In this ambiguous world, each one of us is constantly in the race to create an identity. Janani Rajeswari S features four authors who have tried to explore this concept through their books in different forms and ways. On one hand is an author who delves into the life of Manipur, another one talks of mother-in-laws, while another focuses on Indian Americans while one on manual scavengers.

For a life of dignity

Book: Unseen
Author: Bhasha Singh
Publisher: Penguin Books India

Bhasha SinghFirst brush with reality It all began with an article on manual scavengers. “Being a journalist, we wish to explore different angles to a subject. I was shocked when I came to know that this heinous act of manual scavenging still exists in Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan through Sreelata Swaminathan, a co m r a d e . I t wa s unimaginable that caste exists in such a barbaric form,” says Bhasha Singh.

After that, there was no stopping and has grown to become the biggest irony to expose why it exists even in 2014.

Women as manual scavengers

The book traces the personal accounts of Bhasha Singh who interacted with the women who are still into the practice in various regions of the country. The whole practice has its roots in caste and gender exploitation in the cruelest form, according to Bhasha. “Owing to the casteist mindset, we think that people belong to certain castes should clean dry toilets, open drains, septic tanks, sewer, etc,” she adds.

More so, patriarchy was essentially the reason why women are asked to clean dry toilets. “One could also blame it on their caste, family and the political-socio set up,” she’s quick to add. They are carrying night soil from many generations and this caste system has made them believe that they are meant to do this work.

Also, it becomes a legacy that is handed on to the daughters-in-law by their mothers-in-law. In her book, Bhasha points out that some daughters-in-law were welcomed into their husband’s home with a broom and the basket used for manual scavenging. Ironically, there was a sense of pride in this act till they realised the need for liberation from this act.

Path to freedom

‘Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA)’, a community-based organisation is dedicated to the cause has been a catalyst for change. “They were able to bring this issue into limelight at national level with more than three decades of endless effort. It focuses on women from the manual scavenging community,” reveals Bhasha.

“Their intervention has strengthened the urge to get rid of the hell. Women are liberating themselves and free samples cialis dry toilets have been demolished. So, the situation has changed and improved. But still septic tank cleaning is there and sewer cleaning is done manually.

Success stories that went beyond obstacles

But struggle is not all as the book also records success stories. “You can find Narayan Amma in Anantpur, Santosh in Haryana, Meena in Delhi, Kusmi in Patna and so on who were also doomed for generations to this practice. Their initial battle is with themselves - that they can do something other than cleaning human shit,” explains Bhasha. She adds that these women made up their minds that their daughters and sons would never do what they did.

“Issue of dignity and conviction are foremost. First, they speak openly about the issue, they then decide to come out from the hell and then they stick to it for life,” she points out.

But the path to rehabilitation is never an easy one. Obstacles come in the form of family set-up and caste hierarchy. “They (women) try to discourage them by saying that other world is not possible,” she says. But these women manage this front and in many cases they become co-operative also. But the biggest hurdle is political apathy and castiest administration. Their rehabilitation benefits are not given to them.

“The State and leaders are shamelessly in denial mode. They have not even utilised the money allotted for rehabilitation. It was with the force of people movement that the Union Government brought in the new legislation,” she reveals.

The future and winning the war

The tale of Narayan Amma from Andhra Pradesh is that of a woman who fought to make her state manual scavengingfree.“ She came out with vision of Wilson Bezwada—a new beginning,” says Bhasha. She assures that it is also happening in other states.

On a personal front, Bhasha says that this exercise changed her life entirely. “Now I think I am also a solider to end this inhumane barbaric practice. It has helped me understand the process of De-caste and its importance. Being a writer I can report and visualise how things are moving and how justice should be restored. I wish this book to become a weapon in this crusade,” says a confident Bhasha.

In the hearth of Manipur

Book: On a Fine Day, You Can See India
Author: C Balagopal
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers India

C BalagopalBalagopal began his professional career as a probationary IAS officer in Manipur in the late 70s. “My book is an anecdotal account of my first impressions about the land,” he explains. It was mélange of awe, discovery and buying cialis soft tabs 100 mg revelations. “I believe that IAS, IPS officers possess a very rich source of personal accounts. However, we are not great chroniclers,” he admits. But for a person known to be a natural storyteller among his friends, Balagopal reveals that finding his own voice was the greatest challenge while turning a writer.

