Tag Archives: interview

Interview with Swati Chaturvedi

So the minute I finished reading “Daddy’s Girl” by Swati Chaturvedi, I had questions for her. I needed to know how the book come about, etc. What better place to get in touch with an author these days than social media? I for one couldn’t stop turning the pages of this book. It was classic mystery, part literary fiction and part investigative journalistic style that shone, given Swati has been a journalist for 20 years.

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Here is the interview with her:

How did the book come to you? Why this topic? Was it influenced by the Talwar case (sorry to ask you this, given how many people must’ve already asked)?

I have been an investigative journalist for 20 years. While I enjoyed working in TV doing my own one to one show where I was considered very nasty and aggressive after five years ennui had set in. All my life reading has been my solace, craving virtually a drug. I always wanted to write and since I started out as a crime reporter where I covered many murders including doing exclusive news breaks on the Naina Sahni tandoor murder I wanted to write a thriller a insider account of the interplay of politics, media and the police?

I think the Arushi case which I did not cover has become like the Nirbhaya rape case – a kind of touchstone of gory murder. This book is not based on the Arushi Talwar case it has elements of murder cases I have covered earlier.

“Daddy’s Girl” must not have been an easy book to write given the sub-narratives and complex threads to it. How did you manage it? Was it cathartic in a lot of ways?

Writing Daddy’s Girl was brutal. All journalists are trained to write to a world limit and a deadline. It was incredibly daunting to write fiction where the pages just seemed to menace me and find me wanting. Also as a reporter you are trained to be factual so during the process while I was still writing stories and analysis I had to re-boot for Meera and gang. It made me relive some experiences I have had as a journalist but, catharsis no. I was too busy fretting over the plot.

At some points in the book, I was beginning to doubt Meera’s intentions. Did you intend it to be like this for the reader? Meera’s character has a lot of shades of grey to it. How was writing her character then for you?

Meera is fiery, feisty and unpredictable like most human beings. She’s idealistic but, at the outset of the book incredibly naive and trusting while fancying herself very clever. The book is also a kind of coming of age of this young reporter who loves black and white and sort of realises that most of life is shades of grey. She becomes a full-fledged adult by the end of the book. But, I think her defining characteristic is an incredible hunger for the story and a huge idealism.

Do you think we need more books such as these that link closely to the political scenarios of the country? Is it because you had first-hand information to so many cases that it was easier to write this?

You are spot on as a journalist you have a privileged ring side view of what’s actually happening and access to the players because of the kind of stories and interviews I do. I find it very interesting and plan to keep on writing about it. So it was easy but, also hard to disguise the people concerned. But, as it’s fiction they are a bit of a mix of the people I know and my fairly vivid imagination.

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Swati as a writer. What is your schedule like? Do you have any writing superstitions?

Swati the writer is as anal about writing as she is about most things. No superstitions but, a huge amount of shoulder aches and the sheer amount of time and the physical effort. Writing wrings you out and leaves you exhausted. I also hate revising here I had no choice. I can write anywhere which is a blessing after years of noisy newspaper news rooms.

Swati the reader. What are your favourite top 10 recommended reads? Tell us a little something about each of them.

I am an omnivore reader. Top ten would include:

My absolute favourite Jane Austen, I love the characters the plots and the wonderful story telling. I keep re reading them.

A Suitable Boy: I’ve have re-read it so many times that I have lost count. Love this particular book for its very Austen qualities.

Sea of poppies by Amitav Ghosh: Loved this one was rather disappointed by the sequel.

P G Wodehouse: From Bertie Wooster, aunt Dahlia, Aunt Agatha, Jeeves and the entire Blandings castle cannot get enough.

Agatha Christie: Still love the cozy, very British murders and Hercule Poirot.

P D James: Again love the suspense the plots and the very real characters.

Read a lot of history and books on architecture because I am a history student and am fascinated with design. All Mughal history is riveting.

Lionel Shriver: From double fault to we need to talk about Kevin. Amazing lucid story telling.

Antonia Fraser: Love her historical books as it’s brilliant compelling writing.

Wendy Donniger: Beautiful writing and a unique take. Plus love how it bothers the lemmings who actually don’t read.


