Monday, 2 November 2015

An Author by Chance - Interview with Ravinder Singh

In the past one year IIT Bhubaneswar hosted a guest lecture by one of the most read Indian authors of our time - Ravinder Singh, twice. Starting his journey from the IT industry to one of the most widely read author, he believes how anyone with a purpose can achieve great success. He shared some of his views and experiences with the members of Panacea on both the occasions. Let us look at an overview of the conversation.

We are much honored to have you here in IIT BBS.
It’s my pleasure as well. Thank you.

We have all read your books and we are big fans of your work. 
I hope you are not lying. (Laughs)

You were a computer engineer and when you wrote your first book you were a senior manager in Microsoft. So, what made you leave the job and become a full time writer? 
I was in IT industry for 8 years, a major part of which was in Infosys. I started with Infosys and midway I went off to do my MBA. It was a gap of 7 years between my engineering and my MBA and then I joined Microsoft.
I quit my job because I wanted to follow my dreams. I realized the kind of life I wanted to live. Of course, Microsoft was my dream company once but at one point you need to define, what is success to you? Success is not just earning money, it is beyond that. It is living the kind of life that you want to live. So when I realized that I wanted to write books, I took a leap of faith and quit Microsoft.
I felt like people know Ravinder Singh because of the books that he writes and not because his program codes. I felt if I can make a difference in something then why not do that. I wrote for an hour each day and created books like I Too Had A Love Story and Can Love Happen Twice? What will happen if I quit my job and invest more hours in writing? I can take that risk. So, after thinking over it for a while I took a conscious decision and quit.

Did you think of writing and becoming an author from a very young age? Maybe from your engineering days?
No, I became an author by chance and I am now an author by choice. This journey from ‘author by chance’ to ‘author by choice’ was a sort of self-discovery and blessing in disguise.
Interestingly, I hadn’t read a single book before I wrote ‘I Too Had A Love Story’. I had nothing to do with the world of writing, I was never a reader. I still find it difficult to read books but I love writing.

If you were not an author which was the other field that you would take?
Probably, I would have been still in IT industry. I was doing well. When I joined Infosys in 2003, it was a dream company for many. There were only 26,000 people in Infosys and now there are 1.5 lakh. I would have continued in the world of IT, I don’t see myself going anywhere else.
It's possible that I would have stepped into cultural event organization. During the four and a half years of my career, I was more into organizing cultural events. These were exciting things to me. 9 to 5 was a normal routine life to make money, to make a career, to earn my bread.

Your first book I Too Had A Love Story touched the life of many people. So, what was your secret?
I don’t know. My secret probably was that I came without a baggage of experience. I came with a very raw form of writing. I didn’t know how to modify or upgrade because I never the influence of any other writer on me. I just poured my heart out. What I was feeling, I penned down on paper. Maybe when you put reality the way it is, the way it happened, it connects with people. It could be that reason.
There is no secret as such; it’s all in the open. You can have a secret recipe when you cook something but when you write, there is no secret, and it’s in front of your eyes. It’s up for the people to decide what connects them. Different books, different reviews. Everyone has their own taste. Maybe because I came out in open and said this is a real story, it created a different impact. Had I declared it a piece of fiction, things might have been a bit different. It was my way to share my grief with people out there. I didn’t know that this book will become such a mammoth hit.

How did you feel on getting famous all of a sudden?
It was never sudden, rather gradual. When a book is released in India and the author is not established, it goes in a very slow speed. I think after a year and a half, people started talking about it. So, it was never a sudden affair. I would still say that it’s a step by step process and it’s continuing. More people will keep reading the book. Someday, I will be gone but my books will stay and that’s the best takeaway for me.

As you were a first time writer then and you had no experience in writing, you must have faced many difficulties in getting your first book published. So, can you share with us what were these difficulties?
To sum up the difficulties in very easier words I can say that I was rated by every publishing house that I was aware of this country. I was rejected everywhere but I was determined to share my story and thus decided to self-publish it. There is no bigger difficulty than not finding a publisher.

Then how did you finally get the break?
After being rejected by every publishing house, I started talking to printers and footpath vendors asking if I bring 100 or 500 books, will they be able to sell it. When you get your own hands dirty, you learn a lot and so did I. From one particular editor I got the e-mail ID of a publisher who didn’t even have his website. They still don’t have their website. He just gave me a G mail ID. He agreed to publish it. He knew that I had been rejected by everyone; he could see the value in my story. He also had his own reasons to publish it. He said that I will just publish it and everything that is to be done will be done by you, even the marketing and promotion. I was game for that because I was determined that I need to take this book out. When the book came out, people started talking about it. They started loving it. The book became a word-of-mouth success.

