Ashutosh Garg talks about drawing from life in and around him for debut novel “The Corner Office”

Launched September last, the gist of “The Corner Office”, by debutant novelist Ashutosh Garg, is well summed up by a quote at the beginning, attributed to an 80-year-old Jewish rabbi reflecting the life of corporate managers. Garg, chairman and managing director of Guardian Pharmacy, heard it while attending a plenary session of the World Economic Forum at Davos.

In a chat on the novel, Garg, who began his writing career over three years ago with “The Buck Stops Here: My Journey from a Manager to an Entrepreneur”, says he was inspired to write it after observing many friends and acquaintances in the corporate world who aimed to achieve the top slot in their company but did not take into account the trade-off. “In the process, they ignored their family, spouse and children and by the time they realised it, it was too late.”

Having worked in this set-up and seen it inside out, Garg says his sketching of the five main characters for the novel “was so authentic that it led my wife to comment that she saw shades of me in all of them.”

The narrative is spanned over three decades in a backdrop which shifts from licence raj, transition to open economy and the final liberalisation of the economy — the phases seen by the narrator first-hand. The protagonists hail from diverse strata of the society and represent different regions, religions, economic and family background. Admitting that it is deliberate, he says, “Irrespective of one’s background, ambitions, imperatives with the family are the same as are the expectations of one’s kith and kin.”

Explaining this, he says early on in career, one is wholly devoted to work to the detriment of the family and when it is pointed out, the explanation is, “I am doing it for you all.” Adds Garg, “My two sons employed in corporate sector after reading the book asked ‘Are you telling us to slow down’?” Negating it, he says that one must be aware of the outcomes and that everyone cannot come out as a winner in the rat race for the top post. He says, “My poser to the readers is, ‘Are any of the characters happy?’”

Garg emphasises on the importance of parenting. He says, “It is very critical since they build the value system and instil in children what they will stand for in future. If you are unable to give time to one’s offspring then you cannot expect the same from them when you grow old.”

Talking about his interest in writing, Garg, a masters in business administration from Jamnalal Bajaj, Mumbai, says it started with writing letters to the editor early in life. “I was excited when they would get printed,” he recalls. Later, he contributed to Junior Statesman. Garg, who has also written columns for financial newspapers, wrote in 2010 his first book which charts his voyage of becoming an entrepreneur from a corporate manager.

In spite of a hectic job, Garg is ready with the draft of his third book.