He’s been dubbed the ‘‘next big thing,’’ by The Sunday Times in Britain, and his first novel will be released globally in March, but 26-year-old Siddharth Sanghvi doesn’t forget to credit his alma mater, Mumbai’s Mithibai College. ‘‘They didn’t take attendance so I never went to class; I had four years to think about my book,’’ he says with a smile.
Sanghvi, who describes his work as ‘‘heightened realism’’, also used to run away from school frequently, escaping to his tree house in the backyard of his family’s bungalow in Juhu. ‘‘I’m lucky to have a family who didn’t force me to conform; otherwise by now I would have had an MBA, three ugly kids and a heart attack.’’
Instead, he studied international journalism at Westminster University in London, where he specialised in photography and learnt how to sell his stories. Frequently broke and craving a beer, Sanghvi used to hang out at pubs and spin yarns for his friends, who picked up his tab in return. ‘‘I realised that I had the gift of storytelling—and that I was a lousy photographer,’’ he says.
Titled The Last Song of Dusk, Sanghvi’s novel is set in 1920s Juhu (a Mumbai suburb), and revolves around attractive Anuradha, who sings potent songs that help her come to terms with tragedies. ‘‘It’s a love story,’’ says Sanghvi, who took a year to cull out the first draft, and three more to deepen the themes and tighten the ideas.
And his inspiration? ‘‘Family gossip, whispers in the dark and dreams.’’ Which makes sense given that Sanghvi’s grandfather studied under legendary Swiss psychoanalyst Karl Jung. ‘‘My grandfather used to insist I write my dreams down and deconstruct them for me every morning,’’ says Sanghvi.
The young author has also written for Tehelka, publishing a piece on the Afghan community in Freemont, California, documenting their lives after the attack on the World Trade Center.
Sanghvi has carefully cultivated his personality to appeal to western sensibilities (he posed for The Sunday Times in a maharaja turban), but says he could never play to the gallery. ‘‘There’s no question of producing an inauthentic book because I don’t know how to write dishonestly,’’ he says.
And Sanghvi insists that he’s never had many friends in Mumbai. ‘‘Even as a child, I stayed away from birthday parties and I’ve never been part of the social scene,’’ he says. ‘‘I’m just glad that I’ve found the space to tell my stories.’’
THE last time he took his writing seriously was when he was six and wrote birthday poems with ‘‘thrilling rhymes like mind and behind’’ for people close to him. Now Samit Basu is 23, and already writing a sequel for his novel, titled The Simoqin Prophecies, released this month.
With elements from various epics, myths and fantasy novels like Alice in Wonderland, The Lord of the Rings, The Arabian Nights, Ramayan and Mahabharat, the book is being heralded by publishers Penguin Books as ‘‘India’s first ever sff (science fiction/fantasy) genre novel in English’’. For Basu, however, it was all about writing something he knew well. His fascination with myths and fantasies began when, as a child, he travelled across Europe with his family and was exposed to its art, sculpture—and castles. He read The Lord of the Rings for the first time when he was about 11. ‘‘I was mesmerised. Later, I realised what a global cult it was,’’ recalls Basu.
The book happened when, after a month into the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, he realised he didn’t want to pursue the course. He went home, with one character and the ending in mind and then worked backwards. The Simoqin Prophecies has a few hundred characters, of which the three central ones walked straight out of the myths in Basu’s head. The story draws from Indian, Egyptian, Greek, British and Chinese myths. Plenty of dragons then? ‘‘No, they come in the second book,’’ he smiles. But he hadn’t planned a sequel. The idea came from the publishers. And so the first novel is complete in itself. Basu also assures that it will not be confusing for readers unfamiliar with the stories he refers to. ‘‘It’s not an insider’s joke book,’’ he says.
The actual book was written in four months, during which he was a ‘hermit’ at his Kolkata home, working furiously on his computer. ‘‘There were points where I went back and made minor changes. There were also times when I would sit through the entire day, write 4,000 words, select all and delete,’’ says Basu, now based in Delhi.
He wasn’t perturbed by the what’s-he-doing-in-life looks given by neighbours. He was, in fact, quite confident, showing what he wrote each day to his indulgently supportive mother, and taking feedback from his sister and a friend, both of whom were ‘‘ruthless’’ in their comments. ‘‘When you leave IIM to write a book, people not only think you are a nut, but that you are a nut not worth their time, a pompous self-absorbed nut,’’ he grins. ‘‘But how does it matter if people think I am mad.’’