NAW Interview with Shashi Warrier

Shashi Warrier
Shashi Warrier Pic Courtesy: Fingerprint

Shashi Warrier lives in Mangalore with his writer-painter wife Prita and their dogs and cat. He likes beaches, yoga, motorcycling, and books. He is learning to cook and has lately developed an interest in gardening. He is perpetually bemused by many of the things the government does, like putting up a garbage separation plant not fifty metres from one of the most beautiful beaches in his district. This bemusement is the foundation of his satirical works.

NAW- Tell us about your book, By God. How did you get the idea for it?

Politics and religion are hopelessly entangled where I live, which is a township midway between a large old temple and a group of mosques. Every day brings forth a new bit of stupidity. I’m increasingly sure that our competitive idiocy will destroy us.

NAW- Satire as a form of artistic expression seems to be a dying art and not many contemporary authors in the subcontinent are into satires. What made you go for a satirical theme in By God?

It’s my second satire, actually. The first was on politics, in which I likened competing political parties to competing brothels. I got a lot of fun out of that book and decided to do one more, and that turned out to be even more fun. I’m considering a third satire…

NAW- Why did you select India, Pakistan and the US for this book? A communist regime would have helped matters, and would have also served as a contrast.

These are all countries I’ve visited, so I can write authentically about bits of life there. I haven’t been to China or Cuba. But when you think about it, the assumptions underlying communism are no more real than those underlying religion, so maybe there won’t be such a big difference.

NAW- By God is highly relatable and will you be writing a sequel anytime soon?

No sequels. I’m considering another satire based on the life of a former head of the Medical Council of India. This person was accused of selling certification to medical schools, and spent some time in prison. He was acquitted of the charges, and went on to become head of an international medical body despite junior doctors going on strike against him.

The story I’m planning is built around a really crooked doctor who gets into trouble and wriggles his way out by inventing a disease and a cure for it, in collaboration with a pharmaceutical company, going on to win awards instead of a long stay in jail.

NAW: Why writing? How easy or difficult is the writing job compared to other trades that you have dabbled in? What drew you to writing?

Writing fiction is by far the hardest and least boring of the jobs I’ve ever tried. I tend to be a loner, besides, and writing is one of the few things you can do all by yourself. Writing also gives me an outlet for all the frustration that builds up inside me whenever I have to deal with, say, a government agency.

Let me give you an example. I live in a township that was developed by a government agency, and then handed over to a panchayat. The panchayat has been breaking all kinds of rules in issuing construction permits. I complained in writing to the Deputy Commissioner of the district. A month later, there was a reply from his office saying that the complaint had been passed on to the panchayat. It’s like asking a thief to investigate his own thievery!

I come across this kind of thing all the time. Writing satires helps me stay sane.

NAW: Please name your favourite authors.

P G Wodehouse. Martin Cruz Smith. Stephen Hunter. John le Carre. John Steinbeck. Ernest Hemingway. Kurt Vonnegut. Manoranjan Byapari. Joseph Campbell.

NAW- Tell us about your journey as a writer. When did you decide that you wanted to become a writer? How was the publishing journey, were there any hiccups along the way?

I started very late, in my thirties, after discovering that I wasn’t suited to work in the industry. By then I’d tried consulting, journalism, selling, marketing, teaching, programming, project management… My first book contained two fairy tales. After that, with some encouragement from David Davidar, who was then with Penguin India, I moved on to thrillers. And then, with a little pushing from Ravi Singh, who was then with Penguin, I wrote Hangman’s Journal.

My only unpleasant experience in the industry was with a publisher who published the book four years late and used every legal means of wriggling out of paying the advance. That left a bad taste in the mouth.

I have a good agent now, so such a nasty deal is unlikely to recur.

For the future, my ambition is to write one really good fairy tale. I still feel that I need to be able to write better to do this.

NAW- Have you decided what you’ll write next?

I’m well into a book on an orphan girl who turns Maoist. After that – in parallel, actually, but slowly – I’m doing that satire on the medical industry. There’s a third story in the background, a fairy tale. All this should take me well into 2021.

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