Thursday, January 16, 2014

An Interview with Author, Arjun Shekhar!!!

AN Interview with author Arjun Shekhar who has recently come up with his latest flick- "End of Story".

1. Hello Mr. Arjun, what’s it like being an author? And after written two books, how do you feel?
Not very different from being a reader actually. Except a little more confident because people have respected my writing.  Having already been an integral part of the corporate and NGO worlds, my learning frontiers needed expanding and the publishing business has given me that challenge and taken me out of my comfort zone like nothing else would have.

2. When you saw your first novel for sale on a bookstore and online, what went through your mind? Describe the emotion.
My first emotion was relief because it isn't easy getting your first one published as many other authors will tell you. But quickly that relief turned to anxiety because it didn't make so much of a difference to anybody else. So what if i had worked really hard to write my first novel, the world had moved on and not enough people were reading books anymore, even good ones. I can also remember the frustration of low sales in the early days. 

3. Before we head towards discussing your book, we would also like to understand what you exactly do? And how do you balance your writing and your work? 
I am a partner in a boutique consulting firm that helps people and organizations to come into their elements. Its called Vyaktitiva. Also i am a founder of an NGO that works on youth leadership with my wife and friends. Its called Pravah and I spend a minimum of two days a week there. And we take immense pride at being one of the sources and the tenders of the flow of active citizenship among NCR youth over the last few years that the whole country is watching closely.
My writing stems from my experiences in the corporate and NGO sectors and i snatch whatever time i can from real life to pen down my fictional works. 

4. What is your latest book - End of Story all about? And from where did the idea of this book emerge?
The novel starts with a bizzare yet plausible proposition: All TV networks have closed down as a consequence of a Supreme Court ban on electronic advertising. The ban has been decreed, pending an enquiry into a new neuro-auditory technology that creates compelling subliminal ads.

As a result Shukrat Ali, a senior journalist in a tabloid TV channel called Khulasa is out of a job. Even as he grapples with this tragedy, he gets a summons from a criminal court to testify in the trial concerning the killing of his ex-boss, Satya Sachi Sengupta, who is the inventor of the sublimnal advertising technology. To clarify his mind and to anticipate the prosecutor’squestions, Shukrat decides to write down his testimony. The main body of this testimony revolves around a story he had been asked to follow by his boss in the tribal hinterland within Naxal territory. This story within a story has gripping twists and a stunning climax.

Now the second part of the question. Where did the idea come from? I could make up an interesting story (as in part truth) but let me be honest instead. My daughter, who is the muse for one of the characters, has this innate curiosity which i am so envious of. She has a million questions tucked away in the attic of her mind, another thousand questions up her sleeve, and a hundred on her lips. At one time we had to censor her in front of our friends because she was embarrassing us in public all the time. 
She made me realize how few questions we asked as adults; we seem to be embarrassed to let on that we don't know something. On the other hand, we are being told billions of stories today - ad folks, media, lawyers and ordinary people are pulling out all the stops to convince us to influence us. We always were Homo-narrans the story telling species but suddenly there is an explosion of words. In this Age of Expression, we have all become word merchants and the internet, the Tower of Babble, is our market place where we come to trade and swap stories everyday. Now, this is a dangerous scenario, because we need to be sure of the stories we are buying. We need to have better narrative literacy; we need to be probing, punching, and struggling with the stories before internalizing them. 
Hence End of Story? is an attempt to wake up the reader to the need to ask questions which are a natural antidote to the indigestion or rash that a wrongly ingested story might give us. Questions are the Crap-O-Meter that allow us to unearth how much truth and how much bull shit is there in any story.
To get this idea across, I purposely decided to use a kind of mental judo, viz. use a gripping story to expose the structure of stories in this thriller like novel.

5. How long did it take for you to write this book and get it published?

About a year and a half in calendar time but since i wasn't giving the book my full attention i would say a total of nine months of hard work at the computer. 

6. Indian Publishing scenario is very competitive. How long did it take for you to find the right publisher and how did you go about it?
I was lucky since this is my second book and my first, A Flawed God, had done pretty well. The same publisher, Hachette, signed me up at the time of the first submission itself.  

7. What is in the pipeline for End of Story? Are there any plans that you would like to share with us? 
Well we have done a pretty extensive online promotion and discussion on my books page We had also got a nice promo made ( ) Apart from that we have had great events at Jaipur and Kolkata. Plan to do one in Mumbai on 10th jan at marine plaza hotel, on marine drive (where Kalki Koechlin is coming to launch the book) and in Bangalore on 22nd at Srishti school of art and design and at Atta Gallata, a store, in the evening. 

8. What exactly is your objective from writing a book- 1. Getting most copies sold out, 2. Getting the love of readers or 3. You just wrote it because you wanted to write a book once in your life, hence you have no targets?

I think the most important reason i write is to reflect and get more insights into the topics i am covering. And yes communicating those insights in an interesting way - design - has always gives me a high.

9. By when are you coming up with your next novel? And if possible, do give us an idea about what it would be.
I have almost finished the second of what i am calling The Homo-Narrans or Story Telling Species trilogy that is set in a trek to the Nanda Devi Base Camp. Its an account of a fascinating quest of two researchers - a blind Norwegian woman and a Kumaonese prince - with their Bhotia guide, who are trying to search for a mystery village where people are said to have found the secret of happiness. They are following in the footsteps of  a Norwegian anthropologist explorer in the late '50's had made a chance discovery of the village but had never been able to find it again. He had reported it in an obscure text that falls in the hands of the blind Norwegian woman during her stint as a researcher in an institute in Bergen, Norway. No one has ever found the village again or indeed has any knowledge of this tribe of perennially Happy people. 

The book is tentatively titled One for Sorrow, Two for Joy and looks at the question, What's not in the Plot of the Happiness story/ quest that all of mankind is on today or has been on for a long time. The book is told in the voices of the three trekkers who themselves go missing, but their diaries are found. 

10. In the end, tell us in 5-7 lines, what speech will you give if you win a Major Award for the Best Indian Author for your books?
I might just stand there silent for two minutes to emphasize that words are great but silence can be even more powerful. In this Age of Expression we are all talking at the same time - wonder who is listening?


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