Interview with Vikram Dhawan, author of Kashmir House

Hi ReadersToday we have a unique writer with me.Please welcome Vikram Dhawan, the author of Kashmir House to the interview.

Hi Vikram,

Welcome to my virtual teté-a-teté

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

Rakhi, it’s a privilege to be invited to your blog. Thanks for reviewing my book.

My parents belong to those millions of families who migrated from Pakistan during the partition in 1947. One may imagine the monumental chaos during the time as each member of my father’s extended family had their initials tattooed on their arms, in case they got separated during the journey or worse, for identifying a deceased family member.

The Partition resulted in an exodus of almost 20 Million souls and around 2 Million amongst them, women and children included, died horrific violent deaths. The British, either by design or oversight conjured the communal demon and allowed the radicals to go on the rampage. In my view, to understand India one has to acknowledge the repercussions of the Partition- most underrated historical event in history of modern India.
The families struggled to reconcile with the uprooting and took them decades to find their bearings. They grappled with uncertainties and took time to develop a sense of belonging. There is physical and psychological damage a refugee suffers, the latter is a lot more debilitating and the scars never quite heal.  The scars may manifest as radicalisation, nomadic disposition and fatalism. I can relate to the Kashmir Crises and the plight of Kashmiri immigrants. I have seen the aftereffects of a bloody immigration in my parent’s extended families. While the majority of their siblings and cousins are extremely successful professionals and entrepreneurs, however streak of restlessness is hard to miss.

How could you get such a detailed account of the secret activities of our army, ISI and CIA. Even if the book is a fictional work, I could see a reality hidden somewhere.

I visited the state of Jammu & Kashmir, some years back. A land of barricades in the grip of desolation and isolation. The sad part is, like any other geopolitical crises, the festering humanitarian crises is overshadowed by the regional geopolitics. Like the Partition, the scars run deep and wide and vested interests keep the wounds fresh. I was compelled to dig deeper.
The story of Kashmir House is entwined in actual historical events. During my research for Kashmir House, I was fortunate enough to interact with journalists, soldiers, retired-spooks, leaders and last but not the least, lots of Kashmiris. Whilst I intended Kashmir House to read like a real story, however I sincerely hope and pray it remains a piece of fiction and a figment of my imagination only.

So, what have you written? 

Kashmir House is my debut fictional work. All the other stuff I wrote were press quotes and articles on Stocks and Commodities; my unflattering day job of making the rich richer.

Where can we buy or see them?

Easiest way to find it is to google under my name.

What are you working on at the minute?

I am working on a thriller set in the Entertainment Industry. A non-linear prequel to Kashmir House.

When did you decide to become a writer?

When I was in school, I use to write short stories and poetry for my friends. During the economic crises of 2001, I worked for a trade magazine as the consulting editor. Years after leaving the trade magazine for greener pastures, I bumped into a lot of people from the industry who to my great surprise missed my column. Besides, there is enough inequality, injustice, discrimination and corruption in our society, no dearth of angst and inspiration here.

How was your publishing experience? Since the topic is highly sensitive, did you find it difficult to convince the publishers?

I had realistic expectations, as I had heard and read many horror stories about the extremely high rejection rate of manuscripts by every known publisher. The leading publishers in India get thousands of manuscripts each month, one may imagine their plight. I am extremely grateful to Leadstart Publishing for picking-up my book from that enormous heap.

How did you adapt the writing style?

I have used reportage and playwright style for Kashmir House. The humble intention was to generate “fly on the wall” feel for the reader. My experience in print media came in handy.

Are you planning to have a sequel for Kashmir House?

There shall be two more books, a non-linear prequel and sequel to Kashmir House, albeit set in different locations with unique storylines.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

All aspiring writers should assess their weakness and strengths. Accentuate the strengths and find someone to assuage the weaknesses. If you are good storyteller, though with limited language capabilities, hire a good editor or a language guide.  If language is your strength, spin a yarn around your own or other’s experiences.

How can readers discover more about you and you work?

I am reachable on Twitter and Facebook .

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Getting Familiar with Author : Vikram Dhawan

Vikram Dhawan’s book Kashmir House,  which I had reviewed for Leadstart publishing,  agreed to answer some questions for our readers.  The book is a well-researched thriller.  Its different from the typical books we read from other Indian authors of late excluding the mythological ones, of course.   Here’s a man who wears many hats.

About the author 

Vikram Dhawan

Born in 1970, to parents whose families fled to India from Pakistan in 1947 after the Partition,
Vikram Dhawan grew up in northern India in the eventful 70s and 80s.

Playing in the trenches still around many years after the 1971 war, garish sterilisation campaigns,
and silent Emergency days, are some of his earliest childhood memories.

Vikram is well-traveled, well-read and passionate about world history and is inspired by personal
experiences of soldiers, spies and survivors of wars across the globe.