A refreshing take on Manipur

The work on his debut novel began nearly four years ago and was completed in just two months. But what was the need for such a refreshing account?

“When I was in Manipur in the 70s, I tried locating books about the place. But I only found books that are written before Independence. However, why would you read the old account about the state? We all want to read something new,” he points out. Thus, Balagopal goes beyond the geography of Manipur chronicling his experiences. So, he keeps the tone conversational while spicing it up conversations, incidents and anecdotes.

“This helped me think as a 25-year-old at 60 years which is otherwise very difficult,” he adds. The idea behind the book was essentially to present a worm’s eye view i.e. a common man’s take on Manipur. So, he chose to make common people the characters of his book. For instance, Nair Saab created a police wireless on a shoestring budget with available local materials. Or sample the ‘Magic Jeep’ from where we could speak to anyone, district officers and so on.

A closer view

He admits that Manipur, according to him, was always shrouded in mysticism and is no different today. “Manipur is not too far or different from other parts of the country geographical but really more psychologically. So, people from the North-East are still not considered part of India,” he adds. He says the fact that people from the North-East region are not Indians is deep-seated. “Back then, out of the 30 IAS officers posted, not even one was a Manipuri. It felt like a colonial administration,” Balagopal explains.

Bridging the gap

Going a step further, the book offers solutions to some existing problems such as creating jobs for the Manipuri. He ends the book with an essay on what Manipur is. Balagopal says that it was an interesting addition to his book. “My editor felt that is was a cut off from the old accounts about the region,” he says.

He further adds that the response has been well resonating. “I have tried to keep the book biased yet not biased. Many people from the region have thanked me for that and I am grateful for it.” Further, he hopes that his book would motivate more babus and ex-babus to write their experiences in various regions across the country.

The ‘real’ Americans

Book: The Americans
Author: Chitra Viraraghavan
Publisher: Fourth Estate

Chitra ViraraghavanChitra Viraraghavan has been into in some form or the other. But her association w i t h f i c t i o n b e g a n w i t h writing short stories. This w a s a r o u n d nine years ago. Talking about her foray, she s a y s : “ M o s t writers’ lives are shaped by the fact of their being readers from a very early age. Mine was no different. All the reading gives you refuge; it also shows you what is wrong with the world. Most writers are uncomfortable people and write from a place of discomfort, of wanting things to be different and better, somehow.”

Indians or Americans?

Her debut novel The Americans explores the life of a particular group of people who are constantly are torn between two different societies and constantly trying to create an identity for themselves.

“I’ve had the opportunity to observe these people, both in the US and in India, when they come visiting to either of the nations. They come here and are ‘Americans’; but their identities back in the US are not so clear-cut,” she begins explaining. In a sense, they are ‘American’ to all of us. She adds that it might be a matter of pride for them. However, the book tries to delve into what really is their social position in their adopted homeland. “Also, I thought it was high time an Indian writing from an Indian point of view turned the gaze back on this community, members of which are always advising us and writing about us,” says Chitra.

The Americans’ identity

Talking about Indian Americans and Indians, naming the novel ‘The Americans’ seemed interesting. “The title was meant to be somewhat ironic trying to speak of the distance between perception and reality in terms of identity. It was really about wanting to belong, of not belonging to a place and the effect it has on a person,” she explains.

So, how would Chitra define ‘Identities’? “In the modern world, identities are constantly negotiated, aren’t they?” she asks. She adds that when you have a sense of otherness from the mainstream, the quest to belong to an invisible majority that is predominant in the world becomes critical to one’s sense of identity. “This is a phenomenon that exists as much in India as elsewhere in the world. Every aspect of life comes to be defined by one’s distance or closeness to that so-called ideal position. This is what I’ve tried to explore from different points of view and situations in my book,” says Chitra.

