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From writing headlines to making headlines

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From Writing Headlines To Making Headlines. ‘Autobiography of a Mad Nation’ is journalist-turned-author Sriram Karri’s first novel that was long...

‘Autobiography of a Mad Nation’ is journalist-turned-author Sriram Karri’s first novel that was long listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2009. His first book, 'The Spiritual Supermarket' was long-listed for the Vodafone Crossword Book Award in 2008. Writing goes back a long way for this Hyderabad-based author. He wrote his first book, 'History of Freedom Movement of India' for a competition conducted by the Government of India when he was less than 12-years-old. He started writing when he was just a little over 9 years. He wrote his first novel while in college and by the time he started his career as a journalist in an English daily, he already had three unpublished books. Sriram currently works in a corporate through the day for a living.

Describing his journey behind his first novel Sriram says, “After the launch of my first book, ‘The Spiritual Supermarket’, l felt a huge vacuum, and seemingly contradictorily, a huge weight. There was a lot to say, and nothing to do. The lines from various passages to come in future were echoing in my dreams, the characters were taunting me. I wrote a few short stories but the larger feeling was overwhelmingly pointing at something else that seemed to be saying: don’t wait a minute, start the next book – the novel you have to write.”

The burden of keeping the characters and ideas bundled up for so long must have been too much for him. For, he says, when he started writing, “The first draft was over in less than two months. Then there were parts taken from a previously completed but never published novel – called, ‘One Good Shot’. The scenes of the Kargil war and some parts of the school scenes were taken from there, but drastically molded for the current narrative’s purpose.”

Some people are born to tell stories - and then live for them. An idea has to be nurtured to be converted into a book. One has to live the life of each character in mind and pen them accordingly. This was one such story for Sriram.

“I often fight and discuss with friends who love Oscar Wilde about ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ being the right form of ‘first novel is also the autobiography of author’ idea. All the three major characters are Oscar Wilde – Dorain, the beautiful looking man is what Wilde always thought of himself since his dandy fashion epicurean indulgences in Paris as a youth – Lord Henry was Wilde, the intellectual and wit – who never said a good thing or did a bad thing – while Basil is the artist that Wilde was but pretended did not actually exist. Each of the characters are in a sense autobiographical – one in reality, one intellectually and one in spirit and aspiration. In some sense, Vaidya represents a level of desperation and passion to pursue a work of art and take a course of action in a cynical world. Outwardly, he is the only character I had absolutely no real life context or no one to relate to while thinking about him. In that sense, as much as telling the story, I lived an alternate or parallel life,” he adds.

‘Autobiography of a Mad Nation’ has been much appreciated for its lucid narrative. Sriram explains his style, “I go by the dictum – story is key and as a natural storyteller, my preference is for plot, structure, and a wow factor lies in the theme-plot integration – a story that lives to the question: if you had to choose between betraying your country or your friend – what would you do?”

He adds, “A brilliantly told non-story is still a non-story. Dialogue and sense of drama are crucial to development of story – so you write a lot, delete most, and move on.”

After deciding to write, Sriram might have taken very less time to complete his novel, but there was a vacuum of seven years between his first book 'The Spiritual Supermarket' and his second one.

“It took the publishing world that long to accept it. Three publishers retracted after they commissioned it. They got frightened at the prospect of a ban or controversy. My first book was a political essay of sorts – a story of a supermarket where only four companies are allowed to sell their products – these are religion, politics, violence and reason. Their products, God, Nation, Oppression and Money for example, reign supreme. I took little time in writing Mad Nation after that - but it has taken its time to be out for the readers,” he explains.

People are moved by situation. The circumstances might be trivial or overwhelming, but they have a long lasting impact on the minds. What are the aspects that may have influenced the Indian and eventually found voice through the writings of the author.

“The assassination of Indira Gandhi is the first event I personally recall – which is why the parts of Emergency are handled in the book from the perspective of someone who was too small to know about it during its actual occurrence. Rakesh Sharma’s space trip, anti-Sikh riots, Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as premier and his assassination, international debut of Sachin Tendulkar, role of Advani and VP Singh in the Mandir-Mandal ordeal, (during our class 12 Board Exams year), PV Narasimha Rao and liberalisation, Babri masjid demolition, Kargil war, and Godhra are the most powerful of events which impacted me in many ways,” he recalls.

Speaking about his upcoming books, Sriram does not reveal much, “I am writing three of them in parallel – waiting for the moment when one will consume me completely, enough to ignore all else and sprint. One is a work that has progressed over the others.

Navin Pivhal

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