Gurcharan Das, the author of the international bestseller ‘India Unbound’, was in conversation with Chandigarh Literary Society’s founder chairperson Sumita Misra at the second session of Literati 2014. While he described his journey from a highly successful corporate honcho to a highly successful writer, he not only garnered a few laughs from the audience but projected the image of an endearing optimist, who has faith not only in his nation’s prospects at economic growth but also in the dawn of a new era in Indian politics with the rise of Narendra Modi.
Remembering his days as a salesman for Vicks Vaporub, Das said, “I moved around a lot. Not only from one place to another, but one thing to the other; this essentially helped me live life. I was like a man who came to dinner and stayed on. I always knew I was going to write but I am a weekend writer.”
Discipline is the secret
For a man who became a full time writer at the age of 50, having quit the corporate world, the only way to become a true blue writer was discipline. He said, “I write continuously for six hours, before I do anything else. It’s like going to work, and one has to go to work. Newspapers can be very disturbing and my mornings are too precious for me to read the newspaper.”
Talking about his best baby, ‘India Unbound’, he said he literally went on a ‘Bharat darshan’ to write the book. “I was the first one to predict India’s economic rise but critics did not agree. Later, India obliged by rising and my book became an instant bestseller. I found my voice with this book.”
His latest book ‘India Grows at Night’ tells the rags to riches story of Gurgaon over 25 years, pitched against Faridabad, once a thriving city, which went to the dumps due to corruption. He said Gurgaon grew at night because the enterprising private sector provided the infrastructural support to make it a city of excellence.
What makes a good read
Authors Amitabha Bagchi, Chitra Viraraghavan and Sudha Shah got together to discuss what made a good read. The session which was moderated by columnist Vinita Dawra Nangia, threw light on the qualities of a good book and the process of churning out a book for an author.
To each his own, Viraraghavan said the narrative element and observational quality of a book attracted her the most. “It is exciting to know more about the world through someone else’s eyes.
There is something organic in that. As a writer, I too try my best to inculcate these qualities in my books,” she said.
Bagchi has only three characteristics to cheer for- language, language and only language. He said, “If it can grab you and take you somewhere, then it is a good read for me. Otherwise, I just read summaries and let it be, no matter how popular the book.”
Shah was the first to stress upon characterisation. “For me it is important that the book has characters that suck you in. I like enigmatic books which make me think,” she said.Speaking about the ‘new breed of readers and writers’, Viraraghavan said, “The new reader is the non-reader turned into a reader; nowadays, reading is more of a fashionable hobby.”
The juicy bits
The next session ‘Chronicling Bollywood: Sexed up or serious’ touched upon the lack of serious Bollywood writing and the sensational reception to any literature on Bollywood.Authors Sathya Saran, Gautam Chintamani, Nandita C Puri and Akshay Manwani discussed the rigours of penning biographical pieces, which were always in danger of being blown out of proportion or of twisting of facts to suit popular demand and culture. Puri said, “The age of excessive tabloid journalism and the media asking for juicy bits all the time was not going to resolved easily.”
Saran recounted her experience of penning SD Burman’s biography for which she acquired the great music director’s personality, just to keep the experience of writing the book authentic and meaningful.
Manwani talked about how difficult it was to extract information on someone you wanted to write about. He said, “The National Film Archives are in a complete mess. The staff is uncooperative and the culture of this is very apparent in all our interactions when work needs to be done.”
Malice towards all
The last day of the session witnessed much ‘malicious’ humour and touched upon how famous Indian personalities seemed to take themselves too seriously.
Author Anita Nair, cartoonist Krishna Shastri Devulapalli and columnist G Sampath discussed the side-effects of too much ire and urged celebrities to loosen up. Nair said, “Film stars and politicians seem to project that they cannot be messed with. They have no funny bone in their bodies.”
Adding to this, Devulapalli said, “My first book is about my family where I display malice towards them. But they received it quite well since they don’t want to feature in the sequel.”
Probably too late for all his fair warnings, Sampath concluded the discussion by saying, “Unless famous personalities in India learn to accept irreverence, they will succumb to the dangerous phenomena of hero worship.”