A debut is always the toughest to venture into. Did you at any point think you would never be able to do this?

No I always finish what I start. Was terrified yes but never thought that I would not complete it. Was even more nervous about the reception. So the kindness that people have shown and the fact that it’s selling and people like it is incredibly reassuring and thrilling.

One empathizes for the Nalwas and yet this bickering sense of unease when they crop up in the book. Why do you think that happens? Was it intentional?

Yes I would say it was my intention as they represent seriously flawed and deviant people. You feel for them but, together they are toxic and resent each other yet are yoked together by this awful secret.

Do buy the book wherever books are sold. It is a great read.

Interview with Karan Mahajan

Few books enter your soul and manage to shake and stir it. Those books remain with you, no matter what. “The Association of Small Bombs” by Karan Mahajan has been one such book for me this year. I am dazzled by it and will remain so for a long time to come.

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I was excited to get a chance to be able to interview Karan and here is the interview. The review to the book is here. Please do read the book. It is beyond super.

Keeping in mind the title of your book, why are small attacks not remembered? Why do you think they erase themselves so quickly from memory? What are in fact, small attacks through small bombs?

They’re not remembered because we have a limited bandwidth for tragedies that involve others. Modern India is a feast of tragedies. It’s not surprising that the smaller bombings are covered for a couple of days and than overridden by larger fires, train collisions, scandals, terrorist attacks.

The book is all about people who are affected by a small attack or lead to a small attack’s occurrence. How did the story come about? I know it is a rather cliché question, but we sure would like to know.

All good novels come from a mysterious emotional source. I must have felt, at the time when I started writing the book, all the way back in 2009, that my personal experience resonated with the pain felt by the parents, the Khuranas, in the opening of the book. I remembered the Lajpat Nagar bomb vaguely from my childhood but it came rushing back to me with a great violence soon after the 26/11 attacks. In a way, it was a sort of gift—a negative gift. Suddenly I had this thing—this world at my disposal. I spent the next five years figuring out what it was trying to say to me.

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You bring out the real and human and very insipid daily acts of terrorists in the book. Why did you do that? Did you want to show them as more human than they really are? Do we in our need to objectify confuse humaneness with just being a human being?

I like the word “insipid” in this context! Basically, I wished to erode the negative glamor around terrorism. I wanted to say: these are the banal steps that lead to a bombing. Don’t be in the thrall of these figures: they are often bumbling, sad, confused. That said, I don’t downplay the evil of terrorists. Their actions are inexcusable. But it’s possible to be evil and petty at once, or to be evil and stupid. It’s our collective imagination that transforms terrorists into these god-like masterminds.

I was most taken in by the family that disintegrates because of the terror attack. Were they always dysfunctional? Were the cracks always there but never seen?

Yes, the family was always dysfunctional, in my mind. Vikas Khurana has never resigned himself to the bourgeois trappings of his life—his extended family, his kids, his wife—though that is his life. He sees himself as an artist primarily, but the lie of that premise is already showing through when the novel starts. The bomb widens that gap. Deepa and the kids live in a stalemate alongside Vikas’s brooding. We tend to believe that the best parts of people can emerge during a tragedy but I wanted to show how the worst parts can come out too.


What were your favourite books growing up? Did they have any impact on “The Association of Small Bombs”?

I’m sure they did have an impact. “Growing up” isn’t quite the right place to look—I’m sure reading PG Wodehouse and Agatha Christie affected my prose style, but I don’t think they’ve had a bearing on other aspects of my sensibility. I think Naipaul, Narayan, Hemingway, Bellow, Conrad, Ozick, some of (Arundhati) Roy, Philip Roth, Yashpal, Rushdie—these have loomed larger as influences. I tend to find Naipaul a bit chilly for my tastes, but I love the speed of “Half A Life.” It’s a book with an actual narrative—which a book like “A Bend In The River” lacks (with every year it seems more like an academic text than a novel to me). I connect with RK Narayan’s humanistic humor—particularly in books like “The Vendor of Sweets” and “The Painter of Signs.” Conrad’s “The Secret Agent” is brilliant, but again, quite sluggish to read. I took some of his world-weariness but threw away the odd sensation that the narrative isn’t moving forward. I aspire to the loose, conversational style of Bellow. I don’t like it when writers lyrically sermonize from a mount. The key is to be intelligent, direct, musical, conversational—and to appear to do so without effort.

There are a lot of observations throughout the novel – either first person or third person based. Sometimes from a vantage point and others in close quarters. How do you bring that in your writing?

Instinctively. There are some moments that require a zoom lens and others that require an aerial view. Let’s take grief. We can obviously empathize with a couple that has lost two kids in an attack. So there’s no need to remain yoked to their perspective the entire time. It might be more interesting to view the social context around their grief or even the strange ways in which their moods shift. I guess POV is a way of deciding what’s interesting in a moment and going boldly toward it.

Male friendships are a major part of the book. Why do you think they needed to be there? Any specific reason?

Terrorist groups, religious groups—these tend to be crowded with men and divided by sex. Religious individuals are often uncomfortable with people of the opposite sex—it’s the job of religion to divide the sexes. So showing male friendships in all their complexities was necessary.

How is your writing schedule like?

I write best in the mornings and I tend to research or write non-fiction in the afternoons.


How is Karan the reader and the writer? Do you get critical when reading?

Being a writer has ruined reading fiction for me. I can only focus on fiction when it seems it might feed my work, which is unfortunate: a lot of great books have fallen by the wayside. But I find it easy to get lost in non-fiction and films: these are the two mediums I enjoy the most. And yes: I hate the critical part of my brain when I read. To open my own novels is to experience tremendous pain. I know exactly how I would have rewritten or improved every sentence. I have no choice but to close my eyes and live with a million imperfections.

So this was the very erudite Karan Mahajan on his book “The Association of Small Bombs”. It is definitely the read of the year.

Interview with Matthew Griffin, author of Hide

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I read “Hide” last month or so. I loved the book. Every bit of it. So I decided to contact Matthew through his publishers and managed to get an interview. The book is beautifully written – of same-sex love in times when it was unimaginable to even think of it. I cannot wax eloquent enough about the book. Here’s my interview with the author:

1. Why did you choose to set this story in the time it was set – the 50s? Why not a more modern time?

Setting the bulk of their love story during that time period was partly a necessary extension of the initial impulse behind the novel, which was that I wanted to write about this gay couple who’ve been together for a very long time facing the end of the life they’ve built with each other, struggling to cope with the sacrifices they’ve made to stay together, the failures of their bodies, the slipping of their minds, the approach of mortality. In order to have that portion of the narrative set in the present day, which seemed most natural, it meant that I really had to set the early years of their romance during some of the most oppressive decades for LGTB people in America. And although this started out as a sort of secondary choice, it became really central to the novel, the fear and oppression of that time period being a great crucible to intensify the conflict and sacrifice that’s inherent in any long-term relationship—and, consequently, the ultimate devastation when that relationship is lost.


2. How did the voices of Frank and Wendell distinguish themselves as you were writing?

Frank and Wendell’s voices were probably one of the first aspects of the novel that came to me, and they really guided me through writing the book. Large parts of Frank and Wendell’s lives and personalities were based on my own grandparents (this is also partly responsible for the novel’s time period, which reflects the span of their lives). In a lot of ways, Wendell’s voice is sort of a combination of my grandmothers’ voices, while Frank’s is a combination of my grandfathers’, and so the process of writing the book was mostly about me trying to listen to them and write down what they were saying—both in dialogue, and in Wendell’s narrative voice. I always used to hate it when writers talked about just listening to their characters and letting them do the work, but that’s really how it felt—although, of course, those voices were voices that I had been absorbing my entire life.

3. The book is all about “tough love” and yet so many moments of tenderness. Do you think men of those times didn’t have to say it out loud that they loved each other? You think actions were enough?

