Indo-Asian News Service

Interview by Madhusree Chatterjee

New Delhi, July 3, 2012 — Diplomat Vikas Swarup, the celebrity author of the novel "Q & A" adapted into the Oscar-winning movie "Slumdog Millionaire" has stepped into a woman's shoes to explore the changing face of 21st century middle-class India in his new book. His new novel, "The Accidental Apprentice" is a dramatic narrative about an ordinary middle-class working woman in New Delhi who is offered to run a company by an eccentric billionaire; provided she passes a series of seven tests. The novel, to be published by Simon & Schuster later this year, is similar to the "frame of 'Q&A' told in a voice of a woman from the female perspective", Swarup told IANS in an interview. The book is set in the west Delhi neighbourhood of Rohini. "My books are about ordinary people placed in extraordinary situations who are able to draw upon their inner reserves to challenge the status-quo in life and navigate compelling human relationships," Swarup said. "The second similarity is that like 'Q&A', 'The Accidental Apprentice' is a high concept and structured novel. Sapna's seven tests harks back to stories in Indian mythology in which kings put their prospective successors through tests to find out who is worthy of the mantle. My novel is in a contemporary idiom...You could call it a fairytale," Swarup said. Swarup said the book had begun with the voice of a man. "Sometime, you conceptualise something and the characters speak for themselves. Initially, it was a man - eventually the voice speaking to me was the voice of a woman. And that voice had more vulnerability," the writer said. "It was also more interesting to see the life of a woman in Delhi," Swarup added as an afterthought. The writer said he has lived his book to experience reality. "I travelled from Connaught Place to Rohini by the Metro rail surrounded by women. I wanted to see how long it takes, how people are pushed around and investigate the mindset about Delhi being an unsafe city for women... The whole culture of how we treat women. I wanted a broad-brush picture of India," Swarup said. The writer spent one-and-half years on the book. Looking at India through Sapna Sinha's eyes, Swarup points to three sweeping changes: "First, the starting of the reality show with the KBC (the inspiration for 'Q&A'), the civil society or NGO activism which was not so prominent even seven years ago and the material culture which has grown exponentially with the huge shopping malls". The diplomat, who is the Consul General of India in Osaka-Kobe in Japan, began his literary career in 2005 with the 'Q&A', which has been published in 42 languages and made into a contemporary classic movie, earning director Danny Boyle and his team eight Oscars. His second novel, "Six Suspects" published in 2008 has had its translation rights sold in 30 languages. The writer says his books are mirrors of a contemporary and multi-ethnic India which is on the fast-track to becoming a global power-centre. "My book, Six Suspects, has a very polyphonic narrative with four Indians, a tribal from Andamans and one American," Swarup said, adding: "Q&A" on the other hand is about the power of the underdog." Swarup believes that "India is going through a literary churning and various genres are being explored for the first time". "The books that are available now did not exist 10 years ago. When I was growing up, there was no Indian bookshelf barring names like R.K. Narayan or Mulk Raj Anand. We are maturing as a reading nation. I was a judge for the Man Asian Literary prize this year - and the maximum submissions were from English-speaking nations like India," Swarup said. Indian literature is part of the mix of the country's emerging soft power, Swarup said. (Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at IANS