Shatrujeet Nath was born in Shillong in 1971. As a young man, he sold ice-cream, peddled computer training courses and wrote ad copy before finding his true calling in business journalism. But while still at the top of his game as Assistant Editor at The Economic Times, Shatrujeet quit journalism to write fiction. The Karachi Deception is his first book. He is currently writing his second book, The Guardians of the Halahala, which is part of an epic fantasy trilogy based on the legendary king, Vikramaditya.
We have him here for a special tete-a-tete –
Aseem: Considering you were at the top of your game, why did you decide to forgo a successful career in business journalism?
Shatrujeet:The truth was that after more than a decade of being a journalist, I found that I had stopped learning anything new at work. I was stuck in a routine that I didn’t enjoy, and even the prospect of writing a business story didn’t lift the spirits – which is downright scary for anyone who aspires to write. I realized that the problem didn’t lie with journalism; the problem lay with me. I needed to re-invent. And the only way I could think of doing that was by writing something completely different from what I had been writing for ten years.
One could look at it as foregoing a successful career. One could also look at it as reclaiming one’s life. Put that way I know it sounds very romantic, but it was a tough decision fraught with risks. I wouldn’t have had the courage to take that step if my wife hadn’t thrown her weight behind that decision.
Aseem: How did writing a novel come about?
Shatrujeet: When I quit journalism I was clear that I wanted to write fiction. I originally intended trying my hand at writing film scripts – in fact, I started working on the plot of ‘The Karachi Deception’ with the aim of making it into a script. But 30 pages into writing, it didn’t look like anybody’s idea of a film script – it looked like a novel. So I just continued writing it that way.
Aseem: Since this is your first book, what all challenges did you face as a writer?
Shatrujeet: There weren’t too many initial challenges so to speak. Partly because I didn’t fully understand what I had let myself into! I started writing ‘The Karachi Deception’ with the notion that it would take 60,000 words and two months to finish. Had someone told me on day one that the first draft alone would accommodate 131,000 words and that I would spend nearly a year writing it, I probably would have given up before starting!
What helped was the fact that I knew exactly how the story would begin and how it would end. As every word I put down and every turn the story took, it brought me closer to the end. I never saw the writing bit as a challenge.
The challenges came later. Things like reworking large parts in the second draft, chopping off parts of the story that were dear to me but useless for the book, being objective about something that I had spent a year writing… And then of course, the uncertainty surrounding the fate of something that had become so close to me. Whether I would find a publisher, whether the book would sell and be liked by readers…
Aseem: How difficult was it to begin your writing career with such an intense subject?
Shatrujeet: I don’t know if the subject of my book is “intense” but I really didn’t have any problem dealing with it. That’s probably because the core two-line thought behind ;The Karachi Deception’ had been incubating in my head for nearly eight years. I think the book had been growing inside me all that while. So when it came to actually writing the thing down, it didn’t present too many problems.
What probably also helped was the fact that my father had been in the armed forces and I have spent large portions of my childhood and adolescence in cantonments. So the “military milieu” of the book came naturally to me. It’s possible that at a subconscious level, I understood the mindset of my characters with greater ease.
Aseem: The story moves across various countries, cities and consists of various characters in different situations. How much research did it involve?
Shatrujeet: Research is integral to all good storytelling but perhaps more so when there is a historical or geographical context to the story. In that sense, quite a bit of research went into the book. I trawled the net for pictures and information on Pakistan, spent hours on discussion forums understanding Pakistanis politics, visited all kinds of websites to learn about guns, binoculars, the Middle East conflict, the Afghan mujahideen and also studied maps to grasp topography, distances… This was critical because I want readers to get a sense that what they are reading could be a “real story”.
But the idea was less about being accurate and more about creating an aura of authenticity. I did not want to plant “facts” in readers’ minds – instead, I wanted to sow the seeds of possibility in their minds. So if you ask me do the RAW and the Joint Intelligence Committee operate the way I have described it in my book? The short answer is, I don’t know. But those who read the book would be inclined to believe that that’s probably the way they do operate. I have used research as a means to an end and not as an end in itself.
Aseem: Do you think the story could become a reality some day? Or is it just plain ‘fiction’?
Shatrujeet: How do we know it isn’t already the reality? 🙂
Aseem: Any plans of turning this high octane thriller into a movie?
Shatrujeet: As I said, it started as a film script but ended up as a book. Perhaps one day it will find form as a movie as well. A movie may or may not happen. I’m happy the book did.
Aseem: How do you find the Indian literary industry today?
Shatrujeet: I’m very new to the industry and won’t even pretend to understand how it works. But I think it is an exciting time for aspiring authors. Publishing houses are open to picking up manuscripts of untested authors, which is always a good thing – for authors and publishers. That’s the only way new talent can be uncovered. The self-publishing scene is also gaining ground and I’m happy the taboo around self-publishing is slowly disintegrating thanks to self-published e-books.
What I like in particular is the increase in genres with books to suit all tastes. Till not very long ago, only those Indian authors writing in English got published whose books were of “a higher literary value”. I have no problem with that but this “intellectual pursuit” on the part of publishers happened at the cost of other forms and genres of storytelling. There was a demand for a whole lot of other books – campus capers, chick-lit, mythology & fantasy, young adult fiction, thrillers – but Indian authors who could cater to this market just weren’t getting published. Now we see that gap being bridged which is good news for both readers and authors.
Aseem: Reading or writing?
Shatrujeet: For a writer, there is no one without the other. For those who don’t write for a living, I would highly recommend the reading 🙂
Aseem: Your next is a fantasy trilogy. From thriller to fantasy, that’s quite a big contrast, isn’t it?
Shatrujeet: I see myself as a storyteller, not a genre specialist. To be completely honest, while I do have a couple of ideas for thrillers running around in my head, I would not stake my name and my time on either of those at this point in time. Both are too weak to sustain beyond a one-para synopsis. And I doubt they would excite even the most loyal and supportive of my friends.
I wrote ‘The Karachi Deception’ because I had a clear story to tell. It’s for the same reason that I am now writing the ‘Vikramaditya Trilogy’. One was a thriller because the story was about espionage and Indo-Pak politics; the other is an epic fantasy because it involves a cosmic confrontation between the devas, the asuras and mankind. For me, the story comes before the genre. I’m fairly certain that I will be tackling a 17th-century action adventure sometime in the future and there’s a mad caper about aliens in Mumbai that I will definitely visit someday.
Having said that, quite a few readers have been asking/demanding that I write a sequel to ‘The Karachi Deception’. I will, the day I unearth a story that is a worthy successor to the first book 🙂
Aseem: How do you spend your free time?
Shatrujeet: I read. I watch movies and plays. I play games. And I daydream a lot.
Aseem: What’s your message for your readers and upcoming writers?
Shatrujeet: To readers: read more 🙂
To upcoming writers: Choose the story you want to write wisely as it’s something that you will be stuck with for the next one-to-three years. The story should be something that sustains your interest and your passion over long periods of time.
Thanks Shatrujeet for giving us your time. We wish you all the best for all your future endeavours!