‘I never saw myself as a writer,  only a reader’

The trigger was a visit to Kashmir in 2002. I was in Srinagar and visited the tomb of a Muslim pir.
‘I never saw myself as a writer,  only a reader’

BENGALURU : Ashwin Sanghi ranks among India’s highest selling authors of English fiction and is the writer of several bestsellers such as The Rozabal Line, Chanakya’s Chant, The Krishna Key, The Sialkot Saga and Private India. He has also penned a non-ficiton book  13 Steps to Bloody Good Luck and co-authored 13 Steps to Bloody Good Wealth. Excerpts from his interaction with CE: 

What triggered you to write the books in The Bharat Series?
The trigger was a visit to Kashmir in 2002. I was in Srinagar and visited the tomb of a Muslim pir. The shrine is called Rauzabal or “Tomb of the Prophet”. Local land records acknowledge the existence of the tomb from AD 112 onwards. The sarcophagus at Rauzabal has been placed along the north-south axis according to Muslim custom but the true burial chamber beneath revealed that the grave of Yuz Asaf lies along the East-West axis as per Jewish custom. A carved imprint near the sarcophagus of Rauzabal shows a pair of normal human feet that bear crucifixion marks on them. I was fascinated with the notion that the man buried in the tomb could possibly be Jesus Christ. This led to my first book in the Bharat Series, The Rozabal Line.

Your book completes a decade this year. How do you feel?
I feel proud that the series has flourished and has crossed sales of over a million units. When I started out with the first book in 2008, I could not have imagined that it would be so loved and appreciated . I thank Ma Saraswati each day for the creative blessings that she has showered me with. 

Have you always seen yourself as a writer?
Not at all. As you know, I am not a writer by profession. I was born and brought up in a business environment. I started working when I was 16 and completed my MBA when I was 22. By the time that I completed writing my debut novel, The Rozabal Line, in 2006, I had already been in business for over 20 years. I never saw myself as a writer—only as a voracious reader. Frankly, I hadn’t written anything over a thousand words before penning my first novel.

What has been your inspiration?
My maternal grandfather was a voracious reader and poet who would send me a book each week to read. At the end of the week I had to send him a one-page letter about why I liked or disliked each book. The process was silently creating the storyteller in me by hardwiring my brain. The stories that he would narrate to me and the ideas in the books presented by him were my greatest inspiration.

Does your writing draw influence from vernacular books?
Not vernacular books but stories with an Indian soul. I am not multilingual besides Hindi and English, but I read many English translations of popular vernacular stories. One of the first books that I read as a teenager was the Mahabharata as narrated in English by C Rajagopalachari. I was also exposed to Gitanjali by Rabnindranath Tagore and the Fitzgerald translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Think about it, the works of RK Narayan were in English but the stories were utterly Indian.

With the digitisation of books, have you moved to reading books on screen?
I have always been a technology buff. I started using the Kindle when it wasn’t even available in India, in around 2007. I still love the feel of being surrounded by books in my study and adore the romance of paper but the simple convenience of carrying a few hundred books in my electronic library, while travelling, ensures that I actually get my reading quota completed.

What is your writing process like?
A decade ago I was a businessman who was also a writer. Today I am a writer who is also a businessman. I start my day at office rather late, by noon, since I am no longer actively involved in my family’s business. I usually write in the mornings from 6 am to 10 am, which explains why I have to start my day late. My evenings are usually spent reading and researching. 

I spend several months on research. For a typical Bharat series book, this could be six to twelve months. I then spend around three months on the plot. The plot will usually have every twist and turn in the story planned chapter-wise. It is only after these two stages that I start writing. Detailed plotting ensures that I do not allow the pace to slacken except of my own choosing. I am not a great writer but I am a decent rewriter, so I rewrite the manuscript several times before it goes in for editing. All in all, two years is the average from beginning to end. 

Do you go back to your old writings? 
I never read my books after they are published. I am simply too busy thinking of my next story idea to 
revisit material.

How difficult is it to get published? Have you had to modify or change the content of your book for it to get published?
Much easier today than it was a decade ago. I received 47 rejections from publishers and literary agents. At that time publishers were least interested in popular fiction that emerged from Indian writers. Most publishers were foreign companies that published commercially successful Western authors. Indian writers were meant to turn out literary fiction or non-fiction, not popular fiction. This is rather surprising , since Hindi pulp fiction was sold in lakhs. The Indian publishing industry received a wakeup call with the arrival of Chetan Bhagat. And yes, editing and rewriting is a part of getting published. All writers should get used to it.

Who’s your first reader? And who are your biggest critics?
It was Hawthorne who said that easy reading is damn hard writing. I keep sharing chunks of my work in progress with three individuals. My single question to them is, “Do the pages turn by themselves or do you need to make an effort to turn them?” My wife, my publisher and my aunt are the ones who are usually my guinea pigs! They are also my staunchest critics.

Do you think marketing plays an integral role in the success of a book?  
Of course it does. There has always been a bit of elitism in the writing world… authors are not expected to go out and “sell” their books. Frankly, why should you invest two years in writing a book if you are not going to market it? I tend to get my hands dirty in every aspect including cover design, video trailers, social media, distribution and promotions. This has only been possible because I have been used to doing all of that in my business avatar. 

What’s next for the Bharat series?
I have already started work on the next Bharat series book. I hope that it will be published next year in 2019. This would be the sixth book in the series. 

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