He has edited trade magazines and is frequently quoted in financial dailies.

Vikram Dhawan is an ex-banker and a Fund Manager.  He has worked for leading international banks like The Bank of Nova Scotia, Canada and N.M. Rothschild & Sons, U.K.  He was Fund Manager at the Reliance Mutual Fund and architect of the Reliance Gold Fund.

Vikram is now an independent Wealth & Risk Manager specializing in Equity, currency and
commodity derivatives.

Let us get familiar with the author Vikram Dhawan.

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Tell us about your book.  Why should we read it? 

Kashmir house is an intriguing story. There is a disconnect between what goes on in the upper echelons of power and what trickles down into the public domain. Is it deliberate or simply a case of “lost in translation” or perhaps a bit of both? As the narrator, I took up the role of the proverbial “fly on the wall” to observe how history can be curated by the high and mighty behind closed doors. In all humbleness, I hope my efforts are a good enough to appeal to the readers.

Why Kashmir as a background? 

I have observed Kashmir through the eyes of the Kashmiris, the ones forced to flee, those who live there and the Indian Army that has been around in Kashmir for over two generations. There is an awful amount of passion and hurt bottled up here. This is in stark contrast to the stratagem and opportunism with which the Kashmir crises is dealt with by the Powers in question, over the years. Kashmir issue is now no longer centred on the Kashmiris, it is a playground for settling scores amongst the key Powers; the subtle undertone of Kashmir House. Like any other geopolitical conflict.

The book appears very realistic.  How much of the story is fact?

I have used a reportage style of writing and referred to real life events in certain sections to give a realistic feel. However, Kashmir House is pure fiction; I sincerely hope it remains so.

What research, preparations did you do before publishing the book?  How much time did you take to prepare the first draft? How many drafts, edits, words? 

A tough, long journey that began with a trip to J&K in 2010. A land of barricades and fortresses; the physical impediments all too visible to the naked eye. However, if you dig below the surface, you then uncover the mental roadblocks. The cool-clear mountain air of Kashmir is rife with isolation and desolation. An overwhelming experience that compelled me to write. Torn between pathos and logos, I took refuge in the former and completed the first draft by 2012, though soon realised I did not have a fresh story to tell. Three years and two complete re-writes later, Kashmir House was ready for final editing. I read a lot of history and you may find its generous servings in Kashmir House. However, I was fortunate to get first-hand accounts from retired spies, bureaucrats, serving army officers, journalists, most of whom I cannot name.  Amongst the few I can name are Ramakrishnan Kashelkar, ex-Economic Times, the ever helpful Kailash Rajwadkar and lots of my Kashmiri friends, schoolmates and acquaintances who introduced me to their unique land. I am also grateful to Leadstart Publishing for their great support, especially in editing.  Surojit Mohan Gupta, who edited the manuscript was of great help.

Which character of the book do you find the most intriguing/interesting? 

I did a lot of research and analysis in carving out each character. For instance, Major Patil who appears only briefly in the second half of Kashmir House took me weeks to mould. The toughest to portray was Adam.

What challenges you faced when writing the book?  How did you overcome? 

I presume every writer goes through the transition when the novelty and romance of being a writer tapers-off and professional reality’s surface. Writing is a profession and a very well-respected one; one cannot afford to be callous. Telling a good story is a part of it, telling it well is more important. For me, the greater challenge is later as I suffer from a disease called perfectionism.

Do you have a writing ritual?  Tell us about it. 

I try to write most days of the week. How much I write each day is more a function of what I am writing. I do tend to be bogged down with chiselling of each para and each line I write. So far have avoided the temptation of writing fillers.

What are the kinds of books / authors you read?  Any recommendations?

I like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Orhan Pamuk, each of their books are an experience in themselves. It may surprise you that I do not read too much fiction, though I read a lot of history and contemporary non-fiction. I just finished reading Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk; a tribute to the city he grew up in, I hope someone writes a similar tribute to our beloved Indian cities. Maybe I will risk one some years down the line.  Right now I am reading “Siege of Leningrad” by Anna Reid.

In the book,  for dialogues, you have used a different way with just names.  Why? 

I have used playwright format for dialogues with the intention of leaving the interpretation open for the readers and urge them to think. Our feelings are limited by our experiences, but our thoughts are only limited by our imaginations. I like writings that make you think.  To borrow lines from legendary Ian Anderson “I may make you feel, but I can’t make you think”.

What are you planning next? 

I am in the midst of writing a thriller based in and around the entertainment world.

Tell us three interesting facts about yourself.

  1. God has blessed me with very little need for sleep. I can get away with 4 hours of sleep every night that leaves me with ample time to read and write, even after a long day at the office.
  2. I hardly watch TV and read newspapers more out of cynicism than abstinence.
  3. I am extremely fond of Western Classical Music; Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Beethoven and Mozart are some of my favourites.

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