NAW Interview with Ketan Bhagat

Ketan BhagatKetan Bhagat’s debut work is Complete/Convenient. He lived abroad for many years before returning to India. He works in an MNC in Mumbai. Learn more about him and his work here.

NAW- When did your literary journey begin? At what age did you discover that you wanted to write? I feel writing is not something one can develop, you either have it or don’t. So when did you realise that you had the talent?

I have been in denial of my talents for most of my life. Since college days, people have been praising my creative steak and yet I only used it to woo girls or to charm my way out of tricky situations etc. I used to be a freelance script writer in Television during my MBA days but even then it was purely for the pocket money.

Over the years, the number of people suggesting I should do something creative kept increasing. So did the insistence of my wife. She couldn’t make peace with the fact that I had a creative streak and did nothing about it. But somehow, even as Chetan kept rising in popularity, the idea of writing a novel never appealed to me.

Then few years ago, I went through some experiences that I saw most of my friends going through and yet none of us had been told about it. That’s when a story came to my mind.

Besides Chetan being a source of inspiration, I also realized that writing is the most practical creative outlet for a married corporate person like me. Requires no extra skill, equipment or investment. Just open your laptop in office and start typing. The boss thinks you are working so doesn’t bother you.

I still don’t believe I am a talented writer. Luckily, people have been forgiving and encouraging of my debut work. So I can afford another shot.

Complete Convenient CoverNAW- Tell us about your debut book, ‘Complete/ Convenient.’ How did you get the idea for the book?

It is a coming-of-age book about the real feelings and situations that most NRIs go through. However, it is also unique as it tells the story from a man’s perspective on situations that are seldom acknowledged in life. In fact, these are situations where most stories end. For example, every love story ends with the couple getting married. But marriage is transformational for men. Nobody captures that in a novel. Likewise, what happens to men in their professional life? How they struggle? Become victim of politics etc. For every man, there are defining moments in life when he actually understands and starts respecting his father. Lastly and most importantly, what do men go through when the two most important women in their lives, the mother and the wife, don’t get along?

I have been through all this and have seen most of my friends go through this as well. High time someone wrote an entertaining reference guide on these. That’s how C/C was born.

NAW- How long did it take for you to complete the book? Do you set yourself goals like completing a certain number of words per day? How difficult was it to find time for writing with another regular job?

It took about two years to complete the book. Further eight months to improvise it, get it edited, published etc.

It was difficult to take out time for writing as there wasn’t only a regular daytime job but also a newborn baby at home. But it wasn’t impossible. Cut down on television, newspaper and outing with friends and suddenly you have few hours to spare.

While I try to avoid measurable goals like certain number of words etc, I did inculcate what I fondly call a ‘tooth brush’ sort of a regime. Simply put, just like you brush everyday without thinking much about it, you work on your manuscript. We never think how white our teeth are, how long should we brush, how much toothpaste should we use etc. Our tick in the box is ‘have we brushed today?’ My discipline for writing is pretty much the same philosophy.

NAW- Did you face any trouble while publishing your first book? How did your first book get published? Your brother is also a writer right? Was it a sweet journey because of your surname or did you sweat it out just like any other debut author? And if you indeed face rejections, how did you cope with it?

I had my fair bit of struggle. Yes, my brother is one of the biggest writers in India but that didn’t help me beyond the surname. Many publishers, including his publisher, rejected my manuscript. It’s funny how it takes years for you prepare a document and minutes for someone to reject it!

But I am a salesman at work and a husband at home. Trials and rejections are part of my everyday life. I kept cold calling publishers and somewhere someday things fell in place.

Because of my surname, some parts of the journey were smooth. For example, some publishers did reply to my mails. But some other parts were difficult. Like almost everyone – from publishers to bookstores – wanted to know how much my brother would be associated with this project.

The expectations from readers also skyrocketed the moment they came to know I am Chetan Bhagat’s brother. I started getting nasty emails even before the book was out in the market. Thankfully, it all subsided once the book started getting appreciated.

NAW- After reading your book, I feel the characters are composites, right? And not just based on one single person?

Most of the characters of C/C are inspirations from a real –life person. The person, however, has been presented in a composite way. For example, I have presented all sides of my protagonist Kabir – love life, professional life, social life, thinking, etc. – and not focused only on a particular dimension.

So are the incidents. In fact, in most cases, I have just written down what actually happened between real people. Obviously have added spicy exaggerations to keep the narrative interesting.

NAW- One theme which was not sufficiently addressed in the book was racism. Did you ever encounter any unpleasant experience given that you have lived abroad for such a long time?

Racism exists but I think nowadays it is not significant enough to become worthy of being addressed. At least not in Australia. With Complete/Convenient, I only wanted to highlight issues that actually happen with NRIs. That is why I have also skipped touching upon cliché’s like gay jokes, extra marital affairs etc.

NAW- Any plans to write a sequel?

No even though my people have suggested me that. For now, I am too busy with my second novel.

In a philosophical way, my second one carries the story forward from where Complete/Convenient ended. Complete/Convenient started with the couple getting married and it ended with them having a baby. This one starts with an already married couple who soon become parents. But, in literal terms, it is not a sequel.

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

Regular common life that has elements of yoga, sensex, corporate job, traffic jams, getting scolded by wife and dancing around my little toddler. Discussing the rich and the famous, watching useless neverending soaps and reality shows on television. Plane jane boring life.

NAW- Please name the authors who have influenced you.

More than personalities, it is specific works that influence me. For example, I found Chetan Bhagat’s “2 states” very interesting. Salman Rushdie’s “Midnights Children” taught me how to make love to the language. Arundhati Roy’s “God of Small Things” was inspirational on how brave and convinced an author can be about her subject. Nowadays I am reading “The Luminaries” by Eleanor Catton. It is a fascinating book that has taught me not to be bothered about the length of the book (a regular criticism of Complete/Convenient).

NAW- What are your upcoming projects?

I am currently writing my second novel. This is based on the transformation a man goes through when he becomes a father. Should be out early next year.

Also in touch with someone for a Bollywood adaptation of C/C. Early days though.

NAW- Any advice for struggling first time authors?

I am no one to advice anyone. I am myself learning the ropes.

Illustration by Alan Van Every (Featured image on the front page)

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