Amrit N Shetty is an engineer who wanted to be a novelist since he was eight years old. And he's come a long way, from writing about a friendly ghost to a lovestruck engineer working in an IT firm. Penguin Books India has published Shetty's novel -- Love over Coffee -- as part of the Metro Reads series. In an interview with Abhishek Mande, Amrit Shetty speaks about Ghostie Ghost, writing his first novel and getting it published among other things.
Excerpts from an interview:
Your book seems autobiographical in nature. How much of it has been inspired by real life?
I had been working on a few books and the first one that I finished was about a man, dog and a pig stranded in a lonely city -- as you rightly guessed there were very few who wanted to read it. So when I started writing Love Over Coffee, I replaced the characters, it is for you to work out who goes where. Incidentally the title of this book was something else. My friend Ravi suggested this one. And even though I was a little sceptical of it at first, in retrospect I think it is a great title.
I started with the first chapter and passed it on to my friends who loved it and what happened next is history.
Anup the lead character, is a mixture of all the insecurities that I have seen in people around me. I am sure there's something of everyone in Anup. You tend to feel sorry for him and yet at the same time you can't help getting angry with him.
The whole book is fictional -- it would be dangerous to say anything else. On a serious note I think every book takes a little from the author's personal experiences and observation and so has this one. If you want me to give a figure then I would say 15-20 per cent.
In Love Over Coffee every working individual is able to associate with either Anup, Subbu, Parag or Amit.
Tell us something about yourself.
I started off studying computer engineering but somewhere in the middle of the course I thought I wasn't cut out for it. So I ended up with a degree in mechanical engineering instead. It was my love for finding out how things work that drew me to this field and I always thought that you could learn computers anywhere but not mechanical engineering. But now that you bring it up, a lot of men from my family -- brother, father, a cousin -- are mechanical engineers. And as luck would have it I am currently an IT professional!
You moved from South India to Delhi. What were the cultural disparities like?
Having lived in Chennai and Pune I was never very particular about how I dressed when going out. In Delhi once I went along with a friend to buy a refrigerator. To my surprise we were not entertained at all because of our casual dressing! It was quite something! On another occasion we drove to a hotel in a small car and my friend got out half expecting a valet to come and collect the keys...no one came! It's quite funny but I guess things like these would never happen in any other city in India.
Do your colleagues know you are now a writer? What are their reactions?
Some do and some don't. I am an introvert and am yet to let all my friends in on the big secret. I still sometimes feel that I should have written under a pen name instead.
What does your wife have to say about your book? Has she read it?
Yes, she has read it -- I would have never had it any other way. She thinks that I might have some talent in me and concurs that I should someday attempt writing a real book. The thing is, she happens to be a voracious reader and probably compares my book to all the great authors out there, which may not be very fair to a writer like me.
How much of your heroine is based on your wife?
I would say 100 per cent. Deepthi (my wife) like Rajni (the heroine of my book) is in HR. We met during our college days and have been together ever since. Unlike the couple in the book though we don't work together. We do however work across the road from each other.
Did you always want to be a writer?
I guess so. I wanted to write a novel since I was eight years old. I was actually writing a series about a friendly ghost called Ghostie Ghost. I later followed that up with a novel about two people who end up meeting by chance and then becoming enemies. This was much before computers so I have lost all the pages I wrote in now.
More recently I wrote a novel about a man, a dog and a pig. After having published Love over Coffee, I am now going back to writing it. It is about the three stuck in a lonely city after a catastrophe.
How did your parents react to your becoming an author?
Oh they were very supportive and it is only because of them that this book was possible. Being the only child, I have grown up to be a sentimentalist -- I see and feel things very differently from most others. For me everything that I see around me has a story to tell.
What would you advise young authors?
I think (to be a published author) you need a lot of luck. But besides that I feel you should also have a never-say-die attitude. You have to believe in yourself.
What kind of books / films / music do you enjoy?
I love watching Guru Dutt movies and listen to a lot of rock and soft numbers. If you can take a lead from the type of movies I watch it should not be hard to guess the type of books. I love Amitav Gosh and Fyodor Dostoevsky. I am currently reading My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk and loving it.
You maintain a blog called In a Wink. Tell us about it.
In a Wink is a story about the people around us. It is the life that we live -- there is a little laughter, a little fun and a little crying. Incidentally I started In a Wink around the same time that I was writing this novel. I had initially planned to write the whole series on the blog, which I am sure I will complete someday -- a total of 12 stories in all. If you read closely you will realise that every story is a part of a series leading to a complete novel. The blog has played a big part by providing me with valuable feedback and encouragement when I felt down thanks to the wonderful comments that my friends left for me.
How challenging was moving from short stories to novel?
I think it was the other way around for me. Remember I actually tried to write a novel when I was in school!
How did IT and literature come together?
IT is my bread and butter but literature is my passion. Everything around me stops when I write. But if you ask me whether I was always into reading, I wasn't. I think it started with a book that Dad brought for me. It was called The Indian Rubber Boy, a collection of short stories from Russia. This could be one of the reason why I am so hooked to Russian literature.
Would you consider giving up your job some day for writing?
Wistful thinking I must say. But on a serious note, I do not think I can ever live without a full-time job. My stories are an extension of life around me. I love writing and I would like to keep it that way.
What are your future plans?
I would have loved to say that I would someday want to write a masterpiece. I have always found interest in creative things. I would someday like to start a school for kids, something that can sustain itself and live on even after I am gone.