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Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Author Interview : Sriram Karri, author of 'Autobiography of a Mad Nation' - Part 1

Sriram Karri

Sriram Karri has written an epic, when he put forward his book, 'Autobiography of a Mad Nation'. His interview is epic too. 

I do not mean that by its length itself, but in its words too. I will not go on and on, because there is quite a bit to read and more coming up, after this. But, am telling you, this is worth it. So, read up Part 1...

How did ‘Autobiography of a Mad Nation’ happen? Could you describe the journey?

After the launch of my first book, ‘The Spiritual Supermarket’, I felt a huge vacuum, and seemingly contradictorily, a huge weight. There was a lot to say, and nothing to do. The lines from various passages to come in future were echoing in my dreams, the characters were taunting me. I wrote a few short stories, but the larger feeling was overwhelmingly pointing at something else: don’t wait a minute, start the next book – the novel, you have to write.

I did not write because I wanted to write as much as I had to write – to keep sane; to keep the head from exploding, and the fingers... too eager to type. So, it started. The burden of keeping the characters and ideas bundled for so long must have been too much; because the first draft was over in less than two months.

Then, there were parts taken from a previously completed but never published novel – called One Good Shot. The scenes of the Kargil war and some parts of the school scenes were taken from there, but drastically moulded for the current narrative’s purpose. The device of the alternative diary excerpt and story in Book 1 of the novel was plucked from an even earlier novel – The Unread Diary.

The journey has been enriching, fruitful, overwhelming, frustrating, happy and sad, wonderful and irritating. The hunt for agents, and then publishers, close hits and misses. But so what, here we are. The book is out and people are reading it in great numbers and loving it.

How did these particular incidents affect your writing? Is there something in particular that you felt most moved by?

The assassination of Indira Gandhi is the first event, I personally recall – which is why, the parts of Emergency are handled from the perspective of someone who was too small to know about it during its actual occurrence. In that sense, we are the Children of Emergency – but we learnt about it from the Children of Midnight.

Rakesh Sharma's trip to space, the anti-Sikh riots, Rajiv Gandhi's tenure as PM... his assasination, the international debut of Sachin Tendulkar, role of Advani and VP Singh in the Mandir-Mandal ordeal, (during the year of my class 12th board exams), PV Narasimha Rao and liberalization, the Babri Masjid demolition, the Kargil war, and Godhra riots are the most powerful of events, that impacted the Emergency’s Children and they paint themselves in the canvas.

Several others were removed – what Amitabh Bachchan meant to Indians in the 70s and 80s as the angry young man, Kapil Dev’s era and cricket. There were some who grew in role – like the Salman Rushdie and Satanic Verses ban and fatwa bits.

What according to you is different about your book?

I will answer it as – what is different about my thinking, my inspiration, my writing role models, and my purpose of writing itself ? It is drawn from the premise of Aristotle in drawing a definition of literature;  history tells us how men have lived, literature shows us how men might and ought to live.

Characters are epic and created in the epic fashion – today, and in the last few decades, realism has been the bane of ambition in writing. As focus became more and more supposedly real, characters shrunk to smaller capabilities and vision; a trend that hurt me immensely.

Fyodor Dostoevsky
I believe this novel is epic in proportion and ambition – and without seeking a comparison in stature; but telling a similarity in approach – closer to the writing ambition of Victor Hugo or Fyodor Dostoevsky or Ayn Rand – painting man as a hero, showcasing characters who, are larger than life, but real.

Today, epic characters are possible only to Amish Tripathi because he chose his genre as mythology. Here, I am creating the historic and real mythology, and based on the belief that in spirit my characters are no less epic – or should in any case be. And if they fail, it is my failing but not a failure of attempt.

The difference in this book is when you meet the characters you won’t say – 'hey, the character is like me' – as much as – 'wow, I wish I could be like this character.'

Which particular character did you feel most close to? Why?

Don’t ask me this – even as I am constantly asking people who have read which characters have made best impact. There is the trio of People’s President, investigator Dr M Vidyasagar and death sentence facing Vikrant Vaidya, who are the narrative basis of the story – who help the story get started. They are the unbelievable trio – come together by their idealism and sense of grandeur.

Then there is the trio by whom the story is made possible – the playwright, Anurag Yagnik, the cricketer, Ravindra Rathi, and the soldier, Raja Kartik  – supported by the other friends – these three represent at the core the clash of ideas of the last century – Gandhi, Hitler and Rand.

How did you come up with the core idea and develop it?

I go by the dictum – story is key and as a natural storyteller, my preference is for plot, structure, and a wow factor lies in the theme-plot integration – a story that lives to the question: if you had to choose between betraying your country or your friend – what would you do?

A brilliantly told non-story is still a non-story. Dialogue and sense of drama are crucial to development of story – so you write a lot, delete most, and move on. 

The beauty of great stories and characters is that they start dictating to the author and writing the next line themselves – and the author in that sense is a stenographer – perhaps that is the real meaning of Ganesha dictating to Veda Vyasa.

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