Initially written off by critics as a chiklit romance and a male version of Mills & Boon, debutant author Viveik Pandit’s book By Mistake surprised everyone by becoming a bestseller. His witty and quirky language and interesting plot hooked the readers as they could identify with the storyline. In conversation with t2, the Lucknow-based writer reveals how writing happened to him “by mistake”.
Tell us about your growing-up years and educational and professional background?
Growing-up years were carefree and full of shenanigans, which only took me away from academics. I was always an average student and it was only before my ICSE that realisation dawned upon me that I should get serious with studies. We are originally Kashmiri pandits, my ancestors were driven out of Kashmir and they settled down in a village near Ludhiana, Punjab. My grandfather with his children migrated to Uttar Pradesh in search of job and education. I was born and brought up in Lucknow. I don’t know Kashmiri and have passable skills in Punjabi.
So when did you decide to become a writer? Was writing always on the back of your mind?
I am a qualified cost accountant, an MBA graduate and Phd scholar. I was into marketing and various freelancing and publishing jobs. Writing happened to me by mistake! I had never forayed beyond writing mails and essays, but about three years ago, I began writing like crazy. The urge would be there and I would oblige by picking-up the pen or hit the laptop. I am guilty of using up my work time at office in writing articles for newspapers and magazines.
Tell us about your book By Mistake.
Since I became a writer by mistake, hence the title of the book. (Smiles) In fact, the title came first and then the contents followed. After having written write-ups for the print media and scripts for documentaries and short films, my ‘best’ half, Anjali, threw a challenge to me saying, “Why don’t you pen a novel?” “Why not!’ I replied. So in a way, that lit the fire in me for writing a novel. It took me six months flat to complete the manuscript. In between, I also wrote a coffee table book for a leading newspaper — Salute to Magadh.
Are the characters in your book inspired by the people you have met?
I feel the word ‘fiction’ is a misnomer, a mere deflection, as a writer always draws from the environment in which he lives. So, definitely the characters in my book have reality written all over them... yet I insist it is a work of fiction.
Tell us a bit about your Bihari connection?
My mother is from Patna. My maasi (aunt) had a school for toddlers on Exhibition Road. I vividly recall spending my summer and winter breaks in Patna. My aunt’s huge house dotted with oil paintings would make my walk to the loo in the dead of the night a scary adventure. Unknown to me, my wife Anjali was also studying in the same city at Notre Dame Academy. Later, of course, her family shifted to New Delhi, where we met.
Who are the writers you love reading and have inspired you? Whom do you consider the most promising among contemporary writers?
I’m an avid reader, but since the time I started writing myself I have stopped reading. This is a conscious effort, for I feel that I should not be accused of plagiarism at any stage of my career. Ironically, though, a reader wrote to me that Shantanu’s tryst with his high-school crush, Kavita, in the book is reminiscent of what happened to her friend in Canada. Thoughts and actions transcend, but still you need to exercise restraint.
What challenges did you face while writing?
None actually. Writing is a wonderful experience, gratifying and self-indulging. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey. So, truly, not a bit of it was hassle! (Smiles)
How has been the readers’ response? When you are criticised how do you feel?
The readers’ response has been overwhelming. The book was released on the May 19 and it is already 5,000 copies in print old. I’m told it’s not a bad feat for a debutant author, but my target audience reach by numbers is way beyond this. It is being exclusively distributed through Flipkart and soon it would be available for worldwide distribution on major online stores. The e-book format would be launched too. Initially, criticism would pull me down and it would be extremely depressing. But then I realised, while writing the book, I never had the reader in my mind, it is just an honest attempt at writing. So, a “please-all” book for all is beyond me. That comforted me. Now I take criticism in my stride. In fact, in the third edition of my book I added extra content to develop a character which quite a few readers wrote-in to say needed more treatment.
What are the things you do apart from writing?
I teach communication and creative writing skills to students of management, engineering and journalism. Though marketing is my domain, but this is what I love to do. I am also a trainer of sorts. I am also working on my research work.
Your book is based on journey of love. What is your take Gen-Y relationships?
Technology is hogging our time and attention. Our focus and intent is adjusting and settling around it. Instead of ‘talk’ we ‘chat’. But I still feel it’s a very individualistic thing and would not generalise.
Was your family supportive when you decided to write?
Hands-down. By Mistake wouldn’t have happened without my best half’s support. In fact, I have her permission to pen four novels before I pick-up a permanent job. (Laughs)
When publishers rejected your book do you feel let down?
I’m yet to decipher how exactly publishers operate. My experience with them has not been encouraging to say the least.
Do you believe in writing award winning and bestseller books that will earn you more popularity?
I don’t know. I really don’t know. I would simply like to enjoy whatever I do. Writing and money don’t go together, it’s a bad marriage. I still want to have fun with it.
How has your life changed after becoming an author?
Well, life has changed in more ways than one. The best thing about writing is that it certainly gets you respect and attention— the right attention. For instance, I am at a bookstore, busy with my spiel (sales talk about the book) a family approaches me and the parents want me to give tips to their 12-year-old daughter about writing skills. I get invitations for declamation contests and debates. The outlook of people around me has altered since my work was published, even those who haven’t read me or possibly will never read in their lives look at me with different eyes. My responsibility in return is to strive for better writing, encouraging writers on-the-brink and continue to train young heads in the domain of communication and creative writing.
What are your future projects? Do you want to script for films as well?
My next book would be a collection of short stories called 21 New Beginnings. There will be stories of oddity, hope and change. It would be released this November. As an experiment, I have invited nine budding authors to contribute a story each. So there will be 30 stories in all. Two of the writers come from Calcutta, the city that I simply love. I am also working on a series of books for children—Donna the Dolphin. When I put the advertisement of Donna the Dolphin on the inner page of By Mistake, somebody asked me “Will it not rob off the seriousness of your approach to writing? I was amused. Another exciting book I am keen to finish is The Rani, which is a period tome on 16th century India. I am open to any option given to me, whether it is writing scripts or anything else. I just want to write.
What are the different genres of writing you want to try your hands at?
It would be completely need based and theme-based. I do not want to put myself into a particular category. I want explore different genres and won’t restrict my writing style.
What is the piece of advice you want to give to upcoming writers?
I have been meeting so many budding writers since publishing my book and I find it wonderful. We have quite a few closet-writers, who write but don’t want to share. They are too embarrassed to be read. So I think they should come out of the cocoon and make the world know about their talent. The writing scene in India is coming of age and it is bound to show amazing results.