Author Ashok Kallarakkal was standing in a queue at a railway station in Bangalore to get a ticket to go to Kerala. A man, Thankappan, standing in front of him, says, “Look how bad the times are. Everybody is corrupt. Look at the porter standing there. He is the most corrupt person I have ever seen. If you pay him Rs 100, he will get you a ticket, while we all stand and struggle in this queue.”
However, when the conversation continued, Ashok realised that the porter, who was charging only Rs 25 a week ago, had increased his rate to Rs 100. That was Thankappan’s grouse. “It was the kind of hypocrisy people have,” he says.
Ashok felt this could be a good theme for a short story. “We all have paid porters like that and condemn people who do such things,” he says. Ashok wrote this tale called ‘Tipping Point for Wrongdoing’, and a couple of other stories. “I circulated it among my friends, and they asked me to write more and get it published,” he says. He followed their advice and wrote a total of nine stories. Then he began sending the manuscript to publishing houses. Most said no, as he was a first-time writer, but finally one said yes: the Mumbai-based Leadstart Publishing. And his book called, ‘Curiosity Killed the KatHa!’ was published in August.
Asked about the unusual title, he says, “There was a book by [best-selling author] Jeffrey Archer called ‘A Twist in the Tale’, which has a surprise at the end of every story. In my book, also, there is a twist at the end,” says Ashok. “That is why I decided to give this title.” The book is available online on Flipkart, Home Shop, Indiatimes and Amazon, and now at the Leadstart stall at the DC International Book Fair at Kochi.
These are well-written stories and the twists and turns grips the reader. Some of the topics include a cross-cultural love marriage, the price manipulations of a bonsai garden owner, and a prospective reporter giving answers in a job interview.
However, the most remarkable was a story during the Independence struggle. There is a place in Karnataka called Vidurashwatha, which is regarded as the Jalianwala Bagh of the south [A public meeting, held at Jalianwala Bagh, in Amritsar on April 13, 1919, led to the killing of 4000 people by the British].
Ashok travels with his family to this place, around 120 kms from Bangalore, and the interaction between the author, the guide and an old man who witnessed the massacre, forms the crux of the story.
And thanks to the comments on various sites, Ashok has been able to analyse the type of readership he has garnered. “They are mostly in the age-group of 25-45, who are working people, and have travelled a lot,” he says. “For them, my book is easy to pick up, at Rs 125, before a journey, and easy to throw away at the end.”
Ashok seems an unlikely candidate to be a writer. He passed out of the Regional Engineering College in Kozhikode, worked in the IT industry in Bangalore, then stepped aside, to get a doctorate in international business at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, before he returned to work.
In total, he has spent 20 years in the IT industry, working in places like Chennai and Chicago, but all along he harboured a passion of being a writer. During his schooldays, he published a few stories in regional science magazines like ‘Shastra Keralam’.
“I realised that if I waited till my retirement to be a writer, it would be too late,” he says. So, Ashok quit his job and has become a full-time writer six months ago. “I know it is a risk, but I do earn something by being a part-time consultant two days a week,” says Ashok, who is married to homemaker Sandhya, and has an eight-year-old daughter, Anajli.
Ashok is at present doing the research to write a novel about the IT industry. “Publishers say it is easier to sell novels than short stories,” he says.