Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Novel Pastime - Rashmi Bansal in Business World

I discovered this piece that came out in Business World in July 2005. Rashmi Bansal - the author is an IIM-A graduate and founder-editor of youth magazine JAM. She can be reached at

Where do you see yourself five years from now? That's a standard question every B-school applicant is prepared for. "Writing a novel" is not the standard or acceptable answer. But that is exactly what a bunch of graduates from premier B-schools are doing. By day, they are investment bankers and brand managers. By night, they toil away at their keyboards, tapping into their own experiences to spin out slice-of-life stories that appeal to 'People Like Us'.
Abhijit Bhaduri’s debut novel Mediocre But Arrogant, the first of a trilogy, will be launched this July

IIM Ahmedabad graduate Chetan Bhagat relived his IIT days in Five Point Someone. Swati Kaushal's stints at Nestle and Nokia provided rich fodder for Piece Of Cake, a light-hearted tale set in corporate India. And that's just the beginning. July 2005 sees the launch of Mediocre But Arrogant, a story of love and life in the fictitious Management Institute of Jamshedpur (MIJ). No prizes for guessing author Abhijit Bhaduri's alma mater - it's XLRI

Says Bhaduri: "Anyone who has gone through a business school or lived in a hostel will be able to identify with the characters in the novel." In fact, Mediocre But Arrogant (MBA) is the first of a trilogy. The second book will follow the protagonist into the corporate world, and the third one sees him fulfil his 'dreams'. Writing these books itself has been just that for Bhaduri, who otherwise works as part of the global HR team at Colgate-Palmolive in New York (See 'In B-school, As In Life').A novel is a labour of love. Like a good pot of coffee, it takes time and patience to brew. Says Bhagat: "The idea had been floating in my head for over eight years. But much of the process took place over a three-year period." The process meant waking up an hour early and writing - day after day and sometimes late into night. After nine drafts and a complete rewrite later - Five Point Someone was born. Then came the really 'hard part' of finding a publisher.

"Everyone, except Rupa, rejected it. They found the topic, title, language - everything too unusual," recalls Bhagat. With 100,000 copies having flown off the shelves in less than a year, both author and publisher are now having the last laugh. Smart pricing has played its part in Five Point Someone's success. At a youth-friendly Rs 95, the book has achieved cult sales. For Rupa, the book is a worthy successor to The Inscrutable Americans, one of its best sellers for over a decade.

For Swati Kaushal, writing Piece Of Cake was a one-and-a-half year project. "I had a very clear idea of the office bits, but only as disparate scenes," says the IIM Calcutta graduate, who now lives in Minneapolis, US. Certainly, the descriptions of the 'advertising meeting in the fourth floor conference' room and life in the 'northern region sales office' are the book's most entertaining, insightful bits.The central character, heavily inspired by Bridget Jones, is 29-year-old Minal Sharma - the archetypal MBA trying to 'have it all'. Says Kaushal: "In the Indian context, despite all the recent permissiveness one reads about, I feel women still agonise over marriage, career, family expectations and trying to make it all work out." Though reviews have been mixed, the light-n-bright read seems to have found enough takers. Penguin is going in for a second reprint just two months after its initial release.

If Piece Of Cake is chick lit for the 20-somethings, Deeptha Khanna's Vinita Sharma, The Year I turned 16 is going to be its teen counterpart. The book, set for release by Puffin in 2006, is the 'diary of a wonderful young girl who is a teenager in present-day India'. Khanna, an IIM Bangalore graduate and brand manager with P&G, Singapore, says she met hundreds of teens in the course of her consumer work. And what struck her was that most of the impressions about teenagers are so one-dimensional.

"I remembered how I was as a teen - idealistic, impressionable, hormonal (!) and decided I wanted to write a book that reflected the real Indian teenager. I did justice to more aspects of their lives than just the clothes they wear and the music they listen to." Khanna's heroine is sassy without being 'yo'. The book follows Vinita through a chaotic year in her young life - deep friendships, heartbreaks, me vs my parents conflicts and the eternal quest for identity. Contemporary issues like Internet porn and the DPS MMS sex clip are also woven in.Mainak Dhar's first foray into published fiction was Flashpoint, a novel based on a fictional India-Pakistan war. The IIM-A graduate, who is currently associate marketing director at P&G, Singapore, had earlier co-authored two books on economics - a subject he studied at Delhi University. "I think I'm still at an early stage in really discovering myself as a writer," says Dhar. "I would like to see myself taking a full-time plunge into writing unlike today where I have a full-time corporate job. Writing is a passion I indulge in my spare time."
MBAs turning to writing is actually not surprising because many Indian B-school graduates are simply exceptionally bright individuals who followed the easiest path available to them. An IIM or XLRI campus is invariably host to a pool of versatile talents. And for these young people who could have been artists, musicians or filmmakers, treading the road to respect and riches has been less fraught with risk.

Interestingly, all these MBA-turned-authors are currently based abroad. Perhaps they have more 'spare time' there? Both Kaushal and Khanna are, in fact, currently on sabbaticals from work. "You cannot write about something unless you put sufficient distance between it and yourself," muses Kaushal. "Since Piece Of Cake drew so heavily from personal experiences in the corporate world (though it's by no means a memoir) I don't think I could have written it while I was still working." Dhar, however, feels the solitude that comes with living abroad leads to introspection. Hence, the self expression. Post Flashpoint, he has written a collection of poetry, Face In The Mirror, which was published in early 2004. Khanna is also on to her next book - a set of 12 short stories for children titled Chari Thatha's Nature Stories. Kaushal's second book goes a "little deeper" and focusses on a 15-year-old girl.Meanwhile, Five Point Someone is being made into a film. Movie rights to the novel were snapped up by Ten Films in June 2004. Thirty-something director Ritesh Sinha, a former advertising man, who says he relates completely with the book, promises "not to ruin the gripping story with song and dance sequences". For one MBA-turned-novelist at least, that's a dream debut - with a fairytale ending.

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