Addicted to words

Jackpot Writer-diplomat Vikas Swarup soaking in limelight

Jackpot Writer-diplomat Vikas Swarup soaking in limelight   | Photo Credit: Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Slumdog Millionaire author Vikas Swarup yearns for his Allahabadi lassi and Awadhi food

Here is a writer who is not addicted to tea or coffee. “I know there is a perception that writers generally can’t write without tea, coffee or cigarettes. But I don’t require any of these things to get the stream of thoughts going. But, of course, I can’t write when I am hungry!” says Vikas Swarup, the diplomat who writes. Yes, this is the way he describes himself. Modesty comes across as his middle name, but you can’t duck praise when your first book is not only an international bestseller translated into 36 languages but is also made into a film, “Slumdog Millionaire”. These days girls are heard asking for “Slumdog Millionaire” in bookstores when they mean “Q&A”. “I have been told this is the practice worldwide. When a book is made into a film it is known by the film’s name. I don’t mind it because now the people who are looking for the book are those who have watched the film or are curious to know everything about it.”

But what irks him is the fact that a section of the media has begun to call him ‘former’ diplomat. “I am very much in service and have no immediate plans to quit. Still if you google ‘former diplomat’, you will get my name.”

And what peeves one is that a man who has no qualms in admitting that he lives to eat, has to make do with a smoothie because he has no time to relish an elaborate meal. That, however, doesn’t mean he can’t talk about food. The man from Allahabad reminisces about his city’s landmark, Loknath, famous for its lassi and samosa. “I miss Awadhi food though we do try out desi delicacies because the ingredients are available all over the world except maybe in Ulanbator! When I joined the IFS, it was difficult for me to adjust to the exotic delicacies in different parts of the world. As a diplomat, sometimes you land up in strange situations because wherever you go, people try to introduce you to the local food and if you are not comfortable they feel bad. As I am a non-vegetarian, I don’t face much of a problem, but some of my vegetarian colleagues do suffer at times.” Vikas says the problem is not just with Indians, others also face it. On another occasion, Vikas, now posted in South Africa, found himself in a soup in Turkey. “Once I decided to take my mother, who is a vegetarian, out for dinner. The manager offered us patli jan, which was supposedly a brinjal dish. Soon I figured out that it is a mix of keema and brinjal. They took out the keema and offered us the vegetarian part. They don’t realise in India some people don’t eat from the kitchen where non-vegetarian food is prepared. What’s even funnier was after that they offered us fish as a vegetarian option!” Coming back to Allahabad, Vikas, whose second book “Six Suspects” has also been well received, says the city is also responsible for his literary tastes. “Stalwarts like Harivansh Rai ‘Bachchan’, Mahadevi Verma and Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’ come from the area. I had finished almost all the works of Bachchan by the fourth standard.”

Talking of Bachchan, Vikas mentions his grandfather was a good friend and advocate of the great literary figure. “I remember him visiting our house on Ashok Road, when my grandfather was the Solicitor General of India. He told us ‘Anand’ is releasing and his son is in it.” Is this one of the reasons he focussed on ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’? “Not really. But I must say Amitabh and I went to the same school.” Hopefully, the two will get to meet at the ongoing Jaipur Literary Festival.


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