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The guessing games have indeed begun: Seema Goswami

Journalist Seema Goswami’s novel, Race Course Road, is a fictitious account of the assassination of a Prime Minister. However, people are already trying to guess which character is inspired by a real-life person.

books Updated: Feb 23, 2018 17:31 IST
Etti Bali
Etti Bali
Hindustan Times
Seema Goswami,Race Course Road,Author
Author Seema Goswami’s latest book, Race Course Road, is set in the political annals of the Capital.

Senior journalist, columnist and now, author, Seema Goswami has donned many hats in her illustrious career. Her latest offering is a novel—Race Course Road, set in the political annals of the Capital. That, the assassination of a Prime Minister is one of the parallel tracks, is a coincidence. “Any resemblance to any person alive or dead is strictly coincidental...It is, at the end of the day, a work of fiction,” says Goswami, who is a columnist with HT Brunch. We have a chat with her about the recipe for a crime thriller, her inspirations and how to get over the writer’s block. Excerpts:

Race Course Road is a crime thriller, a genre that’s miles away from your slice-of-life writings. Where did the idea come from?

I started off in journalism in the late 80s as a political writer. While working for Sunday magazine I covered a few General Elections, interviewed Prime Ministers such as VP Singh and Chandrashekhar on the first day they assumed office at South Block, and had one-on-one interactions with top political leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee. And then, of course, there was the day-to-day political reporting and analysis that I did every week for the magazine. So, placing my novel in the world of Indian politics made perfect sense for me, even though these days most readers are more familiar with my writings in Spectator, my ‘slice-of-life’ column in Brunch. But politics is where my journalistic journey began and it was fun to go back and revisit my experiences in the field and use them in writing a ‘political thriller’.

What kind of research went into writing the book?

A fair amount. I wanted to give readers an inside look into how the Prime Minister’s House on Race Course Road -- or Lok Kalyan Marg as it has now been renamed -- functions, what the security set up is like, how many bungalows there are within the complex, where the PM actually lives and works. And while I had some knowledge of this because of my familiarity with the complex which I had visited over the years, I still needed to pick the brains of ministers, politicians, bureaucrats (both retired and serving) to fill in the blanks.

As for the details about electoral politics and how the government actually works, that didn’t require too much research, given that I had already covered those areas in a journalistic capacity over the years.

“Race Course Road is a novel set in the world of Indian politics that lays bare the workings of the political world and the media universe,” says journalist and author Seema Goswami.

Is the book inspired by real-life events or persons?

Not at all. The story is entirely a figment of my imagination. The book does reference real events like the assassination of Mrs Gandhi, and it does refer to real-life characters like Vajpayee and Modi, but the story itself is not inspired by any real-life event or person. It is, at the end of the day, a work of fiction.

Given that the book has myriad characters from politics, media, etc., have the guessing games started as to who’s who?

Judging by my Twitter direct messages (DMs), yes the guessing games have indeed begun! But I can’t say this enough: none of the characters is based on real people. I have, of course, tried to recreate the political and media landscape that exists today. But I have done so by creating my own world, peopled with my own characters, using them to tell a story that is as much a political thriller as it is a human drama. Any resemblance to any person alive or dead is strictly coincidental!

These seem to be very sensitive times when people take offence to the slightest of things. At any point did you think that you might face some backlash from a political faction or media frat?

No, that never occurred to me at all as I was writing the book. But now that you mention it....Oh well, I’ll take my chances.

What’s the recipe to a racy crime thriller?

I don’t really see my book as a crime thriller -- so I couldn’t possibly provide a recipe for it. In my view, Race Course Road is a novel set in the world of Indian politics that lays bare the workings of the political world and the media universe. The crime at the heart of the plot is just one storyline among others, some of which deal with family dynamics, human emotions, and how these affect the lives of my characters.

Your writings often carry a wave of nostalgia. This book also has fair bit of history and factual information about the city. Yet, there is a liberal amount of imagination at play since it is a work of fiction. How does one keep a balance between the two?

That’s not something I really thought about consciously while writing the book. I just concentrated on telling the story and placing it in the real world so that it would have some resonance with readers. I hope I did manage to keep a balance; but it’s not something I actively strived for.

With this book, would readers get a glimpse into Delhi of yore?

Am not sure about that, given that it is set in the near future. There are occasional references to events that occurred in the past, but I don’t think readers would get a glimpse into the Delhi of the 70s, 80s, or even the 90s.

Any advice to budding authors, and how do you get over the writer’s block?

Gosh, I am highly under qualified to be giving anyone any writing advice. As for coping with writer’s block, I can only share how I got through it: by simply powering through. Even when words wouldn’t come, I tried to hit my self-imposed deadline of 750 words per day. I often had to delete and start over the next day. But I found that the act of sitting down and simply writing created its own discipline.

Would you like to see a silver-screen adaptation of the book? If yes, any actors you’d like to be cast?

Of course, I would! There would be nothing more satisfying than to see the characters I created come to life on the silver screen. As for casting, well I think actor Kareena Kapoor Khan would make a great Asha Devi!

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First Published: Feb 23, 2018 17:30 IST