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Punekar in Focus: Shaunak Agarkhedkar Talks 'Let Bhutto Eat Grass'

A quick chat, a special discount code and some laughs over bad grammar.

I first came across Shaunak Agarkhedkar on Instagram over a year ago when he posted a picture of Mutton Malvani Curry and I went full ape shiz over it.

Proof of me going ape shiz

Little did I know that not only is the nice gentleman a brilliant cook, he’s also a novelist! He recently told me about his book release, ‘Let Bhutto Eat Grass’ and needless to say, I was quite intrigued by the title. So of course, a quick chat about it was in order.
But, before going any further, here’s some epic news for you guys – if you use the claim code PUNEKARS on while purchasing the Paperback, you will get a discount of Rs. 50. (It is valid till the end of the month or until stocks last.) Here’s the link for your purchase! Over to our conversation now…
Tell me about ‘Let Bhutto Eat Grass’ and your inspiration behind it.
“Let Bhutto Eat Grass” is the story of two RA&W intelligence operatives and their struggle to identify and stop a Pakistani spy who is stealing nuclear weapons’ secrets. It isn’t a James Bond-esque flight of fancy.
Every time a terrorist incident occurs in India, the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear weapons state is brought up in discussions about retaliation. Having read about our own nuclear weapons programme, I was curious to find out exactly how Pakistan, a country that lags us in industrial capability and resources, got its hands on nuclear weapons.
I read allusions by retired officials of R&AW about the clandestine acquisition of technology but they were, understandably, rather vague and disconnected. Unlike in Europe or the US, stories about our intelligence services haven’t really been given the importance they deserve. I felt that this story needed to be told. The facts deserved a fictional narrative that put in context the challenges faced and overcome by India’s intelligence services in dealing with a formidable and ruthless enemy.
How long did you take to finish this?
The research took a year. Writing the novel took four months.
Name one book you wish you’d written.
There are so many that I love. I have a personal library of about five hundred novels, and I would be hard pressed to find ten that I wouldn’t choose for this answer. But if you held a gun to my head and made me name one book that I wish I had written, it would have to be “My Name is Red” by Orhan Pamuk.
What’s your stance on Chetan Bhagat?
Hahaha… I wouldn’t mind his bank balance. He has obviously found a wide readership and is churning out what he thinks they enjoy. More power to him. Do I read his books? No, I don’t really read books in that genre, and some of his themes—as I understand them from blurbs and random passages posted by people on Facebook—are a bit too regressive for my taste.
Would I want to write something like that? Again, no. But I don’t see why people take so much joy in dumping on him, especially on Twitter. I mean, if someone doesn’t like reading what he writes, ignore him. Mentioning him every five tweets just shows that the person is obsessed and that Chetan is living, rent-free, in the person’s head.
Name one author whose work you expected the world from but were immensely disappointed by.
Charles Bukowski. “Factotum” felt interesting. Then I began reading “Hollywood”, and I couldn’t get beyond fifty pages. It seemed trite, and his treatment of women was very disturbing. People may argue whether his work is misogynistic, but I have no doubt that it is, at the very least, very chauvinistic.
Three lessons you learnt while working on this book.
I learnt this lesson quite a few years earlier, but it was reinforced when I wrote this book: Humour works best when it’s subtle and infrequent; it’s a book, not a stand-up comedy routine. Even Terry Pratchett—supremely gifted when it came to humour, and capable of writing spectacular zingers—resisted the temptation to stuff his manuscript full of them.
Taking copious notes about each character early on will pay rich dividends later because there will be fewer inconsistencies and fewer corrections to be made.
A fiercely critical alpha or beta reader, and a good editor are worth their weight in gold. Regardless of how critical you are of your own work, you will go easier on yourself than these people will. Listening with an open mind to what they say, and making improvements after applying your own judgement will make your novel a better read. My wife is my alpha and beta reader, and she minces no words when I’ve written something that’s lazy and rubbish. Not for nothing is my book dedicated to her.
One grammar mistake you’re sick of reading.
‘Anyways’ with an ‘s’. I might be showing signs of age here because it’s probably part of the language by now. But I cannot get my curmudgeonly mind to accept that word. It’s ‘anyway’, not ‘anyways’.
Other than Pune, which city would you pick to live in and why?
Panaji: I’m in love with the place. It has a relaxed feel to it that I associate with the Pune I grew up in, and its size and liveliness mean that you’re still living in a city, not a provincial town. The proximity to the sea and all the wonderful beaches of southern Goa, and fresh seafood make it perfect.
Your message to Punekars.
On Teachers’ Day this year, someone tweeted that in Pune, greetings for Teachers’ Day are delivered standing in front of a mirror. I would be very foolish indeed to presume to teach Punekars something. Instead, I’ll ask them to buy my book and read it.