Rishi Vohra never chose to be an Author. It was more of the other way around. All these I came to know after I interviewed Rishi through a memorable evening video-chat! While directing in the Indian Entertainment industry, his interest in the scripting aspect led him to explore writing further. Several newspaper columns and wine articles later, he decided to write a story and instead, found himself writing a book. Soon, his alternative fiction novel found its way to publishers and is now a bestseller. I had read his debut novel “Once Upon The Tracks Of Mumbai” and reviewed it in my blog few months back. This time, when I got an opportunity to have a face to face chitchat with Rishi, I wanted to clear all those doubts which clouded me while reading his book. Rishi says, it is not difficult to reach out to publishers as everyone is approachable in today’s world of email and social media. He believes, in the publishing world numbers speak louder than words and storytelling is an intrinsic talent that can’t be cultivated! Read this brief interview with Rishi Vohra to know his outlook and get some important tips if you’re either an aspiring author or simply a bookworm.
Anunoy:Frankly speaking Rishi, I wish I could sit face to face in your drawing room with the special wine of your recommendation and enjoy interviewing you! Anyway, we would love to hear directly from the author of “Once Upon The Tracks Of Mumbai”, how cordial 2013 has turned out for him?
Rishi: Anunoy, you’re more than welcome to come over for a glass of wine when you’re in Mumbai next! 2013 has been great so far! Lots of surprises and wonderful things happening all around! I have a wine related trip scheduled for Europe later this year, among other things. It’s been exciting so far!
Anunoy:As I’ve already reviewed your book you know by now that I’m a fan of your work. So, I’ll take the fan’s privilege of asking all those uncanny questions which clouded my mind while I was going through your debut novel. Do I have the green signal?
Anunoy: So, here I go… After spending quite a good time in states (USA) and knowing that Indian readers enjoy reading western backdrops, why did you chose Mumbai as the location of your story… golden nostalgia or neat strategy?
Rishi: Strategy – no. Nostalgia – maybe. While writing this book, I was completely unaware of the growing Indian fiction market. I just penned the story I wanted to tell, and didn’t even think of pushing it for publication at the time. Now that you mentioned that Indian readers enjoy western backdrops more, that’s something I’ll keep in mind for the next!
Anunoy: Since when did you start your journey of creative writing? Do you still remember the first piece you had scribbled?
Rishi: I used to always write but the journey started while working in the film industry. Along with being close to the scripting process, I started writing for our film and event press releases, several newspaper columns and delWine. The first piece I ever wrote was when I was seven. It was a heartfelt letter that I sent to my mother a day after she was hospitalized. I consider that my first piece of writing because it’s the first thing I remember writing straight from my heart.
Anunoy: I can visualise a seven years boy writing to his hospitalised mother… Oh that was such a warm recollection! We all want to know what is that turning point in Rishi Vohra’s life that motivated him to finally go for novel writing?
Rishi: My experience had mostly been in writing screenplays. One day, I sat down to write a script but at the spur of the moment decided to write a novel instead. I tried it for a few pages and the process was so enjoyable that I decided to write the entire book.
Anunoy: Got it… it was like the free flow of fountain from Rishi’s pen in one auspicious day. Would you credit the Indian air or the ‘air abroad’ for hatching out the novelist in you? Honesty will be much appreciated Sir Ji.
Rishi: The air abroad definitely. I was in Berkeley, California, a place that has a thriving arts and culture scene. The air was nippy and fresh, and always prompted me to spend hours at a coffee shop (for a hot cup of gourmet coffee) or other such places conducive to reading and writing. In the process, my laptop became my faithful companion.
Anunoy: Much appreciate your honest revelation. Now, I’ve got a genuine query… There are too many social agonies in India and autism certainly ranks less severe among them if we’ve to initiate a triage… still, what made you bestow autism on your protagonist Babloo?
Rishi: The character emerged in my head as autistic. It’s not a disorder that I bestowed on him to draw any attention towards the book. I did understand though that readers and audiences in India appreciate mainstream and fun characters. But on the flip side, I felt that people aren’t educated enough about people with disabilities and how to interact with them. That propelled me to stick with this story even though it was unconventional and a huge risk as a debut novel.
Anunoy: So how much research work was involved in the writing of “Once Upon The Tracks Of Mumbai”?
Rishi: Even though the book is a mass fiction, there was a tremendous amount of research involved, both primary and secondary. Apart from researching on the internet and studying articles and academic journals in public libraries, I took the help of my University’s Psychology department. They put me in touch with students who had such disorders, on the condition that I would not speak to them about their disabilities. These interactions helped me further in shaping up Babloo’s character.
Anunoy: After reading your book I knew there was some good amount of study involved in its making but didn’t imagine it to be so much! By the way, why did Babloo’s heroine have to be such a gorgeous urban beauty … Couldn’t she be a simple looking intelligent and loving lady?
Rishi: If she was a simple looking, intelligent, and loving lady, would you be asking me as to why she isn’t a gorgeous urban beauty?
Anunoy: Ouch you cornered me this time… Well, describe that ‘nervous moment’ in one sentence when your debut novel was about to be launched in the market. Are you satisfied with its overall readers’ response?
Rishi: A book launch was scheduled with celebrities but had to be cancelled at the last minute. So I didn’t really know when the book had hit bookstores, till I got a call from the Publisher and a friend of mine who spotted it at a Crosswords Bookstore in Mumbai. Then another friend called from Delhi, and others from Bangalore, Pune, Ahemdabad, and they all started sending pictures in. So in all the excitement, I didn’t really have that nervous moment. I was just enjoying the thrill of it. The book being a bestseller and the overwhelming response from readers and reviewers was a pleasant surprise. I was just happy to be published.
Anunoy: What is the sweetest accolade you’ve received for “Once Upon The Tracks Of Mumbai”?
Rishi: There are so many. But the first one that comes to mind is when my 2-year-old daughter would go around telling relatives that Papa’s book is called Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai. Then there’s a reader who bumped into me at a bookstore in Mumbai who mentioned how much her father, who was bed-ridden in Delhi, loved the book. I spoke to him over the phone, and was truly touched when he mentioned how much joy the book brought him.
Apart from that, the HONORABLE MENTION in the General Fiction category at the Hollywood Book Festival 2013 that the book was recently awarded gave the whole journey a new twist.
Anunoy: Oh congrats once again! Surely you have made a remarkable start. I know it’s very difficult to judge one’s own work without a pinch of bias, but if you’re requested to rate your book how many stars would you grant it out of ten?
Rishi: Ten out of ten for storytelling. Seven out of ten for writing. Am I sounding biased?
Anunoy: Just brutally honest as far as I can see… We all are keen to know how easy or difficult was it to approach publisher/s?
Rishi: It’s not difficult to reach out to publishers. Everyone is approachable in today’s world of email and social media. The tough part is getting your work read. Each Publisher receives at least 50 manuscripts a day, and has a long booklist in place for publication.
Anunoy: And how to get one’s work read by the publisher?
Rishi: If a publisher is not interested in taking a look at your manuscript after reading your synopsis, it may also mean that your book doesn’t fit into their list at that time. So keep at it and don’t let rejections gets you down. Persistence pays off!
Anunoy: How important is it to keep oneself self motivated? Who or what has been your continuous source of motivation/inspiration?
Rishi: It is very important to keep oneself motivated as it affects one’s work and daily activities only positively. The best way to stay motivated is by being happy. And “true happiness always lies in making other people happy.” My continuous source of motivation/inspiration has been my wife and daughter – their goodness of heart, generosity, and positivity, always keeps my spirit uplifted.
Anunoy: Do you idolise any writer?
Rishi: S. Hassan Zaidi. There are other books that I have liked, but apart from him there’s no particular writer I idolise.
Anunoy: Some of your favourite books?
Rishi: Dongri to Dubai, Sounds of Silence, My Way the Way of the White Clouds, Catcher in the Rye, just to name a few.
Anunoy: Are you working on your next story? Any hint you would like to leave for your admirers?
Rishi: Why just a hint? I’ll give a brief insight into the book. It’s a fun ride set in Bollywood and loosely based on true events. It’s another alternative fiction, but very different from the first.
Anunoy: Umm sounds damn interesting! Do you’ve any plan of turning to a full time writer?
Rishi: I would love to!
Anunoy: Wish you turn into a full time writer pretty soon and keep entertaining us with your diverse plots. Presently Indian market is flooded with passionate mushrooming writers, so, how difficult do you think it is for an aspirant author to get his work published considering the present scenario? What will be your tips for him/her? How fierce do you think the competition is? Would you please share the story of your struggle in ascending this ladder?
Rishi: Yes, the Indian market is flooding with writers and the scenario has become very chaotic. The main competition lies in getting bookshelf space. Apart from that, a huge chunk of sales has moved online.
