Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Meet Prashant Yadav - Author of "The Jeera Packer"

We reviewed "The Jeera Packer" a political thriller by Prashant Yadav three months back. Today we have Prashant with us to discuss about the journey of 'The Jeera Packer'.


Can you tell us about your educational background?
I did my schooling from Sitapur in UP, then went on to do my BTech in Electrical Engineering from IIT Kharagpur and MBA from IIM Ahmedabad. Also did the Exchange term at Stockholm School of Economics.
Can you tell us more about your life in school and college?
In school, I was the quintessential geek - the nerdy topper boy at school, the guy who tops exams and does little else.

Opening up happened at IIT. Good academics continued and I also expanded my horizon to playing hockey, creative writing in Hindi - won the “Best Author” and edited the institute Hindi magazine apart from pumping weights, making amazing lifelong friends and having crazy fun.

IIM took that a couple notches higher. Dabbled in dramatics, wrote the campus gossip column which was well loved and had a lot of fun apart from learning a lot about business as well as people.
What are some day jobs you have held?
I started my career as a software engineer building Electronic Design Automation tools. Post MBA worked as Area Sales Manager for Coca Cola and held Sales and Marketing positions in a couple of IT services and products companies in India and the US.

Quit my job in 2006 to venture out on my own. A couple of experimental ventures later, started BodhiSutra.com which offers mobile based one on one learning courses to enterprises and consumers in English communication.
Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors? Which author inspire you the most?
I have mostly read non-fiction but the little bit of fiction that I’ve read has been remarkable and has had a huge impact. Favourite books include Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, works of NN Taleb, India’s Bandit Queen by Mala Sen, Pachpan Khambhe Laal Diwarein by Usha Priyamvada, Shantaram, The Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Fight Club, A Clockwork Orange, Death Wish by Brian Garfield, Charles Bukowski etc.

As for inspiration, Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, The Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohd Hanif and the short but impactful Hindi novel, Kissa Loktantra by Vibhuti Narayan Rai were the big influencers for The Jeera Packer.
When did you start writing?
I always loved writing. Way back in class VIII, my English teacher read out my exam essay in class X, which was hugely encouraging. We enacted a skit written by me in class IX. And then through college and beyond, this non committal flirting with writing continued in the form of articles, campus gossip columns, blog posts etc.
When did you decide to become a writer?
I toyed with the idea of writing a book immediately after college but it didn’t fly. In retrospect, I think I didn’t have enough life experiences to lend the requisite depth to my writing - also because the way I write, it has to be really deeply felt and perhaps I wasn’t ready then.

Then, in the early days of entrepreneurial struggle, while I would be waiting and plotting for the next client payment, Facebook would show me pictures of my classmates holidaying in Switzerland or driving expensive cars. And that gave me an intense peer envy feeling - I thought I was no less capable than them and still languishing.

Around 2013-2014, I started thinking seriously about a book. Wrote half of it and then, junked it because it wasn’t going anywhere. The emotional intensity required to carry it through didn’t exist. But then it hit me - that this feeling of having friends you thought were less capable but doing much better than you is pretty universal - everyone of us would know at least one person about whom he could say, “How the hell is that idiot so rich and successful?” And that became the genesis of The Jeera Packer. Here was a feeling I knew too well and it was something pretty universal - everyone could connect with it. So, started working on The Jeera Packer by mid 2014, finished it by end 2014. Pitched it to publishers around early 2015.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
The job of the writer is to think the unthinkable and say the unsayable. You need a writer only to show perspectives you don’t normally see - otherwise, anyone can tell a story. I want to write stories that make you think and ask questions. Something that can mess up your mental circuits, something that makes you feel - what the hell just happened. I want to write a lot and I want my books to be an experience for the reader - that’s the ambition.
Do you have a special time to write, or how is your day structured to accommodate your writing?
I write early mornings. That works best for me. Three to four hours in the morning generally give me a good 2000 words.
What genre are your books?
The Jeera Packer is a political thriller. With a universal emotional theme underlying the quintessential Indian story in a political backdrop with hardcore heartland characters, motifs and sights and sounds, The Jeera Packer falls in a very nice space of a uniquely Indian thriller.

