Interviews

Talk to isahitya
Talk to isahitya Category: Exclusive Interviews Published on Sunday, 08 July 2012 21:08   vikas swarup In our Special Interview Series Talk to isahitya , this time we have Vikas Swarup with us. In his exclusive interview to Isahitya veteran writer Vikas Swarup talks about his life, experiences and writing and his novels. Vikas Swarup is a high-flying Indian diplomat and his first Novel Q & A had adapted in Oscar Winning Movie Slumdog Millionaire His debut novel, Q & A, tells the story of how a penniless waiter in Mumbai becomes the biggest quiz show winner in history. Critically acclaimed in India and abroad, this international bestseller has been translated into 43 different languages. The Oscar winning movie Slumdog Millionaire is also based on the same story. Vikas Swarup's second novel Six Suspects, published by Transworld, was released on July 2008 and is being translated into more than twenty five languages.Vikas contributed a short story titled ‘A Great Event’ to ‘The Children’s Hours: Stories of Childhood’, a bold and moving anthology of stories about childhood to support Save the Children and raise awareness for its fight to end violence against children. Vikas Swarup was born in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh in a family of lawyers. He did his schooling from Boys' High School & College, Allahabad and pursued further studies at Allahabad University with subjects Psychology, History and Philosophy.In his diplomatic career, Vikas has been posted to various countries such as Turkey , the United States , Ethiopia, the United Kingdom, and South Africa . Since August 2009, he is the Consul General of India in Osaka-Kobe, Japan.He is married to Aprna who is an artist and has held exhibitions in India and abroad. They have two sons Aditya and Varun. Here the Interview excerpt . Interviewed by Nabanita Dhar . Q . When did you realize that you have the gift to write? Vikas - I don’t know whether I have the ‘gift’, but even as a kid I tried to write creatively, specialising in quirky, unusual pieces, not run of the mill stuff. I remember, in Class VI, our Hindi teacher had given us an assignment to write an essay on “Bad Luck” Most of my friends wrote the usual pieces about how a cat crossed their path. I wrote about a trio of unlucky thieves in Japan with names like Kabayama and Hideyoshi who finally manage to successfully rob a bank and then get trapped in a Tokyo earthquake! Q and A Winner Vikas - I used to write short stories in my school days, but the last short story I wrote was “The Autobiography of a Donkey” for my school magazine way back in 1979! I did not have English literature as my subject during graduation and I have not been to any creative writing workshop. I am an “accidental” writer in the sense that I started writing novels pretty late in life. It was only when I was posted in the UK between 2000 an 2003 that I got inspired to try my hand at fiction, motivated by the city of London and some of my contemporaries in the Foreign Service who had written novels. Q. What according to you is the most challenging thing about writing novels? Vikas - To conceptualise a plot, develop it and then and carry it till the end without losing steam. Secondly, because I have a full time day job, I do not have the luxury of writing whenever I want to. Besides, I can only write when I have a clear horizon ahead of me and no interruptions. So I tend to write on weekends only. Q.Would you say you are a Method Writer or an Instinctive Writer? Do you do a lot of research before writing or you like to go with the flow and just follow your heart? Vikas - Before I begin writing I let the plot develop in my head. Once I feel the plot is sufficiently developed and the characters are well formed, I begin the research and then, finally, I begin to write. When I write I tend to be more instinctive and do not make too many changes. In fact, the published version of Q&A is my first draft! Q. When I read your work I feel that at many points the boundary between fiction and non-fiction overlap or if I may put it this way – osmosis of one into the other. What is your take on this? Vikas - All my novels have drawn inspiration from real life, from all that was happening in India at that point in time. But I use real life only as a reference point. The fictional trajectory of my characters relies more on inner emotions rather than external events. Q. Rate- Research (newspapers, books, the internet), Thought Experiments and Real Life Experiences- in order of their importance for writing a book? What is your take on each? Vikas - All three are important. Research is very useful to create an authentic backdrop but it should never overpower the narrative. Real life experiences can provide excellent stimulus for writing and lend emotional heft to the narrative. Thought Experiments can be invaluable in taking a plot to its logical conclusion and testing it out. Q. How did you come to write Q&A? Vikas - I wrote this novel in the last two months of my diplomatic posting in London in 2003. I have always been interested in the psychological processes which are at work in quiz shows. As one of my characters in the book says, "A quiz is not so much a test of knowledge as a test of memory." And our memories are produced by