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From IITians to babus, Bagchi finds a new voice
Prashansa Taneja  3rd Jun 2012

Amitabha Bagchi

here is a marked difference between writer Amitabha Bagchi's latest novel, The Householder, and his debut Above Average, the coming-of-age story of an undergraduate student of IIT Delhi. "My first novel was largely autobiographical, hence written in first person. I drew the situations and characters from the world around me," he says at a shabbily-organised, yet riveting, reading organised by his publishers Harper Collins at Landmark Bookstore, Gurgaon. The Householder, however, has been drawn from the rusty world of clerks, middlemen and babus that often informs the Hindi novel of the '60s and '70s.

Bagchi acknowledges that "the moral force" of Hindi writer Shrilal Shukla's novels has influenced him greatly. "Shukla is my hero. It often so happens that writers turn to the works of previous generations and draw inspiration from them." On being asked about the challenge of shifting to third person, he says, "Writing in third person gives you the freedom to explore the different shades of a character. But writing in first person is disciplining as you need to draw a line somewhere."

The excerpt that Bagchi read from his novel describes the first experience of the protagonist Naresh, a middle-aged government employee, with bribery, where he fails to understand that the phrase 'a cup of tea' is used as a euphemism. Few years down the line Naresh finds himself an accomplice to his corrupt boss, whose mercenary dealings will get both of them into trouble.

"Naresh's character was largely inspired from Valmiki. Naresh becomes corrupt because he has a family to feed. But if he were to ask his family if they would partake of his sin, they would refuse," explains the author.

Is Bagchi emotionally invested in the characters he creates? "It's critical for me to be emotionally connected to my characters. I don't know it any other way," he says. "And yet, you cannot afford to be involved in them to an extent that you are unable to pull yourself out of their world. You cannot write a book like that." He adds after a few moments of careful reflection, "Times have changed. If a modern writer starts crying with his character, his tears will ruin his laptop."

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