Bagchi: writer of exceptional talent
By Resmi Jaimon
Amitabha Bagchi was born in Delhi in 1974. He did his BTech in Computer Science from IIT Delhi and then a PhD in the same discipline from the prestigious Johns Hopkins University. He returned to India and currently is an Assistant Professor in the Computer Science and Engineering Department of IIT Delhi. His first book, Above Average, was published in 2007 by HarperCollins.
Amitav Ghosh has described Bagchi as a novelist of exceptional talent.
Techgoss (TG): You are the author of a bestseller, Above Average. Now, you are awaiting the launch of your second book, The Householder. What kind of thoughts and feelings are you experiencing, since the date of the launch is closing in?
Amitabha Bagchi (AB): These intervening years since the publication of Above Average have been full of many changes in my life, both personally and as a writer. As a writer you notice the change and growth only in the process of writing. And there is some significant growth in my writing between Above Average and The Householder. As I anticipate the release of this book I am curious to see how readers will respond to this change.
TG: Above Average and The Householder have very different story lines. Share with us the experience of writing both the books. Did writing The Householder put more pressure on you, with a bestseller already to your credit?
AB: I think it was much harder to write Above Average because I did not have the experience of already having written a novel behind me at the time. I had to figure out various things--my voice, characterization, narrative structure—as I went along. By the time I came around to writing The Householder I was much more experienced in these matters. I also had the mistakes I had made in Above Average to draw on. And also, perhaps more importantly, when I was writing my first novel I was often beset with doubt about whether I would be able to finish it, and if I finished it if anyone would want to publish it. Writing the second novel I knew that if I just kept writing I would get to the end. And since I had one successful book behind me I felt that getting this second one published would also be significantly easier. So, all in all, writing The Householder, was a much less demanding experience.
As far as the problem of replicating the success of Above Average is concerned, that was not at all on my mind when I was writing The Householder. This is not to say that I don't want my book to be widely read. Of course I do. Every writer does. But I think the way to do that is to write the best book you can. And the best book you can write depends on your own self, not on the demands of the audience. And once you've written the book that is important to you, you go to the audience in all humility and offer it to them. If you're lucky they accept it.
TG: Tell us about The Householder.
AB: The Householder is the story of man whose carefully assembled world has begun to fall apart. His name is Naresh and he is the corrupt PA of a corrupt IAS officer. Naresh has always taken care of his family, but when the book begins he finds himself unable to deal with the problems that are coming up in his life. How does a man who prides himself on being a good provider for his family face up to a situation where he is stripped off his capabilities? This book takes up this question against the backdrop of an unforgiving social system where power can sometimes be an illusion.
TG: With a full-time career at one of India's prestigious tech institutions, how you do manage your passion for writing?
AB: It requires some time management and juggling things around. I tend to do most of my writing in the breaks between semesters.
TG: Nowadays, countable numbers of people with IIT background have written a book. How would you rate this phenomenon? Is writing a book that simple that anyone with an IIT background or a person working in another profession can write one without prior experience?
AB:I think books should be judged on their own merit, not by the professional qualifications of their writers. If a lot of people from one college or the other are writing books, this does not mean that readers will accept those books uncritically. And that is how it should be.
TG: What are you working on next? Do you have plans to work on non-fiction or a technical book?
AB: I am working on my next novel right now. I don't have any plans to write non-fiction or a technical book in the near future.