A lot of us are familiar with Karan Bajaj, in most part owing to his maiden venture “Keep Off The Grass“. Or perhaps not. Karan Bajaj has now a new labour of love, “Johnny Gone Down”. The fact that we have blatantly plastered it all over should be indication enough. Again, perhaps not. To make sure we’re pulling out all the stops, a tête-à-tête between me and Karan Bajaj soon emerged.
I started the interview by saying “I don’t like interviewing” and I didn’t once congratulate him on his new book.
Nonetheless, we forged ahead and found references to Amores Perros and “Sex & Cash”. McDonalds and the low price of Rs. 95. VK Karthika and Neelini Sarkar. And working at Flipkart. In some places, the question is longer than the answer.
The very candid and articulate Mr. Bajaj swatted my haphazard volley of questions, with impunity. Here’s it all, in raw, unstructured, uncensored form:
On “Johnny Gone Down”
“Johnny Gone Down” … why the name?
At its core, the novel is about the bizarre, almost surreal series of events that transform an Ivy League NASA scientist into first a genocide survivor, then a Buddhist monk, a drug lord, a homeless accountant, a software mogul and a deadly game fighter over a period of twenty years. In the protagonist’s view, it’s a downward journey (although I don’t quite agree with him).
How many countries does one travel through in “Johnny Gone Down”? Highlights?
His twenty year journey takes him from India to the US to Cambodia to Thailand to Brazil to the Silicon Valley back to India, among other places. The whole journey is a highlight!
Is the narrative linear/non-linear (you mention Amores Perros, hence), or does each chapter have a different protagonist?
There is just one protagonist. Except the prologue, the novel is a linear narrative though it tells as non-linear a story as you can imagine. I mention Amores Perros because the rough, dark and gritty mood of the film heavily influenced my writing of the South American part of the character’s journey.
If there is one line/page/chapter, which would it be? Why?
I quote from the synopsis: “Is there any greater win than living a life that knows no limits, a world that has seen no boundaries?”
It summarizes the main thought of the novel. Maybe Johnny hasn’t really gone down after all.
If I were to ask you to run a Demographical SEC-A/B of who you think would be the target audience of your book, could you?
I do enough segmentation and target audience definition in my Brand Management job to not concern myself about it in my writing! I have written the novel from my heart without worrying about market forces. I just hope it touches a few chords in folks, no matter which segment they are from.
The book is priced lower than “Keep Off The Grass”. Thoughts?
Pricing is the publisher’s decision with the author having little to no input in it. But I’m pleasantly surprised. Paradoxically, as the quality of my writing improves, the price keeps going down. At this rate, my next novel may just be available for free.
If it’s made into a movie, what contemporary actors do you think will fit the role(s)?
I’m indifferent to both film deals and choice of actors etc. as I have no desire to be involved in the film-making process. I just hope a filmmaker with some level of empathy buys the rights so they can transfer the broader emotional/philosophical thoughts in the novel into film versus just make it a fast-paced, racy intercontinental adventure that the novel automatically lends itself to.
“Writers write for other writers” … agree/disagree?
Disagree, at least in my case. Predominantly, I think they write for themselves and hope to find enough of an audience out there who can understand their emotions and expression.
How do you see the relationship between the Writer and the Editor?
I’ve been very lucky to work with Harper Collins, who I think has the finest set of editors in India. Beyond just the basics of editing, great editors raise profound, thought-provoking questions on your plot that help you delve deeper and deeper into the psyche of your characters. In my case, I think I understood my protagonist and his motivations much better as I worked with outstanding editors like VK Karthika and Neelini Sarkar from Harper.
“McDonaldisation of ‘Indian’ Writing” … is there any truth to it?
Of course! Look at all the books which are crowding Indian bookstores today. Most plots are stripped of all complexity, contradictions & nuance and served up in easy to digest, small portions that allow you to consume without thinking. Quite like Mcdonald’s. On the other hand, you do still have the Upamanyu Chatterjees of the world concocting complex, interesting stories that reveal new flavors in every bite akin to savoring a rich seven course meal.
I hope Johnny Gone Down is somewhere in the middle. Neither a Bukhara, nor a Mcdonald, perhaps a Karim’s—very accessible yet not completely stripped of all nuance!
“The Sex and Cash Theory” … does that apply to Writing / Marketing? Do you see them as two “jobs”? Do you see it as Right Brain/Left Brain? Is one job any more creative than the other?
Not really. The theory would have applied if I were a banker or an accountant or something. I’m very lucky that I’m in a very fulfilling line of work which actually infuses my life with a lot of energy versus sap it out of me. My day job, Brand Management requires a lot of leadership, teamwork and creativity and you work with a lot of diverse, interesting folks—advertising agencies, Public Relations firms, designers and such—which always keeps things interesting. At the end of the work day, I’m more charged-up and creative than at the beginning which feeds well into my writing.
I also feel that having a steady, well-paying career makes me a better writer. I can choose to write what I want to and compose from the heart because I don’t have to cater to the latest publishing trends or specialize in the genre I’ve written in before or lobby for author awards or worry about networking for film deals. I don’t really need the money from writing, nor is writing my only source of self-worth.
Is “Travel Writing” somewhere on the horizon?
Very unlikely. My passion for travel is an essential component of my writing as you can see in Johnny Gone Down. But I really dig the huge leaps of fancy that fiction allows me to take, which is not possible in a real-life travel account.
If you weren’t into Marketing or Writing, what other possible field of work would you be in?
The sales department at Flipkart. Are you taking résumés?
If that didn’t Beach-Your-Boat, I don’t know what will! Show’s over for all of us, but you can always head on over to the souvenir stand down below:
Johnny Gone Down
Author: Karan Bajaj
Price: Rs. 69 (After a 30% Discount)
Publishing Date: April 2010
Publisher: Harper Collins
Number of Pages: 324
Cheers Karan, here’s wishing you well.