The young and rather fashionable author Aatish Taseer will soon make a debut on the small screen as a host. His new show Gentlemen's Code on Star World will talk about Indian men in the contemporary times. Sitting in his cosy living room, Taseer tells us how he attempts to reach a wider audience through television while keeping his love for books intact and also about his ambivalent relationship with Pakistan.
So, you've taken a big leap from writing to the world of glamour. Tell us something about your new show.
Certainly television is new. I guess, I was interested in the medium. Firstly, it has an incredible reach and secondly it is a way of addressing things that mattered to me but in a very accessible way. It will be interesting to discuss Indian masculinity in the context of rapes and even section 377.
I like making myself a little uncomfortable especially on a medium that I haven't dealt with before. So, yeah it is a kind of departure but I would like to say that it's an extension of my work. It's not permanent. I have just finished a book and I thought why not.
Is it going to be a lifestyle show or will it also have socio-political dimensions?
There is a pressure, obviously, to make it life-stylish considering the audience and also the fact that lifestyle sells. We can't argue with that and thus have to include certain elements. Just as much as Bollywood sells and beautiful people on television sell, we have to strike a balance between the seriousness of our tone and the demands of the channel.
We are dealing with things like fashion, clothes and sex but we are also interested in Indian men's complexes with their mothers or their work. We are looking at the departure that Indian men are taking from the roles that their fathers had. I feel that it is a very interesting time.
Who are you planning to call on the show?
Every week, there will be an interview with one iconic Indian woman to get the female gaze on men. She could be Barkha Dutt, Priyanka Chopra, some fashionista or even somebody like Aruna Roy! The effort is to get a range of Indian women.
Since your show talks about the youth of India and social media is big with that section, how visible are you there?
Not at all. It does have an unbelievable effect in some ways but I was principally a writer and I was concerned about being able to retain a certain kind of solitude and a certain kind of privacy, a certain freedom from devices and this noise in our times. So, I resisted it and felt I would take my chances and not get constantly eaten up by this social media stuff. But that's not to say that I don't see its efficacy.
Also, in the world of books I don't think it is necessary. I feel that a book is an object; it usually represents a complete thought. The relationship between a reader and the book is the relationship. That is the sacrosanct relationship with the heart of reading. If you really like a book it doesn't translate into the wish of meeting the writer.
Comment on the quality of Indian television. Do you have any preference?
No, I don't have any favourites. But it is a sensational time in India. I feel there is a certain hysteria and relationship with the news which in some way represents a country seeing itself for the first time and that there's a pitch to that experience; coming out of the Doordarshan years and seeing yourself in a very vivid, very brave world for the first time.
There is a huge following of American TV here in India. Your thoughts on it?
Television is a game of Hindi. The real market has to be Hindi in India. I am sure if this relationship has to result in more interesting Indian shows, which it will actually.
Do you think you can reach a larger audience through TV than writing?
Oh yeah, any day but let me tell you something, these celebrities are big and people want to take pictures with them but it's a lot thinner as well. The experience of meeting a literary audience or book readers is much more profound. You obviously reach fewer people but anyone who has invested in the book is of a better quality that you don't find in TV business. If you've written a book that has mattered to someone, that connection is very nice.
How difficult is it for you to shuttle between the two countries, since your mother is Indian and father Pakistani?
I do sometimes feel that I am neither completely in place here nor there. My relationship with Pakistan has certainly been a very troubled one. I haven't been able to go to that country since Benazir Bhutto was killed, for various reasons. I don't even know if my work is well-received there. On a personal level, it's exciting. I have close friends and family there. It is an essential part of my emotional, personal life but Pakistan is a very difficult country for me. I have to often in my mind just stop thinking about it.
So is there anything in the pipeline?
Yes, I would like to do some non-fiction writing. I am interested in the theme of cultural and linguistic loss.