Having said that, deep down, I feel the unit is the story and genre is largely an artificial construct. As a writer, my loyalty is to the story.
Can you describe your current book in few lines? What’s it about?
It’s a layered story dealing with the burden of unrealised ambition, unfulfilled potential made worse by peer envy. Closely meshed is the story of power struggle in a political dynasty. Then there are relationships - with oneself, between fathers and sons, brothers, lovers, friends, master and the flunkey. And then, there is the time dimension - how people and relationships change with time.
Give us an insight into your main characters
The protagonist is an everyman - living in an apartment complex with his wife and son running a grocery shop. But he carries a baggage - of his “glorious past” when he was the ace sharpshooter and on the expressway to political power. Then, he gave it all up.

And that burden coupled with the boredom of an unremarkable routine gets to him, eating him away everyday. He bumps into an old friend, who was his flunkey those days but stuck to crime-politics and is a powerful minister now. His life goes topsy turvy. He meets his third associate of the olden days, a perennially doped bike mechanic who is in a state of absolute happiness - no fear and no regrets. There, he gets the idea of his ‘Taj Mahal’, his magnum opus, the perfect pinnacle of his potential. And he decides to shoot the chief minister, an evil and powerful man, the toughest to kill in the state in a perfect murder.

We have the CM who wants to become the PM, if only for a week but struggles with his cokehead son whom he wants to make the CM. His elder brother, fearful of his and his son’s future wants to crawl out of his brother’s shadow but he can’t tie his pants tight enough even in public and gets into one trouble from another. Then we have a Maharaja languishing in jail, a femme fatale, the perfect challenge, the unattainable, alluring woman, an IG Police fearful of his commoner days once he retires and so on. All of them lead to the climax.
Where did you get idea for this book?
The emotional arc stemmed from my own struggles as an early entrepreneur - the feeling of being left behind despite potential, lost opportunities and the desire to make it big despite all. Around the same time, a lot was happening in politics which was darkly funny too but pretty negative. So, all of that combined.
How much research did you do for this book?
A lot of the inspiration came from people and incidents I experienced first hand. For the politics side of the story, with 24x7 media scrutiny and bulk of media talking only about politics, you know so much about politicos you can easily work out how they would react in a certain situation. It is a very heartfelt book so more like understanding the characters and figuring out how they would talk, think, feel and behave rather than a lot of formal research.
Who is your favorite character in your book and why?
I love all my characters. There is no other way I could trace their feelings, motivations and actions without judgement. But talk of favourites, apart from the protagonist, I love Abdul, the Bullet mechanic, Madhurima, the femme fatale, Dada, the chief minister, his son Mithles, the Professor. Ah, it’s really a wrong question - I love them all.
What was the most difficult thing about writing your latest book?
It’s been a labour of love. Loved the entire process, throughout. Nothing was hard about it.
When was "The Jeera Packer" released?
26 December, 2016.
Can you tell us the response you got from your book readers?
The book has received rave reviews. An overall rating of 4.8/5 on Amazon with 80% 5 Star reviews after 61 reviews. Independent book bloggers too have given glowing reviews. 
The book is going into reprint and we're now gearing up for the second print run.
What are you working on at the minute?
The next book is on women. The hook being that human female, despite our higher consciousness, legal system, cultural and moral norms is the most vulnerable and abused female amongst all in the animal kingdom. The theme is that there has been a war between men and women which women have lost and are now prisoners of war. But men are really smart captors. They have built an entire matrix which doesn’t let women realise that they indeed are PoWs. The ivory tower of patriarchy is defended by the bad cop misogyny (shaming women who break ranks and bringing them back in line with vicious violence) and sexism (a gentler thought that uses flawed reasoning, harping on irrelevant differences between men and women) to keep women confined to roles, thoughts and actions preordained by patriarchy. The idea being, women need to wrest back their financial and sexual rights.
What are your thoughts on writing a book series?
The story has to be the driver. A book series can be a good marketing gimmick but without an underlying strong story, it is just that, a marketing gimmick. I haven’t yet thought of a series though have received multiple comments from the readers of The Jeera Packer interested in knowing what happened to those characters 5 or 10 years after the story ended.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Read a lot and write everyday. And write for your own pleasure foremost. It’s a tough job so if you don’t love the task of writing, and then, your own work, it wouldn’t fly.

Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?

I think it’s been pretty exhaustive.
Links for your book readers
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