Tag Archives: chetan bhagat

Book Launch: Jaishree Misra’s ‘Secrets and Sins’

Photo: R. Ravindran

Popular fiction in India is coming of age, and Jaishree Misra, for one, is glad.

The prolific writer was recently in the city for the launch of her sixth novel, ‘Secrets and Sins’, part of her ‘Secrets’ series with Harper Collins, and declared herself happy to be churning out zippy, easy-to-read commercial fiction.

“In the West, my books are positioned as ‘The Big Beach Reads’, you know, the kind that are sent right off to airport bookshops,” said Misra, who recently moved back to Delhi after living and working in London for years. “I’ve tried a lot of different styles, and I feel this is more my natural calling. I quite like the idea of having more readers – one of the perks of commercial fiction!”

With the current changes in the Indian popular fiction market, there couldn’t be a better time for a desi writer to be in the business.

“Earlier, the assumption was always that Indian popular fiction would have poor language, be printed on poor quality paper, and just be rather cheap and tawdry overall,” she said in conversation with Anuradha Ananth at the launch event in Landmark. “But now, publishers are waking up to the fact that they need the buoyancy of the popular fiction market, thanks in large part to Chetan Bhagat’s books selling in lakhs. We have more well-produced and well-written books overall.”

‘Secrets and Sins’, the second novel in a three-part series commissioned by Harper Collins, certainly fits the bill, with its glossy cover design and a plot that’s all romance, glamour and infidelity with a dash of Bollywood masala. It tells the story of Riva Walia, a British Indian award-winning writer, and Aman Khan, a Bollywood superstar, both with troubled marriages, who rekindle their college romance after they’re thrown together at the Cannes Film Festival (minus their respective spouses).

Her first couple of books, particularly her debut novel ‘Ancient Promises’, were rather different. “I was trying to be literary, but even then my agent in the U.K. felt that my writing could end up falling between the two categories,” said Misra.  “Under the auspices of my current editors, I was shoved firmly into the commercial fiction category.”

And she feels no desire to change that categorisation. “One can tackle all sorts of themes in a light, easily accessible way – Marian Keyes, for instance, deals with domestic abuse in ‘This Charming Man’,” she said. “That’s the job of a good commercial fiction writer.”

In fact, she’s already completed a preliminary draft of the third and final book in the ‘Secrets’ series, about a young girl returning to find her birth mother. “It’s confusing to promote one book while writing the next – I get the character names mixed up sometimes!” she said, laughing.

But up next, she’d like to take a bit of a break. “I’m working on a big project on the outskirts of Delhi for people with disabilities,” said Misra, whose own daughter has severe learning disabilities. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for the last 15 years. And then, of course, I’ll return to writing.”

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Book launch: Ravi Subramanian’s ‘Devil in Pinstripes’

You don’t often see these many corporate-types at a typical book launch. Pretty much just one guy in the packed audience is wearing a t-shirt, and that one reads ‘Proud to be an IIMB alumnus’. And all around, you hear scattered gossip about how so-and-so, a common colleague, has been featured in the book…

That was the scene at Landmark during the launch of Devil in Pinstripes, Ravi Subramanian’s second novel set in the cutthroat world of banking in India, following his popular debut novel If God was a banker (2007) (his second book,I bought the Monk’s Ferrari (2007) was more of a how-to guide to corporate success, the “antithesis of Robin Sharma’s book”).

Turns out the crowd consisted mostly of ex-colleagues (from his Chennai days of working for Grindlays Bank) and ex-IIMB batchmates (Subramanian graduated in 1993). Mostly, but not entirely — a fair share was curious readers, people who’d enjoyed his earlier books, people who were intrigued by his insider’s view of the high-stakes world of international banking.

And, they all had the same question. “I have 17-18 years of my banking career left, I wouldn’t risk it by writing an autobiographical book,” he laughs. He admits he has written about things that have happened, but not of specific people: “I’ve taken extreme care that no character is recognisable; that would not be right.”

Devil in Pinstripes (launched by D. Murali, deputy editor, The Business Line, and Sundarrajan, managing director, Shriram Capital) centres around a fictional international bank in India, New York International Bank (just like in If God…), and outlines the politics, the power plays, and the Machiavellian manipulations that go on behind the scenes.

“This book was a lot harder to write — If God… had a clear-cut good guy and bad guy. It was all black and white,” says the Tiruchi-born, Ludhiana-brought up author who currently works at HSBC, Mumbai. “But in Devil…, every single character has shades of grey.”

Both books fall unapologetically into the Chetan Bhagat bracket of the New Indian masala novel — fast-paced easy reads, set in contemporary, urban India, with some frankly clunky writing and editing — that nevertheless appear to strike a chord with their readers. That connect was apparent as audience at the launch engaged the author in discussions on corporate fraud, ethics and intra-personal politics during the question-and-answer session.

“I was quite surprised by the audience reaction — by the way, I was interrogated!” he says laughing. Not surprisingly, his next book The Imperfect God will also be on banking. “Banks are one of the largest employers in the country, and have the largest number of job aspirants; they impact everyone’s lives; there’s money, sleaze and power struggle — and no one else is writing on them!”

This one, he says, will be set in the streets of Chennai, Coimbatore and Tanjavur. And, will also, no doubt, feature the basest form of corporate politics. But as Subramanian says: “Corporate politics is a way of life — learn to deal with it.”

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Other recent book launches (fiction) in the city:

Aatish Taseer’s The Temple Goers

Shreekumar Varma’s Maria’s Room

Daisy Hasan’s The To-Let House

Not a work of fiction, but an excellent collection of poetry by an unlikely poet: G. Kameshwar’s Seahorse in the Sky

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