INTERVIEW Author Zac O Yeah tells MINI ANTHIKAD-CHHIBBER his zany new thriller, Mr Majestic, his love poem to the city

Hari Majestic is having a bad day and just when he thought it couldn’t get worse, it went ahead and did just that. Zac O Yeah’s Mr Majestic-the Tout of Bangalore (Hachette, Rs. 550) follows Hari’s adventures as he tries to find a young woman who seems determined to stay lost. The book is a wacky ride through the old and the new city with stops at sundry Darshinis, shady hotels, pirated DVD shops and sweaty gyms. Zac talks about the hows and whys of the book.

Can you talk about the genesis of the book?

It is very hard to remember where and when a book begins. I think on some level Mr. Majestic started cooking in my mind some 20 years ago, when, in 1992, I first got off the train in Bangalore and found the area around city station, Majestic, enormously fascinating. The place stuck in my mind so strongly that wherever I went in the world I would always think to myself, when I felt bored with any place, ‘I wish I were in Majestic.’ I even wrote an essay on Majestic in that anthology on Bangalore, Multiple Cities, but I felt I must write a bigger love poem to Majestic, and so Mr. Majestic was born.

Tell us something about Is Hari--innocent, crafty, corrupt, chaotic and lovable, . Is he a personification of the city?

No, I wouldn't say that. But there's something about big cities that is both scary and fascinatingly creative at the same time, and it is in the huge metropolises of the world that you usually find these morally ambiguous characters like Hari Majestic. While travelling around India, I have often come across touts. In the beginning I felt they could get rather irritating. But with time I've gotten used to touts and sometimes even found myself admiring the occasional clever sales pitch. I have begun to see what they do as something of performing art. At some point it occurred to me that what if one were to make one of these guys into the hero of a detective story.... Then one thing led to another and imagination took over, creating this fictional super-tout called Mr Majestic.

Bangalore is an important character in the novel. Can you comment on the place of a city in a noir?

Generally speaking, I think that Indian cities are perfect settings for detective novels, there's a lot of scope for mysteries in metropolises.

How difficult or easy was the research?

Actually it is fiction so one doesn't luckily have to do that much research. But I do sit with my morning newspaper and sometimes what I read triggers off ideas for stories. I also watch a lot of action movies, I like the films starring Upendra, and I also watch Hindi and Tamil films too, and get much inspiration from their story-telling methods. I spend time walking around the city, having meals in small back-alley bars where mostly labourers eat, and one gets an interesting vision of the city that way. So Mr. Majestic has its intellectual roots in all these things.

What is it about the genre that attracts you?

My grandfather had this shelf full of pulp fiction so I spent my childhood summers reading thrillers and detective novels. So thrillers have shaped the way I see things. I do think that the crime novel as such is artistically very close to the classic dramas, because if you take plays like Oedipus Rex or Hamlet, they're essentially detective stories.

Will there be a sequel?

I love Hari Majestic as a character, I think he is the best fictional person I have created in my whole writing life: he's energetic and amazing, he's daring and full of crazy ideas, I sometimes almost wish that I would be him. In a way, he is an alter ego for me because he allows me to view Bangalore from unexpected perspectives. So I would really want to write another book where he stars as the hero, because it would give him a little longer time to live.

Are any of the characters based on real people?

No, I never base characters on real people. Otherwise it wouldn't be fiction. Having said that, I do think that the world is full of Hari Majestic-like characters, people who are waiting for the right opportunity to realise their potential and save damsels in distress.

Do you expect people to take offence to the book?

No. Like all good detective novels it has violence and gore, some dirt and a bit of horrors. Actually I think most readers will recognize that despite it being a dirty detective story, it is also a story about love, valour, aspirations, and heroism.

What next?

I've been busy launching Mr. Majestic. But soon that will be over and I'll go back to my desk and write. I have a secret dream: I want to write an unconventional book on the history of the world!

Can tell us about the cover?

I was told by the publishers that they had asked this famous artist, Paul Fernandes, to do the cover artwork and I was thrilled. Fernandes is somebody whose posters I've had on my walls, and whose vision of Bangalore has influenced my way of seeing the city. I never thought that there'd come a day when he creates an original artwork for me! I think in his artwork, he captures both the novel and something of the spirit of the city in it.

Toto Funds the Arts in association with The British Council Library launches Mr. Majestic at the British Council Library on March 30 at 6.30 pm. Zac O Yeah will be in conversation with Sugata Srinivasaraju