Answer: I have this creative urge in me. I thought the best way to give expression to this was to write fiction. In fact, before I joined journalism in December 1977 to be precise – I had written two novels. One of them nearly went through a publisher, but was eventually turned down. The second novel I never even attempted to publish. But in retrospect, the novels were quite amateurish and I wouldn’t want to show them to anyone. My first published novel, Beyond the Newsroom, thus is a 30-year-old dream fulfilled. I had this idea about writing a work of fiction on the darker side of journalism. But I needed a story to link it. A lot was known through Bollywood about Mumbai’s dark underbelly, the underworld. The newspapers also wrote extensively on crime in Mumbai. However, no one had ever talked about the links between the Press and the Mafia. I didn’t have any empirical data to write about this alliance. So I thought the best way to do this would be a work of fiction.
Though a work of fiction, I have drawn in from my vast experience in journalism while writing the book, making it a realistic and credible read. The novel took more than three years to write and went into nearly eight drafts before it was ready to be given to the publisher.
Question: Has the crime scene changed over the years, how and why?
Answer: I was a journalist in Mumbai for 12 years – from 1977 to 1989. I had a ringside-like view of the Mumbai mafia. In fact, I reported on crime for a few years for The Times of India, Mumbai. Yes, the crime scene has changed as criminals have become more tech-savvy and sophisticated in their operations. Dons now run their operations from foreign lands. But we still have gangland wars and internecine killings as in the past. There is one big difference though – criminals and gangland bosses then were not so anti-national. They even had a code of ethics of their own. All that has gone. I suppose it is a reflection of our times. If values stand eroded among the so-called law-abiding… what can you expect from the underworld?
Question: Why is your next novel based in Thane?
I am now working on my second novel, which will be an epic, period novel set in Thane, the city of my birth. I lived in Thane for 39 years till the year 1989. So it seems natural to base my next novel there. There is a certain story that is building up (which I can’t disclose at this stage) and this one is a pure figment of my imagination. But it will capture the culture, atmosphere and environment of the place where I originally come from. Maybe the novel is a plea for my homecoming, since I have been away from Thane since 1989. I took up a job in Muscat in 1989 and returned to India in 1992. But since then I’ve lived in Delhi and Noida.
Question: What was Thane like when you were young?
Answer: When I was young and in school, Thane was an old town, where the only mode of transport was a horse-drawn tonga. There were not even local buses and taxis were a real luxury. It was a quiet, quaint town with a charm of its own, but looked down upon by Mumbaikars. Then came autorickshaws, I suppose in the mid-sixties. They used to charge 25 paise per passenger to begin with.
Question: Do you intend writing more books?
Answer: Apart from my second epic novel, which is still in very early stages and will take a few years to write, I am planning another work of fiction, which will be on the Indian corporate world. I am also planning to write a non-fiction work on the defence forces. But what I’ve really set my heart on is the Thane-based novel.