I don’t know that I think actions were enough; so much as that men of that time period in America simply didn’t feel very comfortable expressing their emotions, regardless of their sexual orientation. Nor were they expected to—particularly during the 50s, men were often expected to be these idealized, strong, impenetrable fortresses, who never showed any weakness, expressions of emotion being considered weakness. Frank and Wendell are very much men of that generation, and their ability to explicitly share their feelings is further blunted by the very real danger in which they’re living, which makes the public expression of those emotions a real risk. The sense of fear arising from that really bleeds into their private lives, too, which is why so much of their love for each other ends up being expressed not in words but in the intensity and strength of their devotion, and the sacrifices they make for each other.

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4. In an age of social media and technology and so many dating apps, do you think same-sex love survives a lifetime?

In a way, it’s probably easier now for same-sex love to last than it has ever been, at least in the modern configurations that we think of as love. But when I look at relationships I know that have lasted a lifetime, there’s a real sense of obligation and duty to them, and also a sense that you can’t have everything, an acknowledgment that you are closing off other possibilities for excitement and romance and newness in exchange for a different set of possibilities—companionship, steadiness, mutual growth—with a single person. And I think in certain ways, dating apps run counter to that, by presenting this endless smorgasbord of people to meet, with new ones always popping up, looking their best in carefully-curated photos. But in the end, of course, it’s all about how you use it and what you want. I think any kind of love is hard-pressed to survive a lifetime. It’s this sort of impossible aspiration, to find this single person that you promise to love and stay with no matter how you change, no matter what happens. I think the beauty of that promise is precisely in its impossibility.


5. Your top 5 favourite LGBT love stories

I’m going to play a little loose here and start with Xena and Gabrielle from the TV show Xena: Warrior Princess, which I was so obsessed with in middle school that I had a different Xena t-shirt to wear every day of the week. Their romantic relationship was mostly kept under the surface of the narrative (it was the 90s!), but it was pretty clear if you were looking for it, and also one of the longest and most complex, fully-developed LGBT relationships I’ve ever seen in entertainment. I love Jamie O’Neill’s novel At Swim Two Boys. I thought Carol, the film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, was brilliant, and the relationship between Celie and Shug Avery in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple—both the book and the movie—will always stick with me. I’m also going to stretch the rules and wrap up with Melville’s Billy Budd, which isn’t technically an LGTB love story but is probably one of the most homoerotic and gorgeously-written pieces of writing I’ve ever read, and there is a real romantic ache to it.

6. What is your next book going to be about?

I have no idea! I’m slowly writing my way into something new, but I tend to write haphazardly at first, without knowing what’s going to stick or how different pieces might cohere, and I’m so early into this next project that I really don’t know what it will become, or if it will become anything. I’m also a little superstitious about talking about what I think I’m going to write next, because I’ve spent years working on projects that went nowhere. Hopefully that won’t happen this time. I do know that I want it to be different from Hide, that I want to challenge myself to do something new, though I don’t know yet exactly what form that will take.

7. Was writing “Hide” cathartic? If yes, in what ways?

I don’t know that I’d characterize it as cathartic. But it was distinctly different from every other piece of writing I’ve ever done, in that, especially in the first draft, it really did seem to come from someplace outside me. That first draft was the most fun, blissful experience of writing I’ve ever had, and it’s one I’m desperate to recapture as I start working on something new. After that, of course, every subsequent draft was more and more difficult. But that first one was pure joy. Even when it was hard, it felt right.

8. Did you have to research a lot for “Hide”?

I did do a lot of research, particularly into the details of taxidermy, which was challenging because I needed to know how Wendell would have learned the craft in the 1930s and 40s, which is quite different from the way it’s done today. But the internet is a great resource, both because of all the information and videos it makes available, and the way it leads you to other resources—I ended up, on recommendation from an internet message board, ordering a taxidermy correspondence course from the early 20th century, which was invaluable. I also did a lot of research about LGBT history and discrimination in America during the 20th century, as well as the broader political climate, particularly during the 50s and 60s when fear of gay people was tied to the threat of communism. I wrote the first draft with as little research as I possibly could, because it’s really easy for me to get caught up in being historically accurate instead of imagining deeply, and I wanted to avoid that in the initial material. Then with each subsequent draft I did more and more research and incorporated it to refine the particular details, though even then I tried to include only what was crucial to the story or had some particular metaphorical or emotional resonance.

