Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Author Interview: Ketan Bhagat

He entered the Indian literary scene amidst a lot of mixed reactions from readers (even mine). Sibling of the most read author of the country, he had a lot to prove. He was trashed before he was heard (read). But Ketan Bhagat very smoothly, walked in and conquered his readers' minds. Simplistic, non-pretentious, identifiable, smooth language, good story-telling skills - these are just a few adjectives that came up in my mind when I read his debut novel Complete/Convenient. What I loved about him, is that he doesn't use the American spelling of words. For the editor in me, this author is a delight!

I have been interviewing celebrities since 2007, mostly professionally and now for my blog. Getting to know Ketan Bhagat through this interview, is easily going into my list of most favourite interviews. Reason being, he is so humble!

Let's get to know him a bit more:

Why writing? Was this a wish since forever, or did the desire grip you one fine day? 

Neither. I never wanted to become a writer and don’t quiet enjoy writing. It is something that involves immense dedication, discipline, thinking, patience, stress and loneliness.  I would rather watch movies, do yoga, and spend time with family and friends. 
Let me just explain you how I became a writer. 
I have always had a creative bent of mine. Dramas in schools, anchoring and script writing for television channels during college days and then humorous presentations at office events. Never thought of becoming a writer. Too hard, lonely and strenuous a task for a foodie Punjabi who loves gupshup, sports, travelling and movies.  
Never the envious sorts, I was happy watching my brother rise and shine in the world of literature, fight with top notch movie stars and introducing me to beautiful Bollywood actresses at his parties. 
Then something happened few years ago. A bindaas NRI, willingly gave up his supremely luxurious life in Sydney for a dustbin called Mumbai. Everyone was surprised. I remember my brother’s comment – you are like cockroach. Always drifting towards the dirtiest corner in the house
Most of all, I was surprised at myself. The surge of emotions within me were so compelling, I needed to channelize them into something. Easiest, cheapest way is write a book. Use office laptop, office time (boss thinks you are working) and at least in my family, they don’t ask questions like, “Do you even know someone who has written a book?”
This must be an oft answered question but stepping into an industry your sibling has already established himself, is a very daring step. Was this ever a concern? 

Never for a moment. I have never aspired to achieve Chetan’s success as a writer. Neither am I a passionate writer nor do I consider myself as gifted as Chetan or for that matter any successful writer. 
I had a story to tell and so I wrote. Nothing more than that. People have written loads of stuff about me on twitter, facebook etc. But seriously it has never bothered me.
We are a country where we expect actors to surpass their actor parents; it is a natural process of thinking for us. A teacher’s child has to be the best in academics. An achiever’s kin has to be an achiever. As a result, a new comer forgets his own goal and is often nervous. What is your view on tackling this?

I agree with you and probably I would have succumbed to this pressure if I was in my early twenties writing to become a celebrity like my brother. 
The fact that I am 35, have already seen ten years of Chetan’s success and was very clear on why I wrote this story helped me a lot. India does have a default culture of comparison. I face it everyday. It is obviously unfair but so are many other things about our country. No point fighting it. Just accept it and move on. 
 Complete/Convenient is a very different title.  Self-explanatory yet curiosity invoking. Did the title lead to the plot or the plot generated the title?

The title came much later. In fact it came months after I had finished the manuscript. I wanted a title which could capture the essence of the story and yet be different. There were many suggestions like Mothers or Dollars, Lonely NRI etc but somehow this one seemed most apt and artistic. Though I must confess it took sometime for people to get it. 

Do you plan to write about different genres or stick to one and make it your USP? 

I plan to write whatever comes to my heart. There are two kinds of artists: 1) who write keeping in mind what would become popular and they put their heart into it, and, 2) who write what comes from their heart and hope it would become popular. As of now I belong to the second category.  Writing is not my bread & butter. So I can afford to follow my heart.

When the first news about your book being launched came up, there were lots of mixed reactions. Some curious to know how you would be as an author, and some trashed it without a thought. From the day I’d heard about your debut launch, I have wondered how you dealt with being written off even before the launch. Opinions changed drastically, once people started reading you. But, how did you deal with the initial reactions?

