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‘I’m a yogi first’

Karan Bajaj's latest book The Seeker is slated for release this month.

Karan Bajaj's latest book The Seeker is slated for release this month.  

Author Karan Bajan — who is high up on the corporate ladder as the Chief Marketing Officer of Aden and Anais in New York — identifies himself first and foremost as a yogi. While he straddles two contrasting worlds — of spiritualism and materialism — he finds common ground as an author. His novels  Keep off the Grass and  Johnny Gone Down catapulted Bajaj into the literary scene, landing him on India Today’s list of “Top 35 Under-35 Indians”. He was also nominated for several top Indian literary awards.

His upcoming book  The Seeker (published by Penguin-Random House and slated for release this month) perhaps best reflects his personal journey. “The book is a contemporary take on man’s classic quest for transcendence,” says the India-born Karan who now lives in New York with his wife Kerry. “At its core, the book is a page-turning adventure of a Manhattan-based investment banker who goes from the dark underbelly of New York to a world of hidden ashrams and remote caves in India,” he reveals.  Karan, the quintessential engineer-MBA, is also a yoga teacher. Excerpts from an interview: 

A writer, ‘striving yogi’ and CMO – which role do you identify with the most?

I identify as a yogi first, which allows me to play the roles of writer and CMO most effectively. So I wake up each day with the intention of performing all my activities without thought of narrow self-interest. This is not to say I’m perfect. I fail more often than I’d like, but at least striving to live with the yogic ideal of complete selflessness allows a daily framework to approach life. 

Doesn’t your aspiration to strive for a yogic life clash with your role as a CMO where you are essentially marketing materialism? 

That’s a great question. I think it’s an evolving journey — as my life gets purer, the answers change. I left Kraft, my previous employer, because I was uncomfortable with marketing processed food when I was moving to a simpler, yogic diet. Right now, I’m selling organic baby products so there isn’t any conflict; but maybe as my own life gets less and less materialistic, working in the consumption industry will become more challenging. But let’s see when that happens.

I believe in the yoga sutra ethos that man’s purpose is first evolution, then involution: we first push ourselves to stretch, grow and experience the world, then detach from it. I’m still in the growth phase and my career has been a very important tool to that growth. If I enter the detachment phase, my choices may become different. 

Unlike many writers you have not given up on your successful corporate career. How do you manage both? 

It’s always a challenge especially when you throw a ten-month-old baby in the mix! But to borrow a phrase from Sheryl Sandberg, I approach things with a “Lean In” mindset, which means rather than over-thinking whether to prioritise one part of life or the other, I lean into every significant opportunity and hope I’ll find the reserves within myself to deliver what’s needed. With yoga and meditation, I’m also more present every moment. If I’m working, I work. If I’m writing, I write. I don’t balance. I just try to integrate every moment of the day in just one stream of being. 

Is this a good time to be a writer?

If you have your own unique insight to share about the messy, glorious human condition, then any time is a good time to write. The ability to express your deeper, innermost thoughts on paper is its own reward. With regards to getting published, I don’t think it’s ever been easy for debut novelists to break into the international publishing scene. Yet publishing is also very democratic. You don’t need a MFA or an “in” in the industry. I didn’t know a soul in the U.S. publishing industry but got a significant deal with Penguin Random House through the slush pile. You do need an irrational belief in your story and a very thick skin though. I was rejected 60 times over a course of nine months before landing a publishing offer. 

What experiences helped shape the writer in you? 

In 2013, my wife Kerry and I left our jobs and apartment in New York City and embarked on a year-long spiritual and creative sabbatical. First, we went to a Buddhist retreat in the Scottish Highlands, then travelled from Europe to India by road on buses, trains, ferries and hiking with no particular destination in mind, deciding each day where to stop for the night and where to go next. Our general goal was to take the cheapest mode of transport available and stay in hostel dorms and other bare accommodations to reduce our attachment to material comforts since we both felt that our life in New York had become a little too privileged for our liking. Once in India, we stayed at the Sivananda Ashram in South India and learnt to become yoga teachers, then lived in the Himalayas, learning meditation and hiking. En-route to the U.S, we spent three months in an artist’s residency in Portugal, researching and writing.

Although I’ve been playing with the ideas in  The Seeker for many years, the rugged external adventure of the protagonist was largely inspired by this journey. Even the core philosophy of the book changed as my knowledge of Vedanta and Buddhism deepened during the course of this sabbatical.

The Seeker  is the story of protagonist Max’s journey from investment banker to Himalayan yogi. What about it do you think will resonate with the readers?

What I think people will truly relate to in the book is the protagonist’s quest for answers to questions that have bothered all of us at some point or the other — why is there so much pain and suffering in the world, what would a modern day version of the Buddha’s classic quest for enlightenment look like and the end of it all, what makes for a meaningful life? I hope people enjoy reading the book and that it also makes them question life just a little. 

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2020 10:17:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/im-a-yogi-first-karan-bajaj/article7234796.ece

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