It is a fact that a first novel is never actually the first novel, definitely not in the head. That is the case with me as well. I started writing my first novel when I was in class 9, with a Waterman pen, and a grey diary I’d annexed from my father. The story, a full chapter of which was written in my horrible handwriting before abandonment, was named ‘The Adventures of Jack Space’. I was, in many ways, a childish child.
Class 9 was the last freedom I had for such whimsies. The next few years, for me and the rest of my nation, was not a place for dreams. They were important. Hence, by the time I had the wherewithal to consider authorship again was when I found myself being paid to code in C++ in another country. However, it was too late by then. I was in surroundings that was not my own. I didn’t have the chaos and irritations of home, or the feeling that my problems and joys were shared by my neighbours, classmates and friends. The stories of that country were not mine to tell and for that, among other reasons, I knew I had to return. But it took many years to gather the courage to do so.
Perhaps I made that choice only when IIM Bangalore happened, and it was sheer providence. There are probably very few places in our country that can inspire the way the IIMB campus can. It looks less like a university and more like a garden retreat, strewn with flowering trees, sunlit rock walls and roads that wind around the campus in aimless directions. Equally importantly, there is an endless supply of hot coffee, tea and snacks at all hours at college prices. It’s a writer’s dream as much as a student’s.
That’s when I knew that I had to try and write again, and I had to do it while I was at the campus. I would never get such a chance again. However, I had no idea what I should write about. All I knew was that the book must connect to the country somehow – it couldn’t just be a love story, or an action thriller, or just about me (always a great temptation for new authors). There had to be a tapestry beneath the story that reflected the changes happening in the country, of the long march we find ourselves in, for no other reason except that it is the truth of our lives. We live in change and though a thousand travesties happen in our country every day there is, somewhere in it, a movement towards a better tomorrow.
None of this helped me start writing of course.
Amidst the bustle and deadlines of IIMB’s hectic life, as I continued to look for stories in the bottom of coffee cups and yawned through accounting classes, it struck me that the key to my dilemma was a phenomenon happening all around me – the transformation of India’s business sector. This, I realized, is no small thing. If there is any forward momentum in India today, a feeling of progress, it is neither due to a religious or moral awakening of its people, nor prescient, exceptional vision of its leaders, nor a sudden increase in the effectiveness of its democracy. It is merely business. That’s what is giving us hope and inspiring millions of young men and women to work hard, follow their dreams and make something of themselves.
I was further captivated by the growing, beating heart of this transformation, the origin of this growth and change – entrepreneurship, and that naked thrill to do something no one has done before. There, I knew, lay the story I wanted to tell.
As I sought out ideas and opinions on this topic though, I found a deep paradox. On one hand, there was a buzz that I saw, an excitement for doing something new that grew simply by the dint of there being so much left to do, with so little existing today to fulfil the dreams of a billion thirsty lives. There were the crazies in class, who spoke too much or too little, and wanted to do everything from making board games, to starting a political party, to building a tech company. There was this incredible girl I met on campus, later to become my sweetheart, who gave me stories of a hundred start-ups in Bangalore, each with its mad ideas and heroic struggles.
On the other hand, there was so much fear of missing out, even on the IIMB campus, of not making it. There was a debilitating sense of pre-determination – of whether someone is or is not good enough – as if that was forever engraved on their heads depending on a few exams, a few indicators. This gave rise to a corresponding desperate need to prove one’s worth by achieving milestones approved by their peers and their parent’s peers.
In a way it is the paradox that defines our generation, we who are born in the late 80s, the early 90s, who grew up when button-pencils and magnetic pencil-boxes were the coolest things ever, and whose childhood was built on a sudden vision their parents could see – that of a new economy, of a new kind of job, of dignity through a few kind of degrees. Unfortunately, that decade was just the beginning. It was still a timid, humble vision, one that has already started becoming obsolete. Now in our 20s we find the arc of our adult working lives stretching to the economy of 2040, and the truth is we don’t have much clue on what to do. We have no idea what the future, the very close future that will shape us, will even look like. All we know perhaps, is that we must keep going forward.
That delicious, frightening, dizzying uncertainty is what finally made me sit down and start writing. It is that feeling, that story, I wanted to explore, combined with the thrill and difficulties of starting something new, of being part of a creation, of change, and the clash in our country in its beautiful lurch forward.
That’s what lies at the core of Boomtown. The story starts with Jacob James, a Syrian Christian from a business owning family in Kerala, meeting the grandson of a famous cook in Old Delhi, who wants to change his grandfather’s age-old recipes. Their idea to start a new-age restaurant chain soon brings in Roy and Sheetal, two friends of Jacob’s, each struggling with the unique circumstances of their lives. The four of them go on a journey from the crumbling, crowded alleys of Chandni Chowk to the steel and glass offices of venture capitalists, with each step mirrored by another inwards into their own hearts, their own motivations and the shape of their lives.
It took me nearly a year writing it, zombie-walking around campus in pyjamas, with people wondering what had happened to my temperament, dressing sense and daytimes. I skipped going on exchange, since I knew I couldn’t write the book sitting so far away from its theatre of action. I lost an opportunity to get to know a lot more people and perhaps improve a few of my grades. However, I know I couldn’t have written it anywhere else – it was that electricity, that sense of dignity and energy running through the walls of the campus that kept me going, just as it does so many others. Regardless of how the book fares, the memory of sitting in a mellow, sunlit Bangalore morning under a flowering tree on a rock ledge with a story in my head and the freedom to write it, will always be a gift I’ll be indebted for. It is one of the happiest memories I have, and it gave me some of the words I’m proudest to have had.
Aditya Mukherjee, PGP 2012, is the author of the upcoming novel ‘Boomtown’ – a book about friendship, entrepreneurship and made-up recipes. Vanilla Vindaloo? Maybe yes.
He is the winner of CNBC’s marketing competition in 2012 and currently works as a Strategy Consultant with Bain & Company. He has lived in nine cities so far though he still don’t like change. He is technically a computer engineer, but merely one of the many thousands in our country who like computers as much as nails like hammers.