‘Mumbai has reduced success to a formula’
Jaideep Varma’s maiden novel, Local, based on life in Mumbai, reflects the new and confident face of India. The characters are as varied as the people boarding and getting off the suburban train. Harbans Singh takes us on a journey into the mind of the writer, who grew up in Chandigarh and is still fascinated by it. He gets the author talking on his love-hate relationship with Mumbai, his adopted hometown.

How difficult has been your transition to the life of a full-time writer?

Very difficult. The theme of Local had been exercising me since 1993, but the demanding life in Mumbai and finances were the restraining factors. Mumbai is a place where the less you earn the farther you are from your workplace, which means that hours have are spent in commuting. This leaves little time and energy for creative writing. Even after deciding to become a full-time author, I had to do sundry assignments to keep myself afloat.

Are you saying that life in Mumbai was not conducive for writing?

Mumbai life, because of the distances and the time consumed in commuting, is a limiting factor on creativity. Apart from its energy-sapping pace, the all-pervasive influence of Bollywood is corrupting. Bollywood has set the parameters of success and reduced it to a formula, which allows no new comer to be explored. To try out his creative ideas, a creative person has to first enter the system and then take care that the formula doesn’t overwhelm him or her. Not many people have anything left in them by the time they are in a position to create something new. In this regard, Chandigarh or even Delhi is more conducive for creativity. The open spaces, soothing greens and the quality of life in Chandigarh keep the energy level high. You don’t have stereotypes there. One can’t hope for such freedom in Mumbai.

Was it easy to find a publisher?

A: Not at all. The bitter truth about Indian publishers of English work is that their culture is worse than Bollywood. In Bollywood, one knows that the only consideration is commercial success and yet offbeat subjects do get in, but the big Indian publishers cannot boast of even one title that was not already recognised as a commercial success. Established publishers sat on my book for months on end without even sending me a rejection slip, which is a basic courtesy. My eventual publisher was kind enough to get back to me within a week.

The characters in your novel display neither hope nor resilience.

Not true. There is Rafat, all set to commit suicide, and yet he pulls himself back from the edge. Had he not had any hope, he would not have carried on with life. Akash, the protagonist, indifferent all through, comes out of the police station in the end with hope and new resolve.

How close are your characters to the real life?

Many of them belong to this world, but the resemblance ends there. By and large, they are entities unto themselves.

Do you structure plot and characters or do these develop on their own?

A: It is both. I do begin with a structure in my mind, but as I write, the character, too, grows. It becomes a living, breathing creature that must act independent of my initial plot.

You have created too big a canvas on which, Akash, the protagonist, gets lost.

I have devoted 85,000 words to Akash and only 35,000 to the other characters and situations. I felt that I needed those side stories and characters to bring out the real Akash. It couldn’t have been shorter.