"I learned the craft of copyediting from the principals of the editing company I began working for in 2004."
And who am I? Henry, the jungle owlet, that's me.
Scroll down to the end of the page for a mugshot.
I am an electronics engineer who worked for many years in information technology before switching to academic copyediting. I live in Kochi, the commercial capital of Kerala, the southernmost state in India that lies on the shores of the Arabian Sea.
I learned the craft of copyediting from the principals of the editing company I began working for in 2004. They had decades of experience in publishing as editors in both India and the United States, and I could not have chosen better professionals to apprentice myself to.
In 2013, the company was wound down, and I became independent. Fate seems to have nudged me in the right direction. Temperamentally, I've always been too individualistic to be a good organization man. Not having to salute a boss is heaven, as is the freedom to structure your day and determine your time on the job and off it.
Books: A Flying Start
With books, I enjoyed an early start. My father was a voracious reader, a member of the two major foreign libraries of Calcutta: the British Council library and the USIS library. The British Council library was his favorite, and I naturally dipped into the books he borrowed.
His interests were history (especially WW2, which commenced when he was an impressionable schoolboy), biography, autobiography, and wildlife. If I'm interested in true crime today, it's because of two autobiographies my father brought from the British Council library: one by a retired Scotland Yard police officer and the other by a burglar. I was fascinated by the life-and-death games of hide and seek described in these two books, though I don't remember the titles and authors. Fresh in my mind are the thrilling WW2 escape stories, especially Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby and Escape from Colditz by Pat Reid.
These books taught me an important lesson: nonfiction could be as exciting as fiction. A seed was planted that would fructify later in life. Of course, these "adult" books were occasional forays, the main diet consisting of the usual schoolboy fare: Enid Blyton, the Hardy Boys stories, Richmal Crompton, etc. My mother was a reader too; she had her own set of pet interests (like the British royal family (!), a throwback to her colonial school in Malaya). I was surrounded by books as a boy, and they have remained faithful companions all my life.
"These books taught me an important lesson: nonfiction could be as exciting as fiction."
English: An Indian Success Story
"English is my mother tongue, my first language: it's the language we have always used at home—both the home I was raised in and the home I raised my children in—and it's the only language I know well."
"There is a fluidity to the South Asian language-scape that is wholly lacking in the United States, which is, despite the diverse population, ferociously monolingual. Code-switching, the practice of sliding effortlessly from one language to the next, or mixed idioms, like Hinglish, are practically non-existent in the US, outside of immigrant communities." Karen Rockwell
English is my mother tongue, my first language: it's the language we have always used at home—both the home I was raised in and the home I raised my children in—and it's the only language I know well. (This is not something I'm proud of—I wish I'd paid more attention to languages like Bengali and Malayalam.) This situation came about because my mother, who was raised in Malaya, started learning Malayalam (no, Malayalam is not the national language of Malaya!) only after her marriage, and so my parents began to use English at home (this scenario occurs often in inter-community marriages—which my parents' marriage was not—with English serving as the link language in the family). In official forms I give my mother tongue as Malayalam, because in official circles the mother tongue is often used as a proxy for the state of origin, and sometimes for the community/ethnicity (as far as I know, in India, only Anglo-Indians have English as their official mother tongue). Some bureaucrat may draw the wrong conclusions if I give English as my mother tongue.
English is an international language, the most cosmopolitan of languages, and it began to drift inexorably from its Anglo-Saxon moorings when the British dispersed all over the globe. It is a rich language "that has been made and remade over centuries in different countries by different cultures" (Alexandra Pringle in Literary Review, The Hindu of October 17, 2021). English is today an Indian language as much as it is a British and American language, and there are many like me in India who think and dream in English (though their official mother tongue is some other language). India is a multilingual country, and most Indians are proficient in more than one language; three languages are taught in most schools. (My father once observed that at the age of 3 or 4, I spoke in Bengali with my ayah, switched to Hindi with the cook, and reverted to English with my parents.) The medium of instruction in many schools is English. The roll call of distinguished Indian writers in English is long, from Jawaharlal Nehru, Mulk Raj Anand, R. K. Narayan, Ved Mehta, and the naturalist M. Krishnan to Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, and Amitav Ghosh.
