Johnny Gone Down , the latest book by Karan Bajaj (his debut novel was Keep Off The Grass ) is on every best seller list across the country. JGD is the story an MIT graduate, Nikhil, who has a job waiting for him at NASA. His best friend manages to talk him into going for a vacation to Cambodia where a sudden event leads to his surreal twenty year Faustian search that transforms him from a 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. Interesting, eh? I decided to talk to Karan about this book and find out more about the idea and how he came about to write the book. Read on to find out what he had to say….
JGD is not your usual book and the theme is pretty intriguing and is quite fast paced. The whole idea is pretty mind blowing and definitely would have taken a lot of thinking. Karan says, “I usually start with a big theme in mind and allow the story to work itself in my head for a while before I put pen to paper. The theme I was playing around with for JGD was around success and whether living a stable, even-keeled life is better than a rich, interesting life with towering ups and abysmal lows.”
USA, India, Cambodia, Thailand, Brazil – JGD is almost like a travelogue. I had to know if he had travelled to all these places…. “Yes, all of them. The situations in the novel are not autobiographical, but somewhere or the other in my travel in those places, I have experienced somewhat similar things. When I was backpacking through Philippines, for instance, a sudden violent protestation broke out just in front of me as I was ambling aimlessly down the streets. People were shot and killed and I had to run for cover. Those kinds of events do make you wonder on how fragile life can be and how one, unexpected event can set off a chain of events in motion that can alter your life completely…… I began to realize that no matter where I went, whether Cambodia or Brazil or Mongolia or India, there seemed to be more similarities than dissimilarities in people, feelings and ideas.”
Hopefully I will end up doing something like him, travelling around the world, cooking up stories based on that.. hopefully. But as of now, I am pretty content with sitting at home at watching movies all day long :P. Speaking of movies, if like me you have a fetish for gangster/mafia movies, you will realise that JGD reads a lot like one of them. I had to ask if there was an ulterior motive to that – to which he says, “No conscious effort at all. I’m completely indifferent to film deals as I have no desire to be involved in the film-making process, nor do I find the film industry particularly fascinating or glamorous. Eventually, 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. That way the thought or the message behind the book can be relayed beyond the limitations of a book. I have received a lot of film interest, as you can imagine, but haven’t committed to anything yet. Overall, film makers have found the story quite gripping.”
Not surprisingly, Karan finished his higher education from among the most premier institutes in India (BIT Ranchi and IIM, Bangalore) – in keeping with the current of trend of bestseller authors from similar institutes. Last month, we had an article about the torrent of new books that speak about the love lives of IITians or similar stuff. I asked Karan what he thinks of this latest trend – “I think its lazy and irresponsible for the media to club all young authors into one type. Judge each book by its own merit—or don’t. There are lots of people who are young and from the IITs/IIMs who are writing engaging stories that go beyond the campus”
Coming from such awesome colleges he is sure to have an amazing job too – he pursues a brand management career with Kraft Food, USA. Surely handling a day job AND writing books must not be an easy task. How does he balance it? “The lack of skill and ideas limit me more than a lack of time… I also feel that having a steady career makes me a better writer. I can choose to write what I want to and compose from the heart.. “
So does that mean we can soon expect another book from him? “I’m not sure yet. I’m getting interested in mysticism and occult sciences as also in the importance of charity and giving back so my next novel is likely going to be some combination of these ideas. But that’s all I know right now.”
Finally we asked if he would like to share anything else with the readers, as is the custom of such interviews….
“Everyone’s context and situation is very different so I always refrain from giving advice on writing or anything else. Besides I don’t really feel that being a writer equips you with any special understanding into the working of the universe so I struggle when writers liberally dole out unsolicited advice on how to live a life, follow your passions etc.
If I were forced to say one thing, I would just say that living a big, funky life—travelling, being open to the many interesting turns that life keeps taking, and living a clutter-free hippie sort of an existence within the parameters of society—makes for an interesting life and perhaps for an interesting novel as well. But that’s just my experience. “
Do go ahead and read the book if you haven’t already. It makes for quite an interesting read. One thing I don’t like about the book is that every time I see the cover the title track for Johnny Gaddar starts playing in my head. There it goes again.. uggghhh!!