The best way to get noticed is through writing or blogging. So being a journalist or even a blogger helps. Apart from your manuscript, it helps to have writing samples to show that you have created an audience. It will also gives Publishers an insight into your writing, adding further credibility to your manuscript. My journey was very different. I was actually picked up from the 50 manuscripts that publishers receive daily. I have only Akash Shah, Mr. R.H. Sharma, and the entire team at Jaico to thank for that.
Anunoy: It is said that secret to fabulous writing is extensive reading. What’s your view? Have you been an avid reader?
Rishi: Yes, I do read a lot but more than that, I am an avid learner. I always have a book or magazine in hand, but will put it aside for any opportunity to learn something new or even an interesting conversation. And you’re right – reading will improve your writing. However, storytelling is an intrinsic talent that you either have or don’t. It’s not something that can be created.
Anunoy: According to you, storytelling is just like singing and one can’t tune up with practice if he doesn’t have the thing in him. Do you realise Rishi this can make few aspiring storyteller quite sad hmm?
Rishi: If use that analogy, storytelling is actually penning down the lyrics of the song, while writing (putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard) is creating the tune.
All writers are storytellers but all storytellers are not writers. All writers do have that intrinsic talent of storytelling because they have a story to tell. So what I’m basically saying is that, don’t write a book unless you have a story to tell! Did I confuse you?
Anunoy: Yes, storytellers willing to get published will take the cream out of your saying and I don’t see taking that Herculean assignment myself at least not in another 5 years. Rishi, I’m interested to know who is your favourite contemporary novelist? Don’t hesitate, you can name as many as you want.
Rishi: I can’t think of any favourite contemporary novelist off the top of my head, though I do have favourite books.
Anunoy: Ah fine… So, how important do you think few cheesy love making paragraphs are in a present day fiction work? Don’t you believe that Indian readers of late, especially ‘young India’ are not ready to accept a story without the spice of Sex?
Rishi: It all depends on the story. A ‘spice of sex’ or something even suggestive on those lines has become an essential ingredient in the masalaof our entertainment whatever the medium may be. In our culture, it is no longer such a social stigma as it was years before. All forms of media are either hinting at it or overtly talking about it. Omitting it deliberately or not highlighting it when required makes the story seems unnatural because “fiction mirrors real life.” So when a reader, young or older, turns to books as a source of entertainment and sees it being omitted deliberately when the characters are leading naturally towards it, it works against the book. ‘Young India’ is very intelligent and smart. They are reading and accepting all kinds of books. And when it comes to lovemaking scenes, it has to be far from ‘cheesy’ to really be appreciated by them in books because there’s nothing ‘cheesy’ about it in real life.
Anunoy: According to Samuel Johnson, “Nobody but a fool ever wrote except for money”. Does Rishi Vohra endorse this thought?
Rishi: I do endorse that thought! Publishing is a business, not an art. And when you’re writing to be published, good sales figures is what’s going to help you keep getting published. In the publishing world, numbers speak louder than words.
Anunoy: You’re speaking your heart out… really appreciate it man! If I say, “Best of luck Rishi, you’re going be another Chetan Bhagat after 2-3 years”, what will be your ‘Dil se’ reaction?
Rishi: Considering that he has created an all new market and audience for Indian English fiction and paved the way for so many authors, I beam at the compliment and say thank you!
Anunoy: You had a career in Indian entertainment industry and now you’re a certified wine specialist cum writer. Do you really think wine has some fatherly role in entertaining Indians? Just joking… tell us, how did you develop the knack for wine?
Rishi: It just happened. Cavaliere Subhash Arora (founder of delWine.com – India’s first wine and hospitality online newsletter), who is a renowned wine journalist, judge, and taster the world over, encouraged me to learn more about it. As I did and started writing wine articles, he told me that I had a knack for it and suggested that I should consider being a student of wine all my life.
Anunoy: Before we conclude this talk, any message for your readers?
Rishi: A message to all people - Life has become so much more chaotic and we find ourselves burdened by expectations and other stress factors. Reading is a release that effectively transports us to a different world and brings us joy in the process. No matter what your level and flavour of reading is, there are books out there catering to it. So keep reading!
To my readers – thank you for all the love you have shown towards Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai and for turning this writer into an Author.
Anunoy: Rishi, it was great talking to you while sipping some virtual red wine… I hope that our paths do cross again… all the best for your coming story!
Rishi: Thank you Anunoy! It was a pleasure chatting with you too! Thank you for inviting me here! I love your blog! Keep the magic going!
You may catch Rishi @ www.rishivohra.com