I loved them. Seriously I am unaffected by criticism. I have been a salesman at work and a husband at home for many years. Both these roles make you capable of handling any sort of criticism.
Here are some of my favorite tweets:
Lopamudra Ghatak ‏@cyclopsee 9 May : Oh, dear! Misery certainly loves company. #ChetanBhagat has a 'literary' bro called #KetanBhagat whose book is called #CompleteConvenient
ZRonnieG ‏@ZRonnieG As if #ChetanBhagat was not enough to pollute the literary world, now we have his bro #KetanBhagat jumping to the fray..
Rituparna Chatterjee ‏@MasalaBai 21 Mar "IT'S TRUE!! Ketan Bhagat, Chetan Bhagat's brother, debuts as writer. Too late for me. You people save yourselves."
samit basu ‏@samitbasu 21 Mar "Ketan Bhagat? The Sohail Khan of Indian lit."
Arunava Sinha ‏@arunava 20 Mar "Please welcome writer Ketan Bhagat, brother of Chetan Bhagat. With a book titled Complete/Convenient. It's too bad to be true."
PS पी ऐस ‏@rimeswithcya 12 May #KBag “@epicvictory: @rimeswithcya hahahah he should know amir khan's brother also tried acting.”
Diptakirti Chaudhuri ‏@diptakirti 19 Mar "Houston, we have another problem. http://www.ketanbhagat.com/about.html  (via @greatbong)"

Who are your favourite authors? Who are you reading now?
I must confess I don’t read much and am very particular on what I read. So this list is very small. However, I did enjoy and learnt a lot from Salman Rushdie’s Midnight's children. Recently, Narcopolis from Jeet Thayil was also nice. 
My favourites keep changing. Last month, it was Paulo Coelho. Currently reading ‘God of small things’ by Arundhati Roy. She is my flavour of the month.
How difficult is it to be a published author? Not just published, but to be an author people take an attempt to read. 

Easier than what it was a decade ago as many new publishers have cropped up. Plus, there are platforms like Amazon.com where you can self publish within hours.
However, it is very difficult to become a popular author whose works people read.  A reader has to voluntarily give both his time and money for your work. This is the same money and time that he can give to Bollywood, cricket or his loved ones. Imagine how compelling your work has to be. Therein lies the genius of people like Chetan Bhagat, Amish Tripathi etc. I would also like to add that it is also very difficult to write something that people respect. I don’t think people like Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy etc are any less than geniuses. 
How happy or unhappy are with you with your first book? It must be your special child, but is there something about this whole baby-making process that you would want to undo/redo or change?
For someone who wasn't expecting to survive a week, the very fact that I am giving this interview is an achievement. All because of my baby – Complete/Convenient. I am overwhelmed with the response. I wouldn’t like to change anything about it except for wanting to get more involved in the final proof reading as there are many typos in the first edition. 
At the same time, there are many areas that readers and reviewers have pointed out wherein I have room for improvement. All that is going into my second novel. 

Any words for the hundreds who have a long-cherished dream of being a published author but are scared to take the plunge?
I have learnt one thing in the past 3 years. Apprehensions and humiliations are part of becoming a debut writer. Both have been my companions throughout this journey. Some examples:
When I was writing then I was scared if I would ever be able to write something sensible. Later on, when Rupa publications rejected the manuscript, I was worried if someone will ever publish this.
Later on, there were concerns about being compared to not just Chetan Bhagat’s work but Chetan Bhagat’s best work. Then, of course the reactions from PR agencies, bookstores and even readers when they were told that I would promote the book without the support of my brother and with miniscule budget.
Finally when it was released in May, I was told that it was a suicidal launch as that very month Dan Brown and Khaled Hosseni released their books; that my book won’t survive more than 10 days. 
Today, even though the first edition is almost sold out and I have received hundreds of emails and calls praising my writing, my struggle continues. Just recently, the marketing team of Crossword behaved unethically and rudely with me. They want money for things they have not done and when I pointed it out, instead of correcting themselves they are refusing to keep my books. All this because I am a new author who can be easily bulldozed. 
Having said all this, even a simple sms from someone saying they really liked my book makes the entire struggle more than worthwhile. I am extremely happy with the response I am getting from the readers. It is a unique high. 
So my message to all aspiring authors is that this isn’t easy at any stage. But it is also an extremely satisfying experience. 

Also, what next? When do we get to read you next, and what would you be about?

I have just started making notes on my next novel. Don’t want to talk much about it. It is not a love story, murder mystery or mythological epic. Given my slow speed of writing, I hope to complete it by 2015. 

1 comment:

  1. I recently met him when I went to Mumbai and have only one thing to say about him. He has got a fantastic attitude and this is going to take him a very long way. Definitely an author to watch-out for as said by a best-selling author who is also a friend.

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