When did you first register your inclination towards writing?
As a child, I took my ability to write stories for granted. I remember being asked to read out my work to the class when I was eight or nine (a story called “Grandma’s Chocolate Factory” was an early hit). That happened a few times. But I didn’t come from a literary household, so I didn’t take it seriously, and the idea that writing stories could actually become an occupation didn’t occur until I started reading properly — by about 13 or 14. From the age of 16, I started telling people that I wanted to become a writer.
Choosing Gurgaon, New Delhi and Punjab as places where the story unfolds, was it a conscious choice or did it all just fit together well?
The plot and the realistic nature of the story dictated it. So it was a deliberate choice. These are places I know intimately.
While one can understand your personal experiences being instrumental in shaping Dom’s character, what was the thought process behind Manpreet’s character?
I think we get too caught up in worrying about the colour of our writers and the colour of our characters. As a writer, it’s my job to get inside all my characters, and understand the way they think — whether they’re Aussie, Desi, male or female. You just imagine what you would do in a particular situation, if you were given the same options, and render it accordingly.
Is it difficult to infuse humour in crime fiction?
I think it would be difficult to introduce humour if you weren’t naturally funny, regardless of the genre. I never really try to make something humorous; it just occurs, usually because I am being truthful about the reality of a situation.
Corruption, greed and mighty power corridors take your protagonist for a
spin. Any personal instances that helped you design that part of the book?
Anyone who lives in India for any length of time knows that everything comes for a price, and will have some stories about having to pay chai paani. I’m no different. I haven’t witnessed any corruption at high levels personally – as portrayed in the book – but this is where living here helped. I have lots of friends and family all over India, read the same newspapers, and watch the same 24/7 news cycle. So of course, what I don’t know about from experience is easy to guess, or deduce. It’s splashed across the front page on any given day.
What inspired the book? A person or any incident?
A couple of things. Firstly, I had enjoyed the experience of writing a short story Marvellous and Devious, which appeared in the Tehelka Pulp and Noir Fiction Issue in 2011. That coincided with a move to Delhi, and I quickly decided to write a crime novel set in the capital. I also did a lot of media monitoring for my job when I first arrived here. The story on the serial killer, Charles Sobhraj, particularly the involvement of Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg, also provided inspiration. I loved the idea of a diplomat investigating a crime on his own, as an amateur. Also, the scandal of Michael T. Sestak, a former US Diplomat in Vietnam, who amassed an estimated USD $3 million for selling visas, helped me add some masala to the ending. Everything else was based on situations I had observed or seen. I’ve done a lot of travel in Punjab and Haryana, in particular – and played cricket all over the NCR.
What were the main challenges while penning crime fiction as your debut novel?
Honestly, just getting the time to write. I have a nine-to-five job, and a young family, so in the end I had to do with a little less sleep. I wrote it over a period of 12 months, at night usually, but sometimes in my lunch break too. I fell asleep at the laptop on more than one occasion and just kept writing until I dropped.