Protagonist and others

Tara is the heroine of Chitra’s book in every sense. She is bound to the USA to meet her sister’s family. She is the linking character in the novel with the ten other characters in the book. Each of the ten narrates his/her own stories from their own point of view. “Tara is the character that holds the narrative together in different ways,” she says. So, is Tara inspired by someone whom Chitra knows? Yes and no, clarifies Chitra. “As far as I used my experiences of living and observing things in the US to create her. She, like many of the other characters in the book, has some very dramatic things happening to her, things that could happen only in fiction,” she says.

Each character is unique. While a majority of them are entangled in web of making sense of their identity. Some are embroiled in a world of their own like little Rahul who is autistic.

“In a way, I suppose this character could symbolise all the others. Each one is trying to make sense of a world that bewilders them in some way, to which they do not fully belong for various reasons,” says Chitra. According to her, it is an attempt to present different characters in widely differing situations and allowing the emergence of the questions of identity from that.

The Mummy-ji tales

Book: Mother-in-Law: The Other Woman in Your Marriage
Author: Veena Venugopal
Publisher: Penguin Books India

The break and ‘Mother-in-law’

Veena VenugopalFor journalist Veena Venugopal, writing books happened organically. An avid blogger on reading and books, she was approached by her first publisher to do a collection of essays on the topic. “It (Would You Like Some Bread With That Book?) was a fun book and my only focus was on keeping it honest and interesting.”

Her second book came in the form of The Mother-in-Law: The Other Woman in Your Marriage. “ C h i k i Sarkar of Penguin wanted someone to write on the unique Indian phenomenon of mothers-in-law. I wasn’t sure as my relationship with my mother-in-law was at times okay and at times rocky. But when I started talking about the book, every time someone heard mother-in-law, they jumped in to say that I should write about them,” she reveals. Simply put as ‘Pentheraphobia’ (Fear of Mummy-ji).

Reality bites

Though initially she researched for a funny book, Veena realised that certain experiences are often dark and very traumatic. “I realised that a lot of people were desperate to talk about their situation. A marriage is a bit of a windowless box. You can’t talk about your mother-in-law too much to your husband because he eventually feels defensive about her. Your own parents would rather not hear the gory details and feel bad because unless there is abuse, their advice is largely that these things happen and you should ‘adjust’,” she explains.

Largely written from the daughterin- law’s perspective, some characters are juxtaposed. What, according to her, is ‘Mother-in-law’? “Control freak, obsessed mother, confused custodian of culture and traditions. I discovered that this is the worst generation for Mummy-ji conflicts,” she says. The gap has widened because of educated and worldly daughters-in-law and Mummy-jis who are still stuck with pre-liberalisation values. So, the educated, urban, Englishspeaking, middle-class women married to Indian men are the heroines of this nonfiction work who talk about their lives.

The accounts range from shocking to harrowing ones. “Keisha is a victim of mental and physical abuse, as well as a survivor of marital rape. Her mother-inlaw was witness to most of it. Keisha was treated like a domestic help at home. It was shocking because Keisha is someone like us – if you passed by her in a street you’d never guess the trauma she has gone through,” she says.

The ‘Adarsh bahu’

The concept of ‘Adarsh bahus’ also varies from region to region. “The north Indian mother-in-law has rather rigid notions of how she should dress and conduct oneself. She is often adamant that the daughterin- law should be a housewife and not a career-oriented woman. The south Indian mother-in-law is a little easier on both these counts,” she explains.

While asserting the concept of ‘Adarsh bahu’ on one hand, on the other hand they offer solace to these traumatised women. “It’s a bit of a vicious cycle between real life and soaps. Keisha revealed that watching soaps made her feel she wasn’t the only one suffering and that her life was normal,” says Veena.

Read and accepted?

Veena reveals that it was a difficult book to write. “The response has been great so far by reaching out to two kinds of readers: those who feel grateful that their mothersin- law aren’t as bad as some of those in the book and those who feel happy that there are other people who are going through similar stuff,” she adds.

The book offers other solutions that might help the daughters-in-law. On the future, she opines, “My sense is that in another generation, when these young, educated daughters-in-law become mothers-in-law, they would be far more liberal and emotionally less high strung. For now though, the era is modern but Mummy-ji is not,” she says.

