Monday, August 15, 2005

This is the transcript of the interview to First City magazine in New Delhi, who carried a feature on Local in their November 2005 issue. This is the unedited interview.

1. How and when did the idea for the book come about? The basic idea of Local - living aboard a local train - was a first for fiction, in some ways. Were you ever conscious of this while writing?

In the early-mid 1990s, I used to travel by train to my workplace and if I got a place to sit, I noticed how strangely relaxed I felt during the commute. Stress and tightness melted away and those seated commutes were the most relaxed moments I had in the whole week. Maybe it was the rocking motion or the energy of the people in the train, I don’t know exactly what. It struck me as curious and I began mulling with the idea of a man who actually deliberately seeks this peace by living on the train. That was the starting point for the book.

No, I never saw the idea of a man living on the train as something unique; to me that was just the premise of the book. The real story starts from there.

In fact, I think the unique thing about the book is the format, which fuses the novel and short story forms. The idea of these standalone short pieces punctuating the main narrative, but utterly connected to it, excited me immensely when I thought of it first. This seemed more of an unchartered territory for me, in form, because while it replicated a train journey with station halts on one level, it also expanded the canvas for the book and contributed innovatively to character development on the other. It also gave me the space to experiment within a particular short story.

Also, the everydayness of the characters in the book, while avoiding any romanticizing of the train-life or any exotica, struck me as a challenge. This “real” quality of the book was more important than the basic premise for me. That was just the take-off point.

2. Did you always envision the book with so many characters? Or did they come to you during the process of writing?

I wanted the experience of the reader to be as real as the experience of a man traveling on the train and working in a big office. He would obviously run into many different kinds of people but would really know very few of them closely. That is exactly what happens in the book. Again, the format of the book helped immensely in compacting this sprawling narrative, and make it more focused as the main journey is through the main protagonist Akash’s eyes.
Some characters I thought of before I started writing, but quite a few new ones made their way in as the narrative developed.

3. How did the title come about? Were there other working titles?

The working title was "No Sign Of Home". But Local just seemed more apt, with its multiple meanings. Not just the local train, but also local as in home. Since the story is of a man voluntarily homeless, it just fit perfectly. In fact, there are other little plays on it too – local anesthesia, for example.

4. What has the response been like so far?

The book is getting into its second print run after just 4 months, despite practically no coverage in the national media. Mumbai, it’s moved primarily on positive word-of-mouth, which is gratifying. I honestly suspect that is more because of the subject than the quality of the book per se, at this point anyway. Which further proves the point that readers want more contemporary stories to read, not the exotic, romanticized “literary” titles our indigenous publishers keep churning out. And I cannot complain about the reviews too, whatever has come. All of them have recommended the book in varying degrees. So, I guess the response is good.

5. Did your music writing from Gentleman days come back to you when you wrote the music bits of Local?

Actually, the writing on music here is very different from what it was in my songwriter series in Gentleman. There, the focus was on the music and the artist. In Local, it is about what the music does to Akash (the protagonist). Music is actually used as a barometer to convey how Akash changes as a person through the book. Akash’s changing relationship with the music is the only obvious way to see how Akash is changing. But yes, I also did use a couple of different takes on the music (like Dylan’s tunes being more significant than his lyrics) that I’d expressed in the Gentleman pieces.

6. What’s your next project? We’ve heard you’re working on a film?

In fact, I was making a small-budget feature film in 2004 (with actors like Pankaj Kapur, Konkona Sen Sharma and Sushant Singh; music was by Indian Ocean). We were in pre-production for seven months, but exactly 18 days before the first day of shoot, the producer pulled the plug as his finances were not all-clear. It was a huge blow, and I was severely depressed for a while. The strange thing was that my book came through at exactly that time and working on its final draft with the publisher actually helped me recover. Now that the book is out of the way, I need to revive the film with my team. This time I will have to take care to find a producer who is not a barefaced liar. Mumbai is a big city – there must be a few of those. (unlike Rediff, FC actually printed the last bit! One cheap thrill accomplished.)

November 2005


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