Journalist-turned-novelist Anirudh Bhattacharyya with his debut making political fiction ‘The Candidate’ (Photo: His Facebook update)
A version of an interview I did for the IANS wire. The slightly longer version will appear on the Indian Diaspora portal.
By Mayank Chhaya
Chicago, April 8 (IANS) Journalist-turned-novelist Anirudh Bhattacharyya could not have chosen a more opportune time to write his first political fiction "The Candidate". With India in the midst of its sweltering electoral season, the novel has found resonance among the fiction-reading public.
Published by Penguin Books India, the just-released book is garnering some positive notices for Bhattacharyya who has spent years reporting the real thing, as in real politics and realpolitik.
That experience has come in handy as he traces the journey of his protagonist, Jay Banerjee, from a corporate life in New York that suddenly unravels after being fired and he decides to return home to India. Back in New Delhi, Banerjee gets sucked into politics by circumstances that materialize without his planning due entirely to his association with a seasoned politician and childhood friend named Govardhan Ray.
"The Candidate" is a gentle and observant satire of the nuts and bolts of India’s brass-knuckle politics, which is just as well because the country is getting a sacksful of that currently.
Bhattacharyya, based in Toronto, spoke to IANS about his book and experience of creating political fiction about a country that is forever high on the real thing.
Q: Why do you think the genre of political fiction is not as prevalent in India as it should be, given the skullduggeries that unfold there every day?
A: It’s a mystery to me too. Part of the reason may be that politicians are overly sensitive to being negatively portrayed, and deploy lackeys to file PILs. But I see that changing in the near future. We’re seeing a trend of online satire that’s fresh and irreverent and that’ll soon translate into books.
Q: Is there is a specific reason why you have made your protagonist a disillusioned and somewhat defeated expatriate returning home?
A: Sort of. I wanted to create this contrast between the sense of futility he experiences during a particularly rough phase in his life, and his rejuvenation at the challenge of contesting an election. Also, it gives him distance. In India, everyone is an armchair politician. I didn’t want him immersed in that world.
Q: Does Jay being, as you put it, downsized by his employer as well as by his wife — both indicative of personal setbacks — necessarily make him more adventurous back home in India in terms of what he would end up doing?
A: Yes. He’s a salaryman who’s been stuck in a rut for years. His world gets shaken and after he clears away the mental debris, he’s ready to confront a new reality, where risk-taking is an option. In fact, he has nothing to lose and much to gain by taking that risk.
Q: You have kept the protagonist’s learning curve rather short. Why?
A: That’s in keeping with reality. Even in the Lok Sabha elections in India at this time, you see a bunch of celebrity candidates and people who haven’t been associated with politics in the fray. They are paradropped into their constituencies and learn on the fly.
Q: Despite the fact that your book is aimed at a very general market of fiction readers you keep your observations and humor subtle and understated. Do you think that could be problematic?
A: I’m not sure how subtle the humor is; at times it tends to be a little broad and even scatological. On the whole, however, the genre is satire not slapstick. So, in that sense, I’m not providing a laugh track to the novel.
Q: As a professional journalist who is used to the very characters that feature in your novel, how has been the experience of fictionalizing real life?
A: Very enjoyable. I’ve taken elements from here and there and imbued them in my characters. I do think the reader can play an interesting game of Who May Be Who. Even the constituency, Narayanpore, is really a character in itself, and comprises bits of places I’ve been to while covering elections.
Q: What has been the response to the book so far?
A: Pretty positive. Mostly, I’ve been told people have identified echoes of actual shenanigans in our electoral arena. In some cases, they’ve tried to figure out who a certain character may be based on, and some of those guesses, I must tell you, have surprised me.