The digital revolution has brought a number of changes in the world of publishing. It has not only revolutionised the publishing process, but has also brought new models of book distribution and new platforms to read and interact with the book. In addition, digital has enabled the creative industries, publishing services, technological innovations and the internet revolution, to become an integral part of the publishing process today. Further, existence of numerous publishing apps clearly indicates that publishing is increasingly moving towards a mobile platform. These new developments have brought to the fore new challenges of innovation, strategy and adaptability.

The major challenge that a publisher faces today is how to make a book accessible across multiple platforms and to be able to access new revenue streams. Content strategy and information architecture management are the new buzzwords through which the publisher grapples with. In this backdrop, PubliCon 2014- Publishing Across Platforms, organised by FICCI on December 3, 2014 at FICCI, Federation House, Tansen Marg, New Delhi, will look into these new areas of publishing and will try to find solutions to some of these new challenges.

–says Namita Gokhale, author, publisher and director Jaipur Lit Fest A multifaceted personality, Namita Gokhale has been associated with Indian Publishing for around four decades. She is one of the stalwarts, who are working hard to make Indian regional literature accessible to everyone. Smita Dwivedi discovers her unwavering urge to follow cross-currents…everlasting affair with books and multitasking…of course in the field of literature. Up till now Namita has written six novels, a collection of short stories, and several works of nonfiction, all in English. Her first novel - Paro: Dreams of Passion, 1984, a satire on the Mumbai and Delhi elite caused uproar due to its candid sexual humour. Gods Graves and Grandmother - an ironic fable about street life in Delhi was adapted into a musical play. She was diagnosed with cancer when she was just thirty-five and her husband died a few years later. The experience of illness and loss can be seen in her later books, A Himalayan Love Story, The Book of Shadows and Shakuntala, the Play of Memory. Namita is also a passionate publisher and one of the founding members of the Jaipur Literature Festival. Donning many hats, she has proved that passion for books and literature has infinite potential. “Unless I am multitasking, am incomplete…just like a jigsaw puzzle, which is in the process of assembled. So, rushing about in different directions has become a part of my personality. I do believe that as we grow older, we wind down a little; but I wish I could do fewer things with more attention rather than more things with less attention,” she concluded.

Book Affaire

Namita GokhaleOn asking about the inception of this everlasting affair with books and literature, she added, “I always had a love for literature and books; in my school days, it was equally divided into love for books and arts and I wanted to be a painter. But life has its own momentum and I became a literature student and sadly that aptitude for art totally withered. Despite being a topper, I was held back in my third year in graduation and that was a turning point in my life. This led to the inception of a film magazine called SUPER, which successfully ran for eight years. And from here, I learnt to appreciate the power of popular culture and learnt a lot about publishing. That had really characterised most of the things that I did after that.”

Art of Literature!

Publishing is Gokhale’s other love. The Namita Gokhale Editions, a signature imprint published in association with Roli Books, introduced some notable titles including Rashna Imhasly Gandhy’s The Psychology of Love and Neelima Dalmia Adhar’s Biography of her Father, RK Dalmia. She has conducted two memorable writers’ retreats in Landour, with Roli Books, for the Namita Gokhale editions. She is passionately committed to showcasing and translating the best of Indian writing and engaging the vibrant Bhasha languages of the Indian sub-continent in a creative dialogue with each other and the rest of the world. She is one of the founder directors of Yatra Books which co-publishes with Penguin Books in Hindi, Marathi, Urdu and other Indian languages including English in a ground breaking series.

Further explaining about her achievements, she added, “I believe in deep roots in all that I do…Like studying the subject with depth, at the same time believe that unless it is accessible to the popular imagination, it loses a very important dimension. I prefer whimsical, marginalised voices and make them accessible to people who may not normally have appreciated it. My interdisciplinary work is reflected in my publishing work.”


On asking about genesis of JLF, which began in 2006, she shared, “It was a self born phenomenon… in beginning we had small audience of 40 people. We invited 18 people to speak, out of which two dropped out. So, we had to get emergency replacements. Even then, it was a brilliant and beautiful festival…but that particular intimacy has been lost over the years. The greatest thing about JLF is the quality of audience. From Nobel laureates to local language writers, Man Booker prize winners to debut novelists, every January the most remarkable, witty, sensitive and brilliant collection of authors come together for five days of readings, debates and discussions at the beautiful Diggi Palace in Jaipur.”

