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Amitabha Bagchi, Author, The Householder

India Infoline News Service | Mumbai |

“I don't think it is the novelist's job to convey messages.”

Amitabha Bagchi, Author, The Householder, published his first novel, Above Average, in 2007, which was published by HarperCollins India and became a bestseller. His second novel, The Householder, was published in April 2012 by Fourth Estate, an imprint of HarperCollins India. Bagchi is based in New Delhi where he lives with his wife and son.


The Householder: Naresh Kumar, PA to Shri R.K. Asthana, IAS, is his boss’s doorkeeper. There is a share for Naresh in the bounties that flow in through that door, and there has been for years. But he is a man besieged. His married daughter is having trouble conceiving, his son’s call centre job might be a cover for something murkier, and his wife expects him to solve these problems. Then there is Pinki Kaur, a colleague and his friend’s widow, whose presence in the office stirs responses in him that he can neither submit to nor suppress. Distracted by personal crises, he misses the signs of political trouble brewing at work, and so it is that Naresh finds himself suspended from his job. Unseated from the desk that has been the source of his power and well-being, he must still struggle to make things right for his family: Naresh is, after all, a householder.


Replying to Anil Mascarenhas of IIFL, Amitabha Bagchi says, “I don't think it is the novelist's job to convey messages.”


Why this long gap after Above Average? Was it being Householder that kept you really busy?

Yes, that was one of the reasons. I have been writing most of this time, though. There is some other work that I did between Above Average and The Householder that is yet to be published.

You have attempted to portray the moral condition of our times.  Did you intend to convey any message or just paint the picture in words?

I don't think it is the novelist's job to convey messages. Nor is the telling of a story a passive portrayal. My effort has been to tell Naresh Kumar's story in a way that makes each one of us think about the ways in which we ourselves are morally compromised. Perhaps as we go along with him on his journey, we may begin to understand a little more about our own. At least that is what I hope might happen.


Was the ending of the book difficult to work on?

I don't normally start writing till I know in my head roughly how it will end. So, in that sense, without a sense of the ending I can't even start. I am not sure whether that means it is difficult or easy.


What ‘inspired’ you to write this book?  Tell us a little about your character Naresh Kumar. Have you had close acquaintance with anyone who resembles him?

Naresh is a PA to a powerful bureaucrat. He and his boss are a team involved in doing favours in exchange for money. Naresh feels that his proximity to the powerful means that he too is powerful but then his world starts unraveling with his children getting into trouble and he himself getting suspended. The inspiration for this character comes largely from Shrilal Shukla who has written about such people. But yes, I have also met several people like Naresh, in different capacities over the years.


For a  householder, would you agree that personal and professional problems often arrive together?

I do agree. And sometimes a deeper understanding of the relationship of the personal to the professional makes it easier to face these problems.


Just to touch on your earlier book “Above Average”, what is your message to those who may ‘not be good looking but definitely above average?’

My message to them would be to stop comparing themselves to others. A person who is comfortable in who they are is much sexier than one who isn't.


Share with us where have you picked up your detailed narrative style. Were you like this in your childhood?

A lot of that style comes from listening to my father tell stories around the dinner table. He delighted in language and found humour in the everyday. I think like any son I wanted to be like my father, not in his choice of profession but in the ability to find joy in telling stories.


What were your ambitions when you were young?

I wanted to be a pilot till I was six. From age seven onwards I don't think I had any well-defined ambition. Sometime in my early twenties I started wanting to be a published novelist.


What are your planning to write next? By when would it be published?

I have a manuscript ready. I wrote it between Above Average and The Householder. It's not clear right now when that will be published. Perhaps sometime next year.




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