Do lawyers make good storytellers? Meet four of them who’ve turned novelists

Satyajit Sarna

Author of The Angel’s Share

A Delhi boy, who grew up and studied in different places, Satyajit Sarna spent six years as a student at NLS (National Law School, Bangalore) and “ended up writing about them in The Angel's Share.” Satyajit says he didn’t make an active choice to be a writer. “Even as a kid, I experienced that pleasure when I wrote something for the sake of writing it. It seemed like a natural thing to do, to write about how you felt about something, or try and describe something for the benefit of an audience. I have notebooks filled with stories from my school days. I have scraps of poetry written during my first few years at college. The idea of working on a novel occurred to me in the last year of college. I started piecing together the scraps of what would become my first book. That story built on itself and started exerting its pressure on me as it took shape — it demanded to be completed, to be shown to people,” he says.

Satyajit describes the reaction to his first attempt at fiction as “mixed”. “A few people reacted as I had hoped, with praise and kind words. Many of those I admire were critical and I thank them for it. Now that it's been out for more than a year, I see the cracks and rough edges that the varnish of novelty hid. At best, I think it's fair to say the book has its merits shows promise.”

Satyajit, who still practises law, adds, “I have finally struck out on my own, trying to float an independent practice. As master of my own time, I imagined I'd be able to write, but it appears that was a bit of an illusion.” While law comes first because, as he puts it, “a man has to eat, and what not”, Satyajit says he would “also like to imagine that the courts are schools of experience that lay bare the bones and muscle of life and society. When you attend a bitter divorce case, you see two people and their relationship painfully exposed; when you attend a criminal trial, you are inside the crime scene; while in big commercial matters, you study the interests and obsessions of the most powerful. Like Michelangelo in the morgue after dark, cutting through skin with his scalpel, the lawyer-writer ought to take notes. And the things he will see are stranger, darker, more fantastic and more comical than fiction.”

M. Rishi Kumar

Author of Mota Seth - The Senior Partner and Legal 007

M. Rishi Kumar was born and brought up in Gudiyatham (Vellore) in Tamil Nadu. After graduating from the University of Madras with a B.Com degree, he studied law at Bangalore University’s BMS College of Law. But the twist in his tale came when he decided to take his interest in creative writing to the next level. “I did a screenwriting course at the New York Film Academy,” he says, adding that that’s when he “got a sense of direction”. For his first novel Motha Seth – The Senior Partner, Rishi received positive feedback and “good reviews from students and budding lawyers as they were able to relate to the plot.”

His new book Legal 007 is about an upright lawyer’s crusade against corruption. He is helped by a former Chief Justice of India, a journalist and an underworld don. “The articles in The Hindu on the Bofors scam were a starting point,” he adds. Rishi, who practises independently at the Madras High Court, reads John Grisham for inspiration and watches “almost all movies if they have a legal drama.”

Kalyan Kankanala

Author of Road Humps and Sidewalks

Born in Gurzala, a small village in Andhra Pradesh, Kalyan Kankala studied in a boarding school (Loyola Public School) near Guntur, after which he went to medical school. I had to pull out of the course due to a genetic eye disorder, characterised by progressive loss of vision,” says Kalyan. “My journey in law started at that point by accident rather than intent. I finished my Bachelors in Law from Osmania University, following which I went to the U.S., to pursue my Masters in Intellectual Property Law at the Franklin Pierce Law Center. I returned to National Law School of India University, Bangalore, to complete my doctorate in patent law, with a specialisation in genomics.”

Kalyan decided to write Intellectual Property-based stories on socially relevant subjects two years ago. “It took me approximately one year to finish my first work of fiction, Road Humps and Sidewalks, a law thriller about drugs, patents and healthcare, all highly debated and extremely controversial topics in the Indian context,” he explains.

While pursuing his doctorate, Kalyan also co-founded Brain League, an IP firm. “I have always believed that research and education are the key to a successful IP practice, and have been teaching at National Law School, IIMB and other institutes, and publishing as much as I can. Before foraying into fiction, I authoredfour works on Intellectual Property, specifically patent law, which were published by Oxford University Press, Thomson Group,” he adds.

While he says the response to his new book was not extraordinary, it was enough to excite him. “The novel was no bestseller but I am happy with the reviews I have received so far.” Kalyan is working on his second novel in his “planned Intellectual Property fiction series.” Called Pirates of Bollywood, his upcoming work is a legal thriller set around film production, piracy and organised crime. “Drawn from real events and experiences, it fictionalises and dramatises the role of copyright piracy in the world of entertainment,” he explains. Talking about juggling his twin interests, Kalyan says, “I love writing, and always find time to pen something or the other, more for myself, than anyone else. Every day, I try and write for at least two hours after work.”

Aditya Sudarshan

Author of A Nice Quiet Holiday and Show Me a Hero

Aditya Sudarshan’s decision to turn writer, after studying and practising criminal law as a junior advocate for nine months, was gradual. “There was no single deciding moment,” he muses. “I'd been writing fiction seriously ever since I was 18. But when I got a contract to write my first novel that was the impetus I needed to quit my work as a lawyer and become a writer,” says Aditya. His first book A Nice Quiet Holiday was a murder mystery and the second Show Me a Hero was “a tragedy, a murder mystery, and a coming-of-age tale”.

While he grew up in Delhi and studied law at the National Law School in Bangalore, Aditya currently calls Mumbai his home. His first book had only an average sale. He says, “There were several good reviews; people who read it and got back to me, seemed to have got something out of it”. Aditya has recently completed his third novel, called The Persecution of Madhav Tripathi. “I would describe it as a spiritual thriller. It's about a successful, elite government servant undergoing a crisis of conscience, brought home to him through a (literal) nightmare.”

Ask him about his legal practice, and he says while he enjoyed criminal law and still keeps in touch with the legal world, because many of his friends are lawyers, “once I decided to focus on writing, I was glad to have left law because I felt I couldn't have done both together. I like writing enough to give it all my attention."