“As clouds of buzzing creative energy gather around Jaipur, readers from around the world arrive for this annual pilgrimage, to attempt to make sense of our multiple and changing worlds through the prism of literature. The Jaipur Yatra will continue to celebrate books and ideas, readers and writers, in an open, joyous and spontaneous space, and to uphold the spirit of democratic debate and dialogue,” she further added.

On a concluding note!

According to Namita, curiosity is one of the greatest qualities in human being and reading a good well written book is a way to enter another reality and expand one’s horizon. “Today, we are exposed to so many types of narratives, be it films, TV or internet; still book is unique in its own way. Reader has to work hard to understand a good book, not just author,” she said.

Further asking about her views on changes in publishing world, “As we grow older all changes look negative, it’s a state of mind, I would rather look at the positive changes. The greatest thing that has happened is the democratisation of publishing. Technology has made publishing available to anybody who has a voice and can share it. I think self publishing is of great importance and at the same time the curator model has its own strengths. And they are not at all contradictory to each other. It’s like cinema and TV…they both are complementing each other. Also, there are consistently good writings in Indian literature. I wish I could contribute to translate across all Indian and international languages,” concluded Namita.

- Exclusive distributorship of titles from Koros Press and Auris Reference, London.
- More than 1,100 titles in higher-education segment.

New Delhi-based Delhi Book Store (DBS) has taken exclusive distributorship of well-known overseas publishers – Auris Reference (more than 200 titles) and Koros Press (more than 400 titles). These books are meant for higher education, targeting academicians, researchers, scholars, professors and libraries.

Koros Press Limited (KPL), headquartered in London, United Kingdom, is one of the most prolific and fast-growing book publishers in the world. With an extensive range of specialised reference titles – from Handbooks to Encyclopaedias, KPL strives to serve the world's research and scholarly communities and aims to be one of the largest publishers for professional and scholarly societies.

DBS will distribute Koros titles in the following subjects – Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries, Art and Architecture, Animal Science and Veterinary, Biological Science and Genetics, Chemical Engineering and Oil, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Civil Engineering, Computer Science and Information Technology, Earth and Environmental Science, Economics and Business, Education, Encyclopaedia and Reference, Food Science, Plant Science, Religions, Language, Literature and Linguistics, Law, Library Science, Management, Nanotechnology, and Sociology and Social Science.

Auris Reference Limited, a sister concern of Koros Press Limited – UK, is an international repute publisher with an orientation towards Applied Science, Core Engineering and Technical subjects. With more than 300 highly appreciated reference titles already available and many more specializing in research, reference and upper-level titles in the pipeline in highly focused areas, Auris Reference Limited is a name to beckon with. The subjects dealt by DBS will include Biological Science and Genetics, Chemical Engineering and Oil, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Civil Engineering, Computer Science and Information Technology, Earth and Environmental Science, Electrical Engineering, Material Science, Mathematics and Statistics, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering and Physics.

DBS already has exclusive distributorship of Springer. Although they have over 5,000 titles of Springer, they distribute more than 500 titles on various subjects such as Civil Engineering, Agriculture, Medical, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical and Electronics, Nanotechnology, Instrumentation, Automation, Environmental Engineering, Computer Science and Information Technology, Geotechnical Engineering, Aviation & Aeronautics and Chemical Engineering.

With this, DBS has an extensive base of 1,100 titles in the higher-education segment and the list is growing continuously. Housed in a multi-storey facility in centrally located Darya Ganj in New Delhi, DBS offers a unique relaxed atmosphere, where visitors can easily browse through the books.

–Do you have a BOOK in you? In recent times, we have seen many corporate honchos churning out bestsellers…be it fiction or thriller, they do it flawlessly. In a day time, they are dressed sharply and are busy with boardroom meetings and discussions for almost 12-16 hours a day. While back home they are ready to don author’s hat…and ready to chase their dreams.

