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Modern moral fable

NIKHIL VARMA
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BOOK Career diplomat Vikas Swarup on India’s consumerist culture and his latest book, The Accidental Apprentice

Vikas Swarup, a career diplomat and author, rose to fame when Slumdog Millionaire , a movie adaptation of his first novel, Q and A became a massive commercial success.

In Bangalore for the launch of his latest novel , The Accidental Apprentice (Simon and Schuster India) he says, “This is a moral fable set in contemporary India. It is the tale of a lower middle-class girl, who gets a chance to become the CEO of one of the country’s largest firm, provided she completes seven tasks set by the ageing patriarch of the company.”

Vikas says, “In ancient India, kings chose their successors among princes by asking them to complete a range of tasks. I have moved this into a modern context.”

The writing bug bit Vikas during a posting in London in the early 2000s. “I saw many diplomats trying their hand at writing novels and felt that I had a novel in me. It was the time when Kaun Banega Crorepati was a big rage in India. I decided to write a book where the game show played a vital part. The book was about the underclass of Indian society that has not reaped the benefits of the opening up of the economy. The Accidental Apprentice deals with the middle class and their aspirations. When I started writing, the Anna Hazare anti-corruption campaign was making waves. I have incorporated such contemporary news events into the book as well.”

How similar is this one to his earlier books? “I have used the first person narrative in Q and A and The Accidental Apprentice. It was a very difficult task. You need to ensure that the character connects with the readers well. If the voice does not interest the audience, they will not read anymore. Getting the voice right is the most time-consuming task in writing a book. Moreover, this book uses a female voice to narrate the story and both books deal with two different sections of society. Writing for a female character was difficult.”

He adds, “The middle class feels stuck in a trap. It sees the political class oblivious to its needs and a consumerist culture in society, where getting rich quick is seen as a route to solve all issues. I have made an attempt to highlight these phenomena in all my books.”

Currently based in Japan, Vikas is thrilled to see the popularity of Indian writing in English in India. “A few years ago, Indian bookstores would hardly have any Indian writers in English, save the occasional R.K. Narayan or Amitav Ghosh. That has changed completely in the past few years. It is encouraging that people are making an attempt to read books, even in these fast-paced times.”

While he feels it’s too early to talk about a movie out of this book, he says it is filmable. “If a movie is adapted from a book, the writer should aid the screenplay writer in his task. A good adaptation is one where the writer is consulted. The best part of working on Slumdog Millionaire was that I was given a great deal of creative control.”

NIKHIL VARMA

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