Pankaj Dubey, author of the newly launched “What a Loser!”, talks about his no-frills attitude to writing and eating
Pankaj Dubey has come a long way from his sleepy town of Chaibasa in Jharkhand, and, sliding into his chair at Shahpur Jat’s Potbelly restaurant, he tells me that he loves telling his life’s story. “And what a life it's been, so far!” His broad smile, the traces of which never quite leave his face, speaks of his easy going, positive disposition. His debut book, “What a Loser!”, was launched recently, and for Dubey, that's another feather in a fast filling cap. The first launch of the book was in Chaibasa, and the response, Dubey says, was fantastic. “It's such a small place. This was huge deal for them and almost everybody showed up! They asked me to launch all my books in Chaibasa and I will!”
Interestingly, one of the first things he tells me is that he’s never actually read a book in his life; at least not one that wasn’t part of his course. “I didn't want the writing, consciously or subconciously, to influence my style.” Dubey has also never been an academic. “I was horrible at school, scraping by with poor marks. But I knew I wanted to become someone big.”
With that, the menus arrive and he runs his eyes over the long, attractive list of Bihari dishes. Familiar with the cuisine, Dubey orders easily, choosing a plate of keema aaloo chops to start with. While waiting for the food, he expands on the subject of his early life. For Dubey, the practice of writing came from a prolific capacity to write love letters. “I'd write love letters to girls I found attractive, but never give them till I actually became friends with them, if I ever did,” he confesses, in what I'm learning is his trademark style of good humoured self-deprecation. Tucking appreciatively into the keema aaloo chops that have arrived on the table, he's all praises for the restaurant, glancing at the bright pastel colours. “The ambience is excellent, and they've done a good job with the food too,” he adds.
We take a second, longer look at the menu, and settle for the must-have plate of litti chokha and mutton and Champaran style mutton. “I have a strange relationship with mutton. I love it, and must eat it a lot, but it’s one of those things that you can’t use a fork and knife for, and how do you eat it outside in company?” The food is ordered, and we resume the conversation, Dubey informing me that in the beginning, he just worked on autopilot and joined IAS coaching in Delhi. “I used to stay in Mukherji Nagar, a kind of village-hub for IAS aspirants. But then, Dubey decided that he wanted to go abroad for further education, and applied for both admission and scholarship in United Kingdom. “I surprised myself and got both.” He joined Coventry University and it was during his time there that he decided to become a writer, though that dream has materialised only now, after a lot of pit stops in between. “I was walking back to my house, at three or four in the morning, and I saw hundreds of people queuing up for something. All shops were closed so I was curious, and asked one of them what was up. He told me that these people were waiting for J. K. Rowling’s new book.” In that moment, Dubey realised the full potential of a good author’s power.
Today, Dubey is an author of a successful first book, also published in Hindi. The Hindi book, he tells me, isn’t a translation, but original writing. “I’ve decided that anything I write, I’ll write in both languages.” He’s realised a part of his dream, but before that, Dubey has also had long stints as a journalist and screenplay writer, as well as a producer and a script supervisor. He worked, after college, with BBC in London, and then returned to the country to work with Aaj Tak. He quit once he decided that it was time to work on his own. “I knew I wanted to enter the film industry, and it was very fortunate to start as a script supervisor. My role was to oversee all aspects of the movie production, which meant that I could learn a lot.” Dubey has worked on movies like Ghanchakkar and Chauranga, which is now in its post-production stage. He’s also won the Navodit Lekhak Award for his story, Mukhauta.
Steaming, delicious plates of food arrive and Dubey pauses to tuck in, exclaiming at the litti. “This is very well cooked. In Bombay, there aren’t many places you can get good Bihari food, and this place is a pleasant surprise.” The succulent mutton dishes are indeed wonderful, and there is a satisfied, comfortable silence as the food disappears from the plates. In between long pauses though, Dubey tells me of his move to Mumbai. “I like the city now, it’s certainly a far cry from Chaibasa. And if I want to stick to the movie making business, I must live there.” Now, Dubey hopes to translate his newly minted book into a movie, and has already written the script of “What a Loser”. “I'm in talks with people and am thinking of Ayushman Khurrana and Alia Bhatt as possible leads.” The book too, has a strong future ahead, since Dubey plans to write a trilogy. For Dubey, a good book is interesting all the time, and he calls “What a Loser” only 20 per cent autobiographical, and says that he’s packed in bits of at least five different people in the book. “I hope even people who don’t read, will read this book.” The meal, sumptuous and filling, is now finished, and with a cup of green tea each, the lunch ends.