Ashwin Sanghi (left) and Vikas Rathi (Right)The list of such authors/writers is long. Smita Dwivedi (SD), in conversation with Ashwin Sanghi (AS) and Vikas Rathi (VR), makes an attempt to understand what makes them different in their own professional league.
The most popular Indian name to this list would be Chetan Bhagat, who was having a flying banking career in Singapore. The other leading names include Amish Tripathi, national head, marketing and product management at IDBI Federal Life Insurance; Ashwin Sanghi, an entrepreneur with interests in automobiles and real estate; Ravi Subramanian, president and CEO, Shriram Finance (Non Chit); Vikas Rathi, finance manager for the Asia Pacific Region with Procter & Gamble Healthcare and many more.

Their novelistic concerns are diverse ranging from romance, thriller, mythical Puranas, Indus Valley civilization, corporate politics and tales of real world. Similarly, they all have diverse ways of stealing time to write way to their dreams. Some write in cars…some in coffee shops…late nights…early morning…but they write. Here, Ashwin Sanghi and Vikas Rathi share their professional corporate-cum-author’s life.

SD: Share a brief about yourself?

AS: As you know, I am not a writer by profession. I was born and brought up in a business environment. I started working at 16 and completed my MBA when I was 22. By the time I completed writing my debut novel, The Rozabal Line, in 2006, I had already been in business for over 20 years! Now at the age of 45, I have been managing a parallel writing career for over a decade.

VR: I am a Chartered Accountant and an MBA from IIM Bangalore. I specialise in finance & strategy. I worked for 11 years at Procter & Gamble across various locations in Asia and presently I head the business planning & analysis for Novartis Consumer Health for their international operations.

SD: When did you realize that there’s an author trapped inside, who just want to break free? Was it an instant realization or it was a long yearning?

AS: My parents used to regularly take us for holidays to Kashmir during the seventies. During these visits, we would do all the touristy stuff—including visiting Rozabal. As a child, however, I did not fully understand the significance of the tomb. It was only in 1999 that the notion that Jesus may have left behind a bloodline came to my attention when I read Holy Blood Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. A couple of years later, I read Holger Kersten and was fascinated with the idea that Jesus could have been inspired by Buddhism and that he may have drawn much of his spiritual learning from India. I began to wonder whether I could marry the two theories i.e. that he survived the crucifixion and traveled to India and that he left behind a bloodline. That question was the spark that inspired me to write my first book.

VR: It had been a yearning for a while. The only thing holding me back was taking the time to tell a compelling story. Writing a novel is indeed a long-term project and requires discipline and commitment. One can easily take years to write one book and then the publishing process can take many months. Resident Dormitus, my first novel, took five years from the first time I started writing to when it was eventually published.

SD: Being a busy professional, how do you manage your writing schedule?

AS: I write early mornings on weekdays and then put in a regular eight-hour day at the office. I use my Saturdays to gain writing momentum and leave Sundays entirely for family time. During the year I take four weeks off to write so that I may complete whatever happens to be my current project. Work keeps Lakshmi smiling and my writing keeps Saraswati in good humour… what more could I possibly ask for?

VR: I write mostly over the weekends and sometimes in the evenings. I make it one of my top priorities and accordingly make time for it. Sometimes, it is difficult especially due to travel but I have cultivated an ability to write in any environment e.g. in the flight, at airport lounges, and of course at home/cafes.

SD: Did you ever experience writer's block?

AS: There is no ailment that a peg of whiskey cannot cure, just remember that! I never fight writer’s block. Instead I use the time to read more, refine my research notes, tweak my plot outlines etc. By the time that I am done, the block has miraculously vanished.

VR: Visualization is the key technique I use while writing a story. I start to play the situation in my mind, imagine myself to be one of the characters and see where it goes. A little bit of day-dreaming also helps. But it does leave you emotionally drained. To keep doing it over a long period is the most challenging part for me.

SD: Successful entrepreneurs make bestseller authors. What’s your opinion on this?

AS: I have always worried that I would be boxed in… compartmentalised. I get bored rather easily and I need to keep finding ways to reinvent myself. Writing was a chance for me to do something different. I imagine that boredom might very well be a reason for others too!

VR: I think different people have different reasons and it is not in my place to generalise. In my specific case, I like writing and have graduated from simply blogging to writing novels. It is an alternate outlet for my creativity and an enjoyable process.