Interview with Ananth

So after reading, “Play With Me”, I decided to interview Ananth – the man behind the book and here is a quick interview with him. “Play with Me” is a work of erotic fiction. It is bold, hip and right there, set in our times. It is a book which you must read and is most certainly a quick read.

Ananth

1. Why did you take to writing? What prompted this? From selling books to writing one, how was the transition at some point?

I have been toying with writing for a while now. These were primarily blog posts (stripandrebind@wordpress), a very short memoir that I once wrote when my family moved out of Madras to Bangalore and the ‘hometown’ merely became ‘birthplace’, and then a couple of years ago, short fiction (unpublished). So a novel was a pleasant accident, as much as it was a challenge.

The pressure in this transition came from the subject I had chosen to write a novel on; Pleasure. Because as readers and book sellers we do know that it is difficult to get it right.

2. Do you think the Indian audience is ready for more erotic writing?

More than half a million copies of E L James and Sylvia Day have sold here, and yes absolutely. It is a genre, as any other, and there should be lot more books.

3. What does Ananth read?

Many things; books, columns, magazines, newspapers, product labels on bottles, ad copy, the list goes on. More non-fiction, than fiction.

Play With Me by Ananth

4. What are the books as of now at your bedside?

In the iPad; Silkworm, The Fault In Our Stars and so many bought and un-read. Bedside; Happiness Is…(a timeless and charming book that will make you smile) and Play with Me.

5.The protagonist of “Play with Me” is hip, young, ambitious and in most parts confused. What led to the building of this character? Did he have to go through a lot of changes, depending on the kind of people you interacted with?

Sid’s composure is completely derailed by the juggernaut that Cara is and then she disrupts his life and completely changes him, helping him recognize what he wants. So it wasn’t who I interacted with, as opposed Sid’s interactions with the others in the book.

6. Ananth the writer…

Writes when there is a compelling need to say something; when he finds the words to say it; and works best when he is completely distracted; and can’t write in solitary confinement.

7. What is the next book going to be about? Will it be on the similar lines of “Play with Me”?

Think of Me will pick up where Play with Me left off – there are incomplete sentences and unresolved relationships. Yes, that book will also be about pleasure.

8. Do you think people are reading a lot more than they used to? If yes, then will there be a lot of pressure on writers to generate something different all the time?

I think so. We are reading a lot more but are more people beginning to read books – maybe not. So the pressure is not to write something different but to be able to write something that will interest people (we exercise a lot of choice now, because there are so many options to entertain ourselves) and through that grow the number of people who might pick up a book for the first time.

9. Your literary influences…

Many. I consider myself very fortunate – my parents shoved a book in my hand quite early in my life.

I have read “Play with Me” and quite enjoyed it. Reviewed it here. Pick it up. It makes for some interesting reading.

Interview with Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik

Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik and Modern Management infused with Mythological concepts seem to go hand in hand. He has always been at the forefront of exploring and breaking paradigms when it comes to looking at Mythology in the country or for that matter Management as well. With his new book, “Business Sutra: A Very Indian Approach to Management” he shatters all myths and at the same time urges you to look at management from a different perspective. The Indian perspective which cannot work sometimes on Western ideologies given the vast difference between Eastern and Western philosophies. Keeping this in mind, I decided to interview him and this is the result of that interaction.

Business Sutra by Devdutt Pattanaik

1. Myth and Management. How did you think of connecting the two?

Myth is subjective truth. Management is about people. Every person has a subjective truth. So connecting the two made sense. Of course, if you think of myth as something to do with fantasy and religion then this connection seems incredible. Myths of the world are maps of the human mind; they reveal how different cultures approach life. Reading them helps us understand different societies.

People are slowly realizing that management has long ignored the culture lever making it rather
mechanistic.


2. Modern concepts of Management do not seem to recognize Mythology and its importance. How do you tackle this in your role as a Chief Belief Officer?

