NAW Interview with Eshwar Sundaresan

Eshwar Sudaresan

Eshwar Sundaresan is a Bangalore-based writer and a freelance journalist. He worked in the corporate industry before pursuing writing full time. Behind the silicon mask is his latest book. Visit him here.

NAW- When did your literary journey begin? At what age did you discover that you wanted to write?

I was 8 when I wrote my first short story. Some family was coming over to “see” my aunt. She wasn’t interested in getting married. Having agreed to the “seeing” ceremony that precedes an arranged marriage, my father requested her to go through the motions and then reject the proposal. It was the stoic and kind thing to do as hosts. So we executed this plan flawlessly.

In the midst of it all, I wondered: what if the other party too is going through the motions? And what would happen if somebody found the courage to blurt out the truth? From these questions emerged the first short story I ever wrote. My parents were proud of it. But my aunt was in a different mood. When I showed it to her, she got furious. Tore it and threw it into the dustbin.

Half an hour after I finished writing my first story, it was lying in shreds atop domestic offal. I suppose this episode prepared me for literary rejection. (Here, I separate my tongue from my cheek.)

But seriously, I had tasted the joy of writing and wanted that for the rest of my life. It’s a different matter that I did my engineering and did corporate stints before I had the wherewithal to become a writer.

NAW- Tell us about your book ‘Behind The Silicon Mask.” How did you get the idea for the book?

The life of an Indian IT professional in an onsite location is a mixed bag. Along with the excitement of being well-paid in an “exotic” land of Westerners comes the realization that life can be drab. This was just one of many contradictions I experienced firsthand as an onsite techie. I was certain that there was a story worth telling over here.

The story gained the dimension of the serial killer after I had already written eight drafts. I was exploring the “Insider/Outsider” debate while writing Bangalored: The Expat Story. Once I finished writing it, my subconscious juxtaposed the learnings alongside the plot of Behind the silicon mask. Suddenly, I wondered about the existence of a person who hated immigrants enough to kill them. Obviously, the desire would make him a serial killer – it took some deliberation to include the most-used cliché in literature. Eventually, he proved to be a worthwhile addition. He offers pace and immediacy to the narrative. And hidden dimensions of the Diaspora emerged due to his presence.

I feel happy when people say they found the book unputdownable.

NAW- Did you face any trouble while publishing your first book? How did your first book get published?

I first pitched this book to publishers in 2003. Of course, it was worth publishing only after the ninth draft which I finished writing in 2008. Eventually, Westland accepted the manuscript in 2012. The book was released exactly 10 years after I finished writing the first draft.

In this duration, this manuscript was rejected hundreds of times in three continents. I suppose it’s a good thing that I don’t let others determine my worth.

NAW- The plot of your book is very interesting. How did you do the research for the book?

I had to do the opposite of research. I had to unlearn.

I was a techie. I knew exactly what happened in large Indian IT corporates onsite and offshore. I was too close to the subject to see the bigger picture. I initially wanted to write an Arthur Hailey kind of book – an inside-out look at an industry that was transforming urban India. But the nitty-gritty of the IT industry did not make for interesting reading. Or maybe I didn’t know how to make it interesting.

Six years after I quit the industry, I had acquired sufficient distance from it. I was now able to keep it in the background, give it just the right amount of attention and focus primarily on the human stories revolving around it.

NAW- Tell us about your other books.

I’ve already spoken about Bangalored: The Expat Story, which is a nonfiction book that brought out the journalist in me. I loved telling other people’s life stories without adulterating them with my opinions.

A lesser known work, which I feel is worth reading, is my collection of short stories titled Age-old tales. It won a national award, but is yet to be published by a mainstream publisher.

I’m currently working on a fantasy fiction book for children. It’s an exciting project which taps into my training as a counsellor. It’s all about intrinsic power of human emotions.

NAW- Tell us about ‘Red Curry’? How difficult was it to carry out research for this book? Did you meet some actual naxalites?

Yes, for Red Curry, the research was done meticulously for a long period of time. I travelled to different parts of Andhra Pradesh to understand the nuances of the armed Naxalite struggle and how it mutated over the decades. My explorations in the Telangana region were especially memorable. Staying in villages that was miles away from a tar road, experiencing the innate wisdom of a school-teacher’s children, drawing well water at 5am and finding it pleasantly warm, having frugal meals in roadside eateries that offered inadvertent protein in the form of flies… every day was a foray into uncertainty.

Yes, I met some Naxalites.

NAW- Writing is not looked upon as a full time vocation in many countries, were you aware that making a living solely out of writing is difficult when you first started out?

I was aware of it. Unfortunately, I belonged in an industry that demanded 50-70 intense hours of effort each week. I was earmarked as a “worker bee” perhaps and a man for crises. As a result, I never had the energy left to write once I reached home. I had to either give up my passion or my job. I made the choice that made me happy, although there were many repercussions to this decision.

For instance, I had to continuously seek alternate earning opportunities. Perhaps one day I might fully describe these experiences and how they have enriched my life. A few examples of what I have written: restaurant menu cards, automobile spare parts brochures, bad English to good English “translations” of Dutch psychology papers, ghostwritten autobiographies, real-estate ads and direct mailers, White Papers on retail banking in Africa, comprehensive passages for students, a corporate coffee table book, child trafficking reports for a tourism-centric NGO, financial advice for women, Brand strategy for SMEs etc etc etc.

I’m happy though that some Indian writers have managed to earn enough to just sit and write. Only societies that have evolved sufficiently can support writers. India is inching towards that wonderful future where thousands of writers can quit all other pursuits for the metaphorical quill pen and paper.

NAW- What do you do when you are not writing?

I’m a trained counsellor. I counsel for around 10 hours a week.

I teach counselling skills and Life Skills. Average time taken: 15 hours a week.

I hold a part-time job that takes around 30 hours a week.

Average time spent as a freelance journalist: 2 hours a week.

I release a newsletter called the Positivity Weekly each Friday. Time taken: 4 hours a week.

I spread awareness on Child Sex Abuse through an organization called FAiTH. Time taken to conduct programs and undertake organizational activities: 5 hours a week approx.

Total time taken: 66 hours.

In the time left over, I write.

I’m working harder than when I was in the IT industry. The fatigue I feel, though, is a fraction of what it used to be. I love my life. I love my work. I love the variety that each day provides. What more can I ask for?

NAW- Please name your 5 favourite books.

  • The moon and sixpence
  • The God of small things
  • Chronicle of a death foretold
  • My name is Red
  • To kill a Mockingbird

NAW- What are your upcoming projects?

Red Curry and the fantasy book for children that I mentioned above.

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