SD: Just as your books inspire authors, what books/authors have inspired you to write?

AS: It’s difficult to say because I grew up reading both classics as well as potboilers. My spiritual sense is influenced by Paramahansa Yogananda, my love for fast pace and racy plots is influenced by Dan Brown and Frederick Forsythe, my fascination with historical retelling is inspired by Dominique Lapierre, my passion for research is fuelled by Arthur Hailey and my Indianness of voice is influenced by Salman Rushdie.

Infact, I was brought up on a diet of commercial fiction and thrillers for most of my growing years: Jeffrey Archer, Sidney Sheldon, Robert Ludlum, Frederick Forsyth, Irving Wallace, Jack Higgins, Tom Clancy, Ayn Rand, Ken Follett, Arthur Hailey. In the past decade, Dan Brown, John Grisham, Stieg Larsson, Ian Rankin and countless others were added to my list of favourites. I prefer thrillers to any other genre and that is precisely the reason why my books are always fast paced.

VR: As a reader, I oscillate between heavy philosophical literature (such as by Dostoevsky, Albert Camus, etc.) to obscure humour (such as Hitch Hikers guide to the galaxy, Catch-22, Dilbert and Calvin & Hobbes) to thrillers (Andrew Burdett is a recent favorite) to science fiction (Isaac Asimov, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley). Dostoevsky, Camus and Upamanyu Chatterjee have influenced me the most.

SD: Do you dream? Do you have any recurring dreams/nightmares?

AS: Sure. These days it is one in which I’m sitting at my desk for days but am unable to write a single word. I have always believed that I am simply the medium. I am the water pipe, the transmission cable… the words come through me not from me. I dread a day when my inspiration dries up.

VR: Dream, yes. But I hardly ever remember them when I wake up. My wife complains that I repeatedly engage in ridding the bed of imagined worms but I have difficulty in recalling it in my wakeful stage.

SD: What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?

AS: Commercial fiction writing in India did not take off primarily because of our snobbish attitude towards commercial writing. Most Indian authors were busy churning out literary fiction and publishers continued actively searching for the next Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Amitav Ghosh, or Jhumpa Lahiri. They could hardly be bothered with finding the Indian equivalent of Robert Ludlum, Frederick Forsyth, Jack Higgins, or Tom Clancy! Satyajit Ray would not have given us Feluda if an Indian market for mysteries, suspense, adventure and thrillers did not exist. It’s sad that we allowed ourselves to cede space to foreign authors in these genres. I think that authors like me changed things for other aspiring commercial fiction writers.

VR: The idea first popped in my mind when a batch-mate committed suicide within six months of her first job. Subsequently, I heard another story through alumni network about a junior committing suicide within the first term at IIMB presumably because he could not cope with the pressure/ expectations. Later, I heard stories about educated youth being enrolled in terrorism. This prompted me to think what could cause people to take such extreme steps. A little bit of soul searching led me to realise that almost all of us go through an existential crisis when we step out of university into the real world. Most are able to tackle such crisis through finding meaning via trial and error or through guidance. For some, however, such crisis can be so big that they turn suicidal or violent. That theme stayed with me for a long time till I penned it down into a novel.

I tried to imagine a situation as to what will happen if a person (who goes through life with disdain, almost as if doing a grand favor to the universe but who happens to be lucky enough to still excel) meets another equally talented but downright unlucky person. That was the broad plot I started with, vague as it was. Since, I am intrigued by dark literature such as self-destruction, sacrifice, unconsummated love as well as irreverent humor stemming from daily ordinary affairs, those themes found their way in the novel. I am proud of Resident Dormitus but I think my second novel, work in progress, will be better.

SD: Where do you see yourself in 10 years from now…A successful corporate honcho or a fulltime author?

AS: Who knows. All I can hope is that it is a happy place. I am happiest when writing so I assume that it will have something to do with the pen!

VR: Writing, for me, is neither a hobby nor a full-blooded career option. It is my passion. I immensely enjoy the process of writing. Even if there were no publishers, I would have still written for myself. Ideally, I would like to preserve that feeling and so am not looking to make writing a career option.