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On a turning wicket
Bowling a googly Novelist Aditya Sudarshan
After making an assured debut with a classic whodunit, “A Long Quiet Holiday”, Aditya Sudarshan's second book, “Show me a Hero” tells the story of six youngsters finding their way in the big bad world. Set against the backdrop of making a documentary on a brilliant but controversial cricketer, Ali Khan, the book follows Vaibhav as negotiates the perilous grown up world. The 26-year-old Mumbai-based writer talks about the book and cricket.
Cricket and film —any particular reason to talk about the nation's twin obsessions in your second novel?
It's a novel about hero-worship, among other things, and I wanted a character who could serve as someone's hero, whom I personally could feel for, and who could also exist on a ‘national' scale — someone whom pretty much any section of Indian society (which is so diverse) could have an opinion about. So cricket, being a national obsession, was the right fit. As regards film, the book is not about film in the ‘cinema' sense of the term. It's about a small, amateur documentary. So I don't think that part of the story relates to a national interest.
Is writing the second novel tougher than writing the first?
Not really, but it's definitely different. I think there is more confidence, having written the first, so you're able to be more ambitious. But it is not as instinctive a process as writing a first novel, one has to figure things out more deliberately for the second.
Is the character of Ali Khan based in reality?
No. Over the years different players have been in different controversies, and I used my general awareness of what sportsmen in India go through, while writing him. But the only actual reference I had in mind was Tendulkar, and that also not directly. My idea was: what if a guy had the ability of a Tendulkar but not his perfect public persona.
Did you feel you had bitten off more than you could chew with match-fixing, growing up, love, loss of idols, conservation and religious fundamentalism in the mix?
I don't think so. This novel is not about phenomena like religious fundamentalism or match fixing per se. It's about being surrounded by such things in one's environment, sometimes peripherally and sometimes more closely. We live among a maelstrom of strong opinions and currents of feeling, and the novel is about how an individual can stick to his own through the confusion.
Delhi is as much a character as Bhairavgarh was in your first novel. But where Bhairavgarh was lovely and mysterious, Delhi is muggy and pushy and not a very nice place. Comment.
To me, the pushiness and the corruption, the displays of power, the showmanship, these are what stand out most about Delhi, as a city to live and work in. It is a good environment for a noir kind of mood, and it creates the hostility which I wanted my characters to deal with, but if you're being honest about it you can't make it lovely.
All the characters are from a position of privilege. Are the youngsters representative of the country's youth?
No, definitely not. But they are somewhat representative of a certain small set of the country's youth — the well to do, English educated middle/upper class. That's my set too, which is why I like to write about them. I think they could do with more fiction that takes them seriously, and as worthy subjects in themselves.
The book has come out in the midst of cricket frenzy. Serendipity?
I guess, but I don't know if it adds much value in a commercial sense. It is definitely a neat coincidence.
Just like Ali Khan in the novel, Tendulkar walked and is being lauded for his act. What are your thoughts on walking?
Yes, that was interesting, what happened with Tendulkar. The novel does deal with a similar incident and reactions. My thoughts on walking are simple: I wouldn't condemn someone who doesn't walk, but it remains the only honest course of action for a batsman who knows he is out. The rest is sophistry.
Is too much made of cricket in the country?
I don't think so. I think it's nice that we celebrate something with such passion. Maybe too little is made of other things, but I think cricket is a joy and we should be thankful for it.
What prompted your comments on journalism in the book?
Sports journalism is the specific area I've talked about here, and that's because as someone who follows sports closely, it's often angered me how sportsmen get treated by the media. The ease with which they are both coronated and later forgotten (players get ridiculous adulation and then equally ridiculous criticism)- that's a subject I wanted to handle, novelistically.
How difficult was to get a publisher the second time around?
It wasn't easy. This book is not easy to categorize, and since categories rule our literary imaginations so greatly, it's not an easy sell — despite containing all the 'ingredients', so to speak.
Next I am writing a play, something slightly 'absurdist', about madness and melancholy.
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