various things, by our experiences, our dreams and desires, not just by what we are taught in school. I had also read a news report, more than a decade ago, of how street children, who had never gone to school, had begun using a computer entirely on their own. (It was called the Hole in the Wall project, started by a group of scientists in a slum in Delhi in 1999). This told me that knowledge is not the exclusive preserve of the school going elite. There is a tremendous awareness, even amongst people that you would normally consider disadvantaged. So the basic idea behind Q&A was to show that privilege and wealth are no bar for ingenuity and that sometimes “street” knowledge can be as important as “book” knowledge to win a game show. Q. You paint such a vivid picture of Dharavi. Have you ever visited or come into long-standing contact with one of its inhabitants? Vikas - Because my protagonist is the ‘ultimate underdog’ his life necessarily had to pass through the slums and chawls of Mumbai. But I had never actually lived in Mumbai. And I had never visited the slums of Dharavi where my protagonist Ram Mohammad Thomas was supposed to reside. So I did a lot of research. But research can only help you create an authentic backdrop. To get under the skin of your characters you need the quality of empathy – E.M. Forster’s “only connect”. vikas swarup Vikas - I never expected the novel to achieve the kind of success it did. In fact when I wrote it, I wrote it primarily as an Indian book for an Indian audience. I had no idea it would be picked up by publishers everywhere and would emerge as a global novel. Or that it would be made into an Oscar winning film called Slumdog Millionaire which is now a ‘brand’. But I guess it has appealed to readers across the world because the themes and the emotions evoked are universal and the underlying message is a simple one - of creating your own luck, of the underdog beating the odds and winning! Q. Tell us about Six Suspects? Vikas - Six Suspects is an unconventional murder mystery. It is the tale of six different people - a corrupt bureaucrat, a clever actress, a small time thief, a credulous American, a stone age tribesman and an ambitious politician - who are all suspects in a murder investigation. I wanted to experiment with a polyphonic narrative. So using the anatomy of murder as the framing device, I tried to plot a narrative with six different voices. Like Q&A, Six Suspects is also very structured. So you have the book divided into six parts – Murder, Suspects, Motives, Evidence, Solution & Confession. BBC and Starfield Productions have optioned the film rights and Radio 4 has made a radio play based on the book. Q. Any interesting anecdotes behind Q&A and Six Suspects that you’d like to share? Vikas - Nothing beats the experience I had while flying from Durban to Johannesburg once. The passenger sitting next to me asked me who I was. I told him I was India’s Deputy High Commissioner to South Africa. A little while later, much to my surprise, he took out my book 'Q&A' and began reading it. Then he turned to me. 'Have you read this book?' he asked. 'I wrote it,' I deadpanned. He refused to believe me and was only convinced when he saw my picture on the inside cover. Q. Tell us something about your formative years and your family’s influence on your literary aspirations. Vikas - I come from a family of lawyers. My mother and father are both lawyers. My grandfather was a lawyer (he eventually became Solicitor General of India), all my uncles are lawyers and even my aunts. I grew up in a joint family, and with so many lawyers around, we literally breathed legalese in the house. My grandfather had a magnificent library, full of leather bound, gold embossed volumes of legal books. But he was a man of eclectic tastes and his interests embraced history, philosophy and art as well. Thus a first edition of Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ would be nestling next to Isaiah Berlin’s thesis on Liberty. I learnt a lot from him, most importantly, a love of books. Q. What are some of your favourite books of all time? Vikas - I have read many authors and many books over the years, from Albert Camus to Irving Wallace. Some of my all time favourite works are: Dracula by Bram Stoker, Disgrace by JM Coetzee, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, The Trial by Franz Kafka, 1984 by George Orwell. Q. Do you write to satisfy the reader or are you unconstrained by audience pressure? Vikas - I do not write according to the dictates of the market or the audience but I do believe that there should be a payoff for the readers who invest their time and money into my books. Q. How has your experience been with the publishing industry? Vikas - It has been generally positive. Q&A has been translated into 42 languages and Six Suspects into 30. So I have had the opportunity of meeting my publishers in different counties and it is interesting to see national and regional variations in the way readers have responded to my books. Q. When are you coming out with your next? Vikas - I have just finished my third novel, another social thriller set in India,  titled “The Accidental Apprentice”. It will be published by Simon & Schuster in the next six months. Thank You Sir for talking to iSahitya Nabanita Dhar