Interview: Ketan Bhagat Speaks about his Debut Novel
If delectable stories steal your curiosity then meet the new entrant in the field of writing, Ketan Bhagat.
The name rings a bell, doesn’t it? Yes, you guessed it right. Ketan is the younger brother of one of the most celebrated authors in India, Chetan Bhagat. Ketan is all prepared to debut with his book, 'Complete/Convenient', which is about to be released anytime in May.
If delectable stories steal your curiosity then meet the new entrant in the field of writing, Ketan Bhagat.
The name rings a bell, doesn’t it? Yes, you guessed it right. Ketan is the younger brother of one of the most celebrated authors in India, Chetan Bhagat. Ketan is all prepared to debut with his book, ‘Complete/Convenient’, which is about to be released anytime in May.
Ketan, introduces himself as a typical 35 year old middle class common man living in Mumbai. His professional career took him to Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia and finally he moved back to India.
Inspired with his experiences as an NRI and many other real life incidents, he finally sat down to author a fiction, ‘Complete/Convenient’.
What his first book would turn out will be decided by the readers, but before they give their own verdicts, we got a chance to interview Ketan to know about his book, his life and impact of his celebrity brother.
Ketan gave us only first few chapters of the book to understand the storyline and characters. The interview was conducted through emails and Ketan candidly replied to all our questions.
Here are the excerpts from the interview with Ketan Bhagat.
The book is about the story of a NRI Kabir and seems to be loaded with your personal experiences. What does the title ‘Complete/ Convenient’ signifies? Is it Complete in India, Convenient outside India?
Yes, the title signifies that life in India is COMPLETE while life outside India is usually CONVENIENT. However, neither the story nor I as an author are judgmental in terms of which is better or worse, right or wrong or any such thing.
The book is based on my personal experiences. For example, Kabir, my main protagonist, is a Punjabi born & bought up in Delhi. His in-laws stay in Pitampura. This is my background too. Kabir’s account in Sydney is Westpac Bank. I used to sell to Westpac Bank when I was in Sydney.
Would this book be presenting a grim picture of life of NRI’s? In other words, would it, in anyway, present India in a good light?
This book neither glamorizes nor victimizes resident Indians or NRIs. Also, it won’t present India like they showcased in Slumdog Millionaire and Australia won’t be the showcased the way it did movies like Salaam Namaste and Bachna Ae Haseeno.
It is a realistic portrayal of life, emotions and situations that NRIs and their families go through. It is a very sensitive and emotional story that should help people empathize with the sacrifices and turmoil one has to go through when one leaves his / her country.
What is your message to young people who long for moving out of India?
I was one of them and was eager to swap the chaos, corruption, crowds, constraints and competition of my Indian life with the clean, simple, free and luxurious life outside. By the grace of God, I got the opportunity and juiced it fully.
For many years, I lived my dreams – drove expensive cars, did sports like skiing, bungee jumping, skydiving and scuba diving, partied all night and then drove to faraway beaches to watch the sunrise, earned in dollars, watched Sachin score centuries in Sydney Cricket ground, Roger Federer win Australian open and Michael Schumacher win F1… I can never thank God enough for those experiences.
But about 2.5 years ago, I willingly left everything and came back to India. Even now, every month I get at least one offer to move out India and I politely decline. I am loving my COMPLETE Indian life.
Yet, I have plenty of friends and relatives who are still living the same life. They do not get stuck in traffic jams, do not face beggars on streets, get most of their works done online and their salaries are in dollars. They are loving their CONVENIENT life.
My message to young people is that no choice – to remain in India or to move out of India – is right or wrong. Each life, yes even the one outside, comes with its share of struggles and sacrifices. It is upto the person to decide which life he/she prefers. So please read Complete/Convenient and decide for yourself.
Who should read this book? Who are your target readers?
While anyone who loves reading sensitive emotional stories should like my book, particularly the ones who fall in either of the following categories would relate to the story:
NRIs and their loved ones back home, People aspiring to be NRIs, Software professionals working in Indian IT companies, Sales people especially those belonging to IT field, Newly married couples, Men whose wives and mother’s do not get along, Men who are victims of office politics, Women who would like to understand men more and Aspiring writers – I am one of you. Please encourage me.
Do you wish to share any short incident from your life which is there in the book?
There are numerous as the whole story and its characters are based on real life incidents. For example, there is a Diwali chapter in which Kabir walks into an expensive store with Myra and ends up embarrassing himself. This is straight out of an actual incident that happened with me. Then there is an incident of relatives blurting out ridiculous comments during a Punjabi marriage. That too has been picked from a real life episode. Ditto for the opportunistic, greedy Nadia who is Kabir’s customer.
Tell us something about your experience of writing this book?
