Atulya Mahajan is an Indian author and is the creator of the Indian satire blog amreekandesi.com. Professionally a technologist in an investment bank, Atulya Mahajan went to the US in 2004 to complete his Master’s degree. He worked there for five years and then returned to India. He started his blog while studying in the US and used it as a platform to share his experiences of people living in a foreign land. Besides this blog, Mahajan also works with the Crest Edition of The Times of India as a columnist and writes occasional humor.
Masters of America is his first novel. We have him here for an interesting tete-a-tete.
Aseem: So now that you have reached the big league of celebrities, how does it feel? 😀 Are people running to you for autographs?
Atulya: It feels awesome. You know, I go to Big Bazaar and they give me a free hamper. I go to the market and get mobbed as soon as I get out of my car. I go to work and they ask me to just sit back and relax and bring me a nice cold coffee, while the others do the work. Life just changes the moment you become one of a gazillion Indian writers.
Yeah, right. In my dreams!
Aseem: What’s been the big difference you have felt in Atulya the writer and Amreekandesi the blogger / satirist?
Atulya: Atulya the writer is still in junior school while Amreekandesi the blogger is doing his post-grad. Writing a book is a very different ballgame from blogging, and requires much more finesse and technique as compared to a blog-post which you can polish off in a few hours.
I haven’t really done a lot of fiction on my blog earlier so that is new to me. I keep discovering techniques and intricacies of the art as I go along. There are so many aspects of novel writing that you don’t need to worry about as a blogger. Things like character development, effective dialogues, narration, managing the plot, ensuring loose ends get tied up, etc.
Aseem: What does blogging mean to you? A passion? A way to make people laugh? Or just some random timepass?
Atulya: Blogging to me is far from random. I generally only write blog pieces on issues that I really feel strongly about. It is a means for me to send out my viewpoint, vent my frustrations with our state of affairs at times, while also trying to write in a way that people can enjoy, without wanting to slash their wrists in despair.
Of course, there is the life-fulfilling vindication when your blog posts go on to get hundreds of Facebook likes.
Aseem: You had reached dizzying heights as a blogger even before you began penning down your novel. But even for you, getting a publisher was quite a struggle. What do you attribute that to?
Atulya: Dizzying heights!? Yes sure, I’ll humbly take that 😛
Yes finding a publisher can be quite a struggle for new writers. It probably boils down to supply-demand dynamics. There’s too many people writing books these days and too few publishers, or at least the A-listers, which is a hallowed group of a handful. They can afford to be picky and pretend that you don’t even exist.
Aseem: I have read a lot about how you began your blog. What drove you to start penning down your novel?
Atulya: My novel, Amreekandesi – Masters of America, is based on my experiences during my masters at Florida State University. I consider that time one of the most amazing periods of my life as it was a whole new cultural and educational experience, and I came out a better person from it. I also noticed the changes that came in people once they moved to the US. Living amidst all that craziness made me feel that this was a story that I just had to share. This was where the seeds of the novel were sown.
Aseem: Is it more difficult to make people laugh or cry?
Atulya: Laugh, for sure. Making people cry is so easy. Kill off a character, give them a terrible disease from a blood transfusion, send them for a Roadies audition where they get humiliated by the strict judges, or make them flunk IIT-JEE after spending the coaching money on drugs while the parents starve to educate their child. People read all this and shed tears at the drop of a hat.
Making them laugh takes much more work. I guess crying comes more naturally to most people in these difficult times.
Aseem: Over the years a lot has changed from considering America as the be-all and end-all of education to one in the long list of choices of youngsters today. How different do you find things compared to your times?
Atulya: Things have changed. Indian jobs pay much better. A lot of career choices have opened up – you can think beyond engineering and medical.
At the same time, nothing has changed. Indian education system has just got more competitive. Going abroad for your higher education is still a good option, except for Management students who have the IIMs and ISBs right here in India. Quality of life has improved, yet it has deteriorated.
Gosh, India is such an enema, no no sorry I meant enigma.
Aseem: So which character do you resemble the most in real life? 😀
Atulya:That’s a trick question. I’d just say that both Akhil and Jassi are exaggerations of how people behave when they go to America, though most people probably lean more towards the more extroverted and I daresay, desperate Jassi than Akhil. I am probably more Akhil than Jassi. Introverted, law-abiding, willing to work hard to attain my dreams.
Aseem: What do you think of the Indian literary industry today? (Would love frank views ;))
Atulya: It is slightly messy, to be honest. Coming from the very structured banking/technology industry, Publishing is closer to Anarchy. Too many writers; too few publishers. Too much heartburn; too little money. Too much to do for too little reward.
Everybody rants against how everybody only seems to be writing romantic novels. But the fact is that our readers seem to only want to buy mushy stuff and our publishers only want to publish what the readers want. At the end of the day, they have to make money out of it. So you can’t blame them too. This can be a difficult industry for writers who want to experiment. An interesting statistic I heard recently was that in the US, non-fiction outsells fiction by a massive margin. In India it is the opposite. Hardly a market for non-fiction.
Based on what I see, I’d say book promotion and marketing is the way to go. These are probably the only guys who make solid money, because authors are desperate and would pay anything to sell their books. In that sense, this industry defies economics. Authors are expected to, and often do, spend more on promoting their books than they actually make from them. Unless they reach the top league, where the stakes change altogether. Then you can talk big money. But such people are a handful.
Aseem: So how do you like life outside of writing?
Atulya: Very enjoyable. I have a full-time job that I love and enjoy. I love spending time with my family, especially getting beaten up by junior. If nothing else, I can watch the Ironman movies any number of times.
Aseem: So do we see you becoming a full time writer anytime?
Atulya: As of now, writing remains a part-time job, but never say no, I guess. I wouldn’t mind taking a break to focus on writing, but the economics scare me. Also, I genuinely enjoy my job. Not sure I can write all day for a sustained period of time.
Aseem: What next can we look forward to?
Atulya: I have a short story getting published in an anthology in February. Beyond that, I have been working on some other projects as well. From non-fiction to political satire to a period drama, there’s a lot of ideas I want to work on, and unfortunately too little time.
Aseem: What’s the best and worst compliment you have received so far for Masters of America?
Atulya: One of my friends called me up from London and his mother talked to me. She said that she just loved the book and could relate to a lot of things that Akhil and Jassi go through, as new immigrants in a foreign land. I’ve received such notes from many of my friends and people who’ve been following me, and each such comment just makes my day.
On the other side, there was one of the early reviews for the book which was particularly caustic. ‘I don’t know why I even bother to pick up books of Indian writers’ or something of that sort. That’s a sad memory best left alone.
I am thankful to everybody who has read the book and shared their feedback, because feedback will only help me improve. This was a first attempt and I am proud of it. All I can say is keep the feedback flowing in, and I promise to get better.
Thanks Atulya for your time. We wish you all the best for all your future endeavours.
I read it as soon as you posted it but, man, its so hard to post a comment on WordPress!
Anyways, it was a very nice interview. I like him and his brand of satire a lot so I had been looking forward for it. I wish you had probed him a little more on his motivation to write the book and his frustrations with the publishers though. But still a very good and balanced interview.
Oh never knew commenting on WordPress was so difficult :O
Thanks maan :). Yeah he has quite an interesting way to make people laugh. In hindsight, guess could have asked more on the reasons for penning the book, but then nonetheless was great interacting with him :D.
Was it a one-on-one or via email?