The Punekar interacts with Rishi Vohra, author of “Once upon the tracks of Mumbai”. The novel was launched recently and received rave reviews. ‘Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai’ has just been awarded an ‘HONORABLE MENTION’ in the ‘General Fiction’ category at the prestigious HOLLYWOOD BOOK FESTIVAL 2013! It’s the only book from India to be awarded this year.
The author talks about his first brush with becoming a published writer and about his very first novel, which talks about the life in Mumbai and much more. Rishi chats with us on, writing & wine..
I started writing for various publications, websites, film pamphlets and press releases etc., and the positive feedback got me thinking that maybe, this is something I could be good at.
1. Tell us about yourself. How did the writing bug catch your fancy?
I’m a Mumbaikar and have studied there till the 12th standard. I grew up in an upper middle-class family where the focus was always on education. I have done my undergrad and graduation in the U.S. and in between, worked extensively in the Indian entertainment industry in Mumbai. I have worked on four feature films and innumerous ad films, and independently directed music videos, TV shows, music videos, live star shows, promos, and film award shows. My work has taken me all over India and has provided me with the most enriching experience so far.
To answer your second question, I was bitten by the writing bug during my time as an Assistant Director to Sohail Khan. He kept us very close to the script and in two of his films I was also a part of his writing team. I found the scripting process, along with editing, to be the most fascinating and stimulating part of the filmmaking process. I started writing for various publications, websites, film pamphlets and press releases etc., and the positive feedback got me thinking that maybe, this is something I could be good at.
2. We hear you have an amazing job as a Certified Specialist of Wine. What is it about?
CSW (Certified Specialist of Wine) is actually a certification from the U.S. equivalent to a Wine Sommelier. I am a wine writer for the Indian Wine Academy/delWine, which is India’s first online wine and hospitality newsletter. I started writing for them during my time in San Francisco (which is right next door to California’s Wine Country) and I continue to write for them and attend/organise wine events here.
3. How do you find the time to catch up on your writing?
I try to write for a couple of hours in the morning, if I’m free. Otherwise, I have to literally sneak time into my schedule. I always carry my laptop with me and pull it out at the slightest opportunity.
4. What is your book “Once upon the tracks of Mumbai” about?
‘Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai’ is an alternative fiction, different from the commercial mass fictions today mainly because of the book’s style of storytelling. It follows the story of a 24-year-old autistic man, (from his point of view) from hopelessness to a personal sense of achievement. Of course, it has all the ingredients of commercial fiction (humour, drama, action, romance etc) and all in all, (in Mr. Kabir Bedi’s words) is “an entertaining read.”
5. How did you come up with the idea for the book? When did you decide to pen it down?
The idea was churning in my head for a few months and I decided to pen it down when I had the entire story in my head. It was also the day I purchased my first laptop. At the time, I was in Berkeley, California, employed full-time and several months short of starting my MBA. I wrote till 4am every morning, and in four months I had the first draft of the book ready. But at that time, I wrote it just for fun and had no plans of pushing it.
6. How hard was it finding a publisher for a book?
Since I was in the U.S. at the time, I started querying literary agents out there and received more than 100 rejection letters. On the advice of one particular literary agent, I rewrote the entire book and pushed it towards the Indian Market. Several publishers here expressed an interest within a few months itself.
The writing process is very lonely. In the sense, I haven’t yet perfected the art of switching on and off from the book.
7. Tell us about your writing process. How do you practice and perfect the art?
The writing process is very lonely. In the sense, I haven’t yet perfected the art of switching on and off from the book. The characters seem real to me and I’m always thinking about my story even when I’m not writing. I guess that most writers go through something similar. There’s no escaping it.
You practice by reading and writing. Reading helps you become a better writer and writing gives you practice in communicating your ideas/thoughts.
8. Why was Mumbai the backdrop for your novel?
Mumbai is where I’ve grown up and since it’s the place most familiar to me, it naturally became the backdrop for my novel. Also, the book is set around the local railway tracks, the lifeline of Mumbai. So the novel had to be set here.
9. How is the response for the book till now? Did you expect getting such a response for your very first novel?
The response has been overwhelming! I wasn’t expecting the book to be received so well for two reasons – it’s alternative fiction and this is my first book. I was just happy to see it on a bookstore shelf. But to see it on the bestseller racks of various bookstores was something I didn’t even imagine. I have been speaking to various bookstores all over India and their feedback on the sales figures has been consistently positive. It is still selling well even after six months after its release. And people have been writing in, through my website, telling me how much they could relate to the book.
10. What are you writing about next? Thinking of a sequel to the book coming soon?
My next book is set in Bollywood and based on true events. Once again, it’s alternative fiction laced with humour and drama.
As for the sequel to ‘Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai’ – I have a story idea in mind. But I will write it only if the publisher asks me for a sequel. They understand market demands better than I do.
11. Will you be coming to Pune? Also, how can Punekars get in touch with you?
Maybe next month! My best friend’s family has just shifted there from Mumbai, so I might come down to visit them. I used to visit Pune very often but haven’t been there in awhile. So I really hope that this trip happens! I can be contacted via my website http://rishivohra.com/ .
You’re a writer because writing chose me and not the other way around.
If you’re not writing, you are leading a normal life.
Writers who inspire you or whom you admire sometimes I have many names and sometimes I can’t think of any. This is one of the latter situations!
Your passions include spending time with family, meeting and making friends, traveling, writing, films, sustainability and wine!
You think of Punekars as the coolest and youthful people in the country! I love the buzz, energy and relative calmness of the city. I would love to have an excuse to spend more time there!
If faced with a writer’s block, you read or try not to pick up fights!