I had never planned to become a writer and sort of became one because this story kept haunting me.
The transformational experience that Kabir goes through in the story is something I personally went through and have seen many of my friends experiencing.
So the story came in easily. That said, I had never written even a proper email in my life. Hence, I spent 2 years in writing this book.
The process involved rewriting chapters, getting them reviewed by various people (including avid book readers, people proficient in English etc) and then rewriting again. It is painful and time consuming. A full time regular job and a newly born at home made the task even more challenging.
But the end result has made the effort more than worthwhile. Today, even before the book has released, I have started getting compliments for the book. For example, Rahul Sharma – the famous Santoor Maestro – has said the following about Complete/Convenient:
“Like a beautiful piece of music… Entertaining, gripping yet soul stirring aftertaste”
Recent trends suggest that simple language, great stories and thin books are more preferred by the youngsters. Can we expect the same from your book?
Yes, No and I hope so.
‘Yes’, because the language is simple. ‘No’, because the book is not thin. At approx. 115,000 words this is slightly thicker than the usual fiction books in the market and ‘I hope so’ for I truly hope people connect to the story and label it as a great one.
Now that your book is about to be published, would you continue with your current profession as regional sales manager?
Yes, definitely. I am more sensitive than creative. Hence, I can only write about real life situations and what actually happens on ground. Hence, it is essential for me to continuously experience regular normal life to get ideas and events for my stories.
Lots of new writers are coming up these days. How do you separate yourself from the others?
You ask about separating myself from others, I am advised that my biggest concern should be separating myself from my brother – Chetan Bhagat, India’s largest selling writer.
But such questions don’t bother me. Mainly for two reasons:
First, unlike a cricket team that has a limit of 11 or corporate world where only one person can be CEO, creative world has no limits. One reader can read multiple books. I myself read multiple authors. Rather the challenge is that a writer can’t write more than one book at a time.
Second. I am not competitive when it comes to my writing. Like I said, I never planned to become a writer. A story haunted me and I have written it with utmost passion and sincerity.
Do you have any message for young writers?
If someone like me can become a writer, anyone can become a writer. Imagine someone who is constantly reprimanded for writing erroneous emails and congratulated for being the brother of India’s largest selling writer.
Then being warned by almost everyone this is suicidal as I would be compared with Chetan’s best works. Then being rejected by publishers. And nowadays by some readers even before the book has been released. Despite all this, If I can do it. So can you.
Please read Complete/Convenient. We all need to encourage each other.
Are you prepared for the comparison with Chetan Bhagat?
Did you take any writing tips from your brother? Would he be helping you in promotion of your book?
I truly admire Chetan for his achievements. I have genuinely loved some of his works. However, our creative sensibilities are quite different. Furthermore, I knew that my first comparison would be with his work.
Hence, part by my own nature and part by purpose, I did not consult Chetan while writing this book. In fact, I even avoided reading Chetan’s novels and articles while writing my manuscript lest some influence comes in.
However, he was one of the first people to read the final manuscript.
Do you feel that Indian education system and social mindset makes our students take the same old streams Engineer/CA/Doctor then MBA? And after a certain years, probably a boring managerial life makes them try their hand at writing? – In other words – what is your take on the fact that lots of MBA’s are now taking up writing as their profession?
I would not blame the Indian education system. Two reasons for that:
Even outside India, people have many facets to their lives. Not just related to a job or family. They haven’t been educated the Indian way.
The Indian education system never forced people to become MBAs/ Doctors/ Engineers etc. it was the poor economic situation of our country that forced parents to force such ‘stable & safe’ professions on them
I also feel that it is not boring to be an Engineer, CA, doctor or MBA. It is the routine that is boring. If, for example, someone just does writing day in and day out for years and years, I am sure he would also feel some monotony and boredom.
That said, the reason why you see many MBA’s or other professionals are taking up writing can be attributed to convergence of two reasons:
Today’s life is full of stress and materialism. Both of these lead to self introspection. I saw this happen to my brother and also to myself. By the time you are in your thirties, you are already done with buying houses, cars, foreign vacations and gadgets. Where do you get your next high from? Obviously not from the next iPhone or SUV; has to be from something within you.
India is the fastest growing market for English books. It’s already the largest after the US and UK. As India’s literacy rate improves (it rose from 52 per cent to 68 per cent between 1991 and 2008), publishers predict that India will become the world’s largest market for English books within the next 10 years. This booming market is the main reason why publishers are encouraging new authors.
This is a welcome trend. Just yesterday I was with a senior executive of Crosswords. He said that about 5 – 8 years ago the top 10 best sellers list was dominated by foreign writers. Nowadays, majority in best seller list are Indian. Truly, the time for Indian writers has arrived.