'Most Indian pulp fiction authors write terrible English'
Quick fire interview with Varun Agarwal, author-turned-entrepreneur, whose debut novel How I Braved Anu Aunty & Co-Founded A Million Dollar Company is creating ripples amongst India's youth.
From writing blogs on how he started his company Alma Mater to writing his debut novel on the same How I Braved Anu Aunty & Co-Founded A Million Dollar Company Varun Agarwal has come a long way.
He says, "I do not remember myself as a writer. In fact the most I wrote was in my English exam in the 12th std."
This 25-year-old entrepreneur cum writer lives with his parents and two brothers in Bangalore.
His advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is don't be an entrepreneur just for the heck of it. There's no point in getting into a business that everyone else is already doing. Like the guy who wanted to get into the soft drink business but then he invented the straw.
He is passionate about cinema but detests bad weather.
Tell us something about your book? Why should one read your book this weekend?
The book is for anyone who wants to follow their dreams. For people who listen to their heart and those who want to brave it out to make their dreams a reality. I would like the readers to infer that sometimes you should take the leap and then think. Most ideas and dreams fizzle out because everyone spends hours just thinking about them and not doing anything. So if you have a dream or an idea then just go for it. Don't think. Because when it comes to following your dreams you have to listen to your heart first.
What prompted you to start writing this book?
I used to write a lot of blogs on my Facebook page about how we started my company Alma Mater. My blogs started getting very famous and I sent some of them to Rupa Publishers. So they loved the blogs and asked for a complete manuscript. That's when the problem started. I had only written a few blogs until then and the most number of words I had ever jotted down was around 200-300. Manuscript needs 50,000-60,000 words. So I was in real trouble.
Sometime last year I fell ill for a few days and was under house-arrest. I could not work so I decided to give the manuscript a shot. I was under some really strong anti-biotics so I kept writing. I was done exactly eight days later with the finished manuscript (which I completely hated) with some 50,000 words. After making a few changes I sent it to Rupa and completely forgot about it. A month later they sent me a mail saying I am now an author.
Image: The book cover of How I Braved Anu Aunty & Co-Founded A Million Dollar Company; Inset: Varun Aggarwal
'I hope that Indian authors don't outsell foreign ones'
Did you have a target readership in mind?
The usual readers of the book would be in the age group of 16-30. But surprisingly older people have taken a liking to my book as well.
How did you come up with the title?
It just popped into my head once when I was having dinner. The funny thing is I first thought of the title then wrote the book.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Ernest Hemmingway. Love the way he writes.
What do you feel about the impact of English fiction on the youth of today?
It's wonderful. People are taking to reading and nothing can be better than that. I hope this trend continues.
What do you have to say about the boom in cheap, low-cost paperbacks?
It's quite a sad scene. Most of these writers are extremely bad writers and can't put two sentences together and they talk only about love (like we don't have enough of it already in Bollywood). The most annoying thing is that these books are bestsellers which further lowers the quality of English among the Indian youth especially in the smaller towns. I hope there's a board or something in the future which checks all books being published or at least checks if their English is readable.
Do you think 2012 will see Indian authors outsell foreign ones, as even foreign publishers are shifting focus to publishing commercial Indian authors?
I hope that it does not happen. The problem with most Indian pulp fiction writers is that their English is terrible and they have absolutely no plot to speak of. They all seem to be engineering students and have nothing to talk about except the girl of their dreams. I do hope Indian publishers equally promote foreign books as well for the sake of the survival of the English Language.
Do you think 2012 will be a watershed year for e-books?
Not 2012 but definitely the next 1-2 years. If Kindle comes to India and more people adapt to reading on their tablets and e-Books it can definitely become a rage.
Image: The new Kindle Fire is seen at a news conference during the launch of Amazon's new tablets in New York, September 28, 2011.
Photographs: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
'Good writers are getting sidelined because...'
According to you, what is the biggest problem that writers face in the industry?
I think good writers are getting sidelined because more and more publishers are looking for cheap and easy to read pulp fiction books. Until the publishers take a stand to publish good books, good writers will continue to get ignored.
This whole trend of adapting books of Indian authors into films has been on the rise. What do you make of it? Would you like to see your book being made into a film? Whom would you like to see playing the main protagonist in the film?
I think it's great. It's huge in the west. I hope more books get adapted into films. I would love to see my book being made into a film. My obvious choice would be Farhan Akthar.
What is your advice to aspiring writers?
I don't think I am the right person to be giving advice to aspiring writers.
What are your future projects?
I am working on a book about my film-making journey and another fictional book about a group of treasure hunters.
Image: Farhan Akhtar as Milkha Singh in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag