stories are precious. " You could call that the mission statement of MLC. An MLC memoir can cost you anywhere between Rs 20, 000 and Rs 35, 000. This covers a CD containing the material in a digital format and three printed copies of the book. More copies can be printed, but at extra cost. You could opt to get the MLCs printed elsewhere as well.
Personal memoirs run to several categories: apart from life and family chronicles, their most popular "products", clients can choose to create travelogues, couple histories and even baby books. And serious pet-lovers can even create pet chronicles! Corporates and institutions may opt for alumni chronicles, institution chronicles or corporate memoirs.
For founder Sumit Chowdhury, this venture represents his life's work. A graduate of IIM Bangalore with 14 years in the corporate sector in companies such as Infosys and Honeywell Technologies, Chowdhury's "interest in history and telling stories" led him to start this company. "I feel we are not capturing the past in ways we should and we are losing our legacy. This is alarming in the context of migration of jobs and the adoption of a materialistic culture. This also applies to institutions and corporates;as we hurtle towards the next target and meeting the next set of financial numbers, we often forget lessons from the past. It is important to learn to respect and preserve our past for a better future, " says Chowdhury. As with most entrepreneurial backstories, a personal incident provided the trigger for Chowdhury's project. His father passed away in 1998 and soon after Chowdhury left his Durgapur home. "On returning home later on different occasions I found his diaries and other documents gathering dust or being sold away as junk. My first thought was to digitise the documents and letters. Later I thought about creating a book on his life. But none of these were possible for a person fully engaged in a job and taking care of a family, " he says. Plus, he realised, there are certain editorial skills needed to put stories together which most people don't possess.
At MLC, professional writers working both full-time and on freelance basis do the research work for the books. The firm has developed its own methodology of collecting data, storyboarding and fleshing out chapters. People can, of course, attempt to do this on their own, he agrees, but the entire exercise of researching, writing and editing can take up a lot of time. Besides, most find it hard to remain objective when they write about families and friends.
For Padmini Gopal, the 50th anniversary of her father's company seemed to be the right time to chronicle his life and work. "We wanted to preserve the lessons he learnt during his transformation from a humble typist to a successful businessman, " says Gopal.
MLC is also working on a project with IIM Bangalore's Alumni Association to create a personal chronicle for one of the B-school's most cherished teachers, Prof Thirunarayan, who passed away recently. "We look at this as a tribute to someone who touched many, many lives and a way of preserving his memory. Also, it could be a great resource for both students and faculty, " says Rakesh Godhwani, an IIMB alumnus who teaches at the school and also heads its old students association.
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