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‘I felt like I was writing as a local’

Yes, I am. India is not finished with Biscuit yet, and neither am I.

Many a time, there’s a little bit of an author in the first novel he/she sets out to write. Patrick Bryson is no different. On the surface, The Sad Demise of Manpreet Singh (Hachette; Rs.399) is a crime caper that explores visa fraud in New Delhi and Punjab. What makes it endearing is the narrative that lends itself to humour, peppered with Bryson’s observations of expats in India, their working relationship with Indians, life in Delhi and local quirks. “Delhi is home,” says Bryson. “I felt like I was writing as a local, and didn’t try and write specifically for an international readership.” That sets the book apart, making it an engaging read.

Edited excerpts from an interview with the New Delhi-based author:

‘The Sad Demise of Manpreet Singh’ shows your grasp of life in New Delhi and Punjab. How familiar are you with this terrain?

I’ve been living and working in Delhi for three years, so I know the NCR well. I’ve travelled extensively all around India. But I spent a lot of time in Punjab and visited all the places mentioned in the book several times.

What brought you to India?

Love brought me here. My wife is from Shillong, in Meghalaya — so my initial connection was with the Northeast. I first visited in 2004. We lived in Shillong for a while before coming to Delhi, when I was freelancing, and my son was born there. I’ve been in India for five years now.

You have been writing short stories for a while. What took you this long to write a novel?

It was my destiny. I’ve been writing for nearly 20 years, and in my old papers there are a few unpublished manuscripts. But I’m glad they didn’t see the light of the day. I needed the practice.

What triggered a crime novel about visa fraud?

My first job in Delhi involved a lot of media monitoring, so I was familiar with the topic of visa fraud — especially in Punjab, Kerala and Hyderabad. But I’ve also known, and played cricket with, a lot of expats and diplomats — so I’d been told a lot of stories too.

You present an insider’s view of visa fraud and how the Australian High Commission works. Tell us about the research.

The methods people use to fraudulently acquire visas and passports are well known, and that info is available through a variety of open source channels. While there is an Australian High Commission in Delhi, and a bar called the Henry Lawson Club that is open to Australian nationals, the plot itself is fictional — and nothing of security concern about the building or the processes of the visa office have been given away. But I did do some research into the Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg, and how he investigated the serial killer, Charles Sobhraj, on his own time. I also keenly followed any stories on diplomats being involved in corruption, like Michael T. Sestak, the former US Diplomat in Vietnam, who made USD $3 million selling visas.

Your protagonist, Dom, is an expat at home in New Delhi, familiar with the city, its people and food habits. How similar are you and Dom?

In that regard we are alike. I’ve lived in Delhi for a few years, and have a Nano just like Dom. I eat local food wherever I travel in India. Dal makhani and butter naan served from any roadside dhaba in Punjab, is my favourite. I’ve also played cricket at most of the grounds around the NCR, and can swear like a Dilliwallah myself. But I don’t drink like Dom, or Biscuit, as he is known, and I’m not as jaded. He’s living a single existence, after being burned in a previous relationship. I’m relatively happy and well-adjusted in comparison.

The narrative shows how keenly you’ve observed Indian English and quirks of people. How did you go about this process?

I just wrote what I know, and what I’ve heard and seen. I know my Indian English, and mannerisms as well as anyone and can speak and write it fluently. My Hinglish is pretty good too. I have an extended Indian family, spread out across the country, and a lot of local friends and colleagues. So I found that part easy and enjoyable. I often have to switch between Indian English and Australian English, (mixed with some Hindi and Khasi) so I’ve become quite comfortable with the transitions.

A lot happens by way of gossip over cricket and beer in the book. Were you privy to such conversations?

I play cricket for an expat team in Delhi called the Viceroys, and their passion for cricket, beer and gossip is unrivalled. It’s an international side, with a few Aussies in the team, and a host of diplomats. I’ve drawn on those relationships a lot, and can vouch for the authenticity of the conversations — though I’ve picked the most colourful ones to write about. Of course, the majority of diplomats — whether they’re from the UK, Australia or the US — are going to be pretty sober, and scores of them aren’t into sport at all. But I find that mob pretty boring.

The novel ends with room for a sequel. Are you working on one?

Yes, I am. India is not finished with Biscuit yet, and neither am I.


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Printable version | Oct 18, 2021 6:19:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/i-felt-like-i-was-writing-as-a-local/article6457512.ece

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