The idea of a "native speaker" of a language is simple: the native speaker is born into a particular language and grows up with it. This concept is crystal clear in predominantly monolingual countries; in predominantly multilingual countries like India, it can become fuzzy: multiple lingual nativities can happily coexist. As the American translator of Hindi literature, Daisy Rockwell says: "There is a fluidity to the South Asian language-scape that is wholly lacking in the United States, which is, despite the diverse population, ferociously monolingual. Code-switching, the practice of sliding effortlessly from one language to the next, or mixed idioms, like Hinglish, are practically non-existent in the US, outside of immigrant communities" (in Gupta T., "Meet the American who translates some of India’s finest Hindi writers into English," Scroll (May 13, 2018), https://scroll.in/article/878800/meet-the-american-who-translates-some-of-indias-finest-hindi-writers-into-english.
I copyedit mostly in US English and sometimes in UK English. Experienced copyeditors can usually work with more than one variety of English. I hardly ever work in Indian English, because my end clients are Western publishers/research organizations. Scholarly publishing is a Western-dominated enterprise. My domain is academic writing, which employs (or should employ) a form of standard English that is universally understood.
In a nutshell, folks, he's a native speaker of English who has been raised and educated in India.
Over the years, I have amassed hundreds of books, ranging from novels picked up from pavement vendors to popular and not-so-popular titles, mostly used books from exhibitions, in genres as varied as popular science, wildlife, and exploration to history and true crime. I also have many books on the English language, from handbooks to dictionaries of phrasal verbs (I love the one by Rosemary Courtney) and usage and style guides.
Some of the books are rather rare, or at least out of print, for example, Maeve O'Conner's How to Copyedit Scientific Books and Journals, Frederick Wood's English Prepositional Idioms (I got this from a German supplier via Abe Books), and Clear Technical Writing by John Brogan. A recent purchase was Three Little Words by Alan Brender, a book (for Japanese learners of English) on the use of articles. This book is coming in very handy indeed to explain some of my decisions on articles to my East Asian authors, some of whom are not shy about asking for justifications of my editorial decisions.
Since college, my reading has been largely confined to nonfiction, because of the sheer number and variety of interesting titles available. (An exception was a book that someone recommended, We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver, which I found unputdownable; besides, it read more like nonfiction than fiction, which I think is an attribute of the best fiction.) There has been a veritable explosion in nonfiction book publishing in the past decades, with dozens of high-quality nonfiction titles being released every year. The reader is spoiled for choice; there is something for every palate.
Today I typically have three or four books going at the same time, which at the time of this writing are as follows: This Is the Voice by John Colapinto on my Kindle, Neurotribes by Steve Silberman on my PC e-reader, a physical book from my largely unread personal library (Stalin: A Biography by Robert Service), and a physical book or two from the local library (The Ice at the End of the World by Jon Gertner and Every Creature Has a Story by Janaki Lenin).
I fell in love with the game when I began playing it in school, and have never looked back. I was the school, college, and university champion, and played in many tournaments in the decade after college, winning prizes in some of them. I turned to correspondence chess when work pressure did not allow me to play over the board, and was awarded the CCIM (Correspondence Chess International Master) title in 2002.
The true reward of chess is the exhilarating beauty that can arise in the pursuit of a wooden king on a wooden board. As the ancient Indian proverb puts it: "Chess is a sea in which a gnat may drink and an elephant may bathe." It can be enjoyed by anyone who takes the trouble to learn the rules of the game and is willing to invest the effort needed to move beyond the beginner stage.
Today I play correspondence chess tournaments and study the game with the help of ebooks, courses, and videos. Yes, they constitute another small library!
The attention to detail and concentration that chess demands are qualities that transfer well to copyediting.
"The attention to detail and concentration that chess demands are qualities that transfer well to editing."
"Curiosity about a wide variety of subjects is the secret sauce that counteracts staleness in the editorial mind."