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'I like Chetan Bhagat's books'

Karan Bajaj, in his debut novel Keep off the Grass, takes the readers from IIM to the Himalayas. Jerry Pinto rides along.
By Jerry Pinto | Hindustan Times, Mumbai
UPDATED ON JUN 10, 2008 12:31 PM IST

Were you a businessman looking to hire and Karan Bajaj walked into your office, you would probably say, “This one looks like a keeper.”

In the course of the next ten minutes, Bajaj would present himself to you as a product, using phrases like “Type A achiever”, “key take out” and you would end up hiring.

The same Karan Bajaj as an author? Well, if it’s an Indian Institute of Management (IIM) book, why not? Stranger things have happened. A cat may look at a queen and an army brat who is management consultants may write a novel called Keep off the Grass.

The book talks about a young American Born Confused Desi (ABCD), who comes to IIM on a spiritual quest for the meaning of life, ends up in jail and then finds his epiphany in the form of a few casual words tossed off by Ruskin Bond. His website, www.karanbajaj. com describes him as “a management consultant for the Boston ConsultingGroup (BCG) in Washington DC.

He graduated from the IIM, Bangalore in 2002,where he was selected as one of the top ten young business leaders of India by the Aditya Birla Foundation.

Bajaj has earlier worked as a Brand Manager for Procter & Gamble in India, the Philippines, Singapore and the US. He was also nominated for ‘Top 40 under 40 marketer in the US’ by Advertising Age in 2007.

Obviously, one’s first question would be:

What’s a guy who’s living the Indian dream—American job in big company with big pay packet—doing writing a book?
Nothing spectacular. Nothing that happened one night and made me decide that I had to write a book. It’s just that I had some bizarre experiences that I thought deserved retelling.

I guess it kind of helped that I knew, when I began, that I was going to be published. It’s another kind of dynamic when you write and you don’t know if there’s going to be light at the end of the tunnel.

I knew that if I could make it hip and interesting enough, someone would publish me. And I was right. I didn’t have to do much scouting around before the book was accepted.

You’ve been published bang in the middle of the Chetan Bhagat brouhaha. His third book is out.
I know. I’ve read his books. I actually like them. At least, the first two. I have some reservations about the new one.

How do you feel about the inevitable comparisons that are going to be made?
The couple of reviews that have appeared on readers’ blogs and the reviews that have appeared in magazines and newspapers have focussed on the differences rather than the similarities. Besides, I don’t think Keep off the Grass is a classic IIM book.

There is a section located on the campus but then it goes off and becomes a kind of travelogue that looks at the quirky side of India. That’s the part of the book that’s closest to me, where Samrat Ratan goes off to meditate in Dharamsala, his experiences on the ghats of Banaras.

So there is some of the Chetan Bhagat kind of book, but there’s also bits and pieces of other genres. Like there are some elements that come from Shantaram and then there’s Jhumpa Lahiri’s ABCD kids and some spiritual quest stuff, so I was hoping that something original might come out of a khichdi of the unoriginal.

Ruskin Bond turns up in the book..
Yes, I did visit him. But it was not as romantic as it is made out to be in the book. He was pissed off at the invasion of his privacy. In fact, on the day I turned up, three other people were already waiting.

But he’s a cute guy, so he humoured us all.

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