Modern management is based on science and mathematics. So it is assumed to be rational and universal. Only an outsider knows that it is steeped in Western thought, which is strongly shaped by Greek mythology and biblical mythology, something the West will vehemently deny. You see, the fish never sees the water. The bird does. As someone who has been studying mythology for years, this was so obvious. When I mapped it to business, I realized all the problems of business could be traced to this mythical root. When I presented it to business leaders, the ones who always sensed the difference intuitively loved my work. Then at the 2009 TED conference, the popularity of my talk indicated that everyone in the world sensed the relationship of culture and management principles, hence the exclusion of non-western cultural ideas.

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3. What was the motivation behind “Business Sutra”?

Modern Management follows the biblical paradigm of defining the Promised Land (target) and moving towards it by following Commandments (tasks) or the Greek paradigm of challenging authority and forging a new path as hero (innovation and leadership). I wondered what Indian mythology would reveal. And I saw a whole different approach to targets, tasks, innovation and leadership.

4. This book is very different from your other works. How much did the book take from you and in what sense?

This was tough as it meant making a journey from Western management to Western mythology to Indian mythology to Indian management. I had to explain basics of management to those familiar with mythology and basics of mythology to those familiar with management. Mythology was especially tough as most books on the subject are written by European and American writers whose understanding of the subject is rather poor because of the Western linear bias.

5. You have almost created a niche audience for mythological books. How do you think they are accepting a book about looking at Indian Management differently?

I have a good readership in Management because of my columns in Corporate Dossier (Economic Times) and my CNBC-TV18 show, Business Sutra.

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6. “Business Sutra” breaks barriers all the time. Almost breaking paradigms. Was this intentional to the writing of the book? How did the book structure come along?

Well I did not seek to break barriers. I just wanted to draw attention to the incompleteness of current scholarship in matters related to management. Management today assumes that the military model followed by the Roman army and Jesuit missionaries is the ‘right way’ to do things. That sounds scary. At the heart of it seems to be about conquest (read growth) and domination (read leadership).

Something does not feel right about its spirit. Is an alternative discourse allowed? We want to propagate violent worldviews and there is a trend to dismiss alternate worldview as unrealistic and exotic. That is not healthy and not very wise either.

Structuring the book was very tough as I had to explain the meaning of belief, connect belief with mythology and then business, draw attention to Western mythology whose existence is for all intent and purposes denied, and then show how it was different from Indian mythology. One then had to enter the new world of Kama, Yama, Indra, Vishnu, Shiva and Daksha, and of Laskhmi, Saraswati and Durga. While most readers are sort of familiar with many of the words/ideas of the book, they do not either all the words, or understand it in depth. So there were challenges at every level.

6. Devdutt, the writer…

Writes every day for 2-3 hours…weeps at how little or how badly he has written….and struggles to make his ideas understood.

7. Devdutt, the Chief Belief Officer. How does he make sense of madness at the workplace? Where do the sutras then begin to show the way and how?

The workplace is not mad. We sign a contract which is essentially voluntarily domestication. For a payslip we do what we are told to do. But as humans we yearn for visibility; the organization is unfortunately not interested in our intelligence, only our obedience and our performance. So we feel invisible, restrained, frustrated and angry. We yearn for freedom and when that is not forthcoming, we
bitch about the organization, or indulge in politics, in order to feel special and powerful.

The sutras of the book aim to widen the gaze of the reader, understand what is actually happening at the workplace, the invisible currencies that are being exchanged. It is not just about target, tasks, rules and wealth, it is also about power and identity, something we rarely connect with the business world.

A workspace can become a battleground, if we don’t see what is happening beneath the superficial behaviour. Or, it has the potential to become a playground, where each one of us is growing as we do our tasks and reach our targets.


8. When does management begin and when does it take over what we have grown up with and believed all along?

Management today expects humans to give up all values they have at home and adopt new values in the office. This sounds bizarre but that seems to be trend. The assumption is that we have to articulate values; else we are value-less. We live in an age of political correctness where we have to say and do the right thing, whether we believe in it or not. This schizophrenic approach to work and life is supposed to make us more efficient, but it does not. It fractures us and the fault lines have started to show across organizations, industries and societies.

9. What is next on the cards?

I never interview and tell….:-) but we do have 330 million gods to write about and many more business practices to explore.

And thus ended, the fascinating talk with Dr. Pattanaik. It was truly a fantastic experience for me.

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