What is your opinion on present generation’s love and relationships? 
(Laughs) What do you think? What’s your opinion? You belong to this generation, you give me the answer. It doesn’t mean that I don’t belong to present generation. (Laughs) I have always said that I like romance but I am not a ‘love guru’. I cannot comment that this is the right path and you should take it. According to me (now when I say this it doesn’t mean that it goes right for everyone but the common trend that I see is that) everyone is trying to fall in love like it's a rat race. People are pushing themselves to fall in love. There is also a social pressure that builds up and it’s more in the northern part of this country. Peer pressure, you see. I think 20 years back, it all started in college but now it has come into school life. Adolescence is hitting quite early.
The love span has shrunk and now the sooner you fall in love, the sooner you want to opt out of it. Breakups and divorces are so rampant in this generation, they were never like this ever before.
Then, there’s a series of exes coming into picture and then a person like me has to write a novel like Can Love Happen Twice? Because everyone has an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend. This was not the case 20 years back. We are also more vocal about what we feel and what we want. I don’t have the answers to what’s right and what’s wrong but of course sometimes relationships are very complicated and different people have different perspectives to look at things. We need to be mature.

You said that the present generation is in a rush to fall in love. Do you think that the book on love and relationships are affecting this?
As I said I am not much of a reader. I haven’t read many books about love and relationships. I don’t even remember reading any other book. I just reread my book while it is getting edited. I never read my own books after they get published. So I can’t tell you what kind of books centered on love and relationships are coming out. Not only books, the kind of movies we watch affects us more than that. It does affect a whole range of issues, how we treat others, how woman have become an object an element in our movies.
The world of creativity does impact how we think and choosing our role models is very critical.
To answer your question in brief it does have an impact. We need to have better quality content so that we have a better impact on the viewers and the readers.
Now that you are a full time writer, do you plan to go back to IT sector?
Not until I feel like it. The day people stop reading my books and if I don’t have bank balance left, then maybe I can go back to the world of IT.

You have spent a major part of your life in Odisha. Do you have any memories? What exactly has this place given (to you)?
Everything, this place has given me everything. I have lived in this state for about 20-24 years. My whole childhood, till I joined corporate office, where I worked for 4 years; I lived here in Odisha. In many ways this is my karma-bhoomi where I matured. The best part coming from a small town called Burla which is on the western part of Odisha, is that you are spoilt for choices when you get into a metro like Delhi. And because you manage to live a life in a small town, you can easily accept, adapt in a city. Going from a city to a small town is not easy. A person who does so may not find life easy to live. Coming from a small town adds this benefit, I can manage anywhere.
Memories, yeah lots of memories. I’ve written books which have references to Burla and Bhubaneswar. I too had a Love Story, talks about my life in Infosys, for a good number of chapters. I started writing that book in Bhubaneswar. The whole book “Like It Happened Yesterday” is all about my school days in Odisha.

What are your suggestions for aspiring writers? Speaking for myself I’ve always wanted to write something that people would read. What are your suggestions for aspiring young writers?
The first question one must ask oneself is, "What's my purpose behind writing?" Majority of the time we are influenced by the fame and glamour some of the authors manage to attract.
So the basic idea is, why do you want to write? My reason to write was I wanted to share my grief with so many people. I felt I had a story that I wanted to narrate; to feel lighter. I wanted to keep my love story alive. I wanted to immortalize my story. I wanted to bring Khushi back in this world in my own way
If someone else has no other purpose, then he or she needs a great story and a very refreshing writing style. It’s fine to get influenced by someone else's style but copying it exactly as your own is not. Why would someone love to read you, when the original work still exists? Majority of the time they (tell me) I want to write the way Ravinder writes, the way Chetan writes, the way Amish writes, why don’t you develop your own style of writing; that’s the whole idea.
You must ask yourself what is your writing style? How will you differentiate it? Tomorrow if someone is going to mimic you, will they be able to? Will your writing be different enough to mimic?
If possible create new genres and don’t be scared to fetch out new genres of writing.

So we have to see whether others like our work and then move to the next level?
Well it depends on how you want to take it. My idea of writing is that I should enjoy the journey of writing. If people like it, I can earn my bread. If people do not like it, I should have a fulfilling, satisfying feeling that I loved the journey and I have a 9 to 5 profession to earn my bread. But if I want to survive only on my writing then it’s important that other people like my work. Doing something for the heck of it? If you want to become an author and it’s not sustainable; it’s a flop. Or else get yourself a 9 to 5 job, keep writing and see if something comes out of it.

You put all your anguish in the first book. So how did it help you get over your emotions?
I felt lighter. It is the same thing as when you share your happiness with people, it multiplies; you share your sorrows, they reduce. I felt that my grief is so humongous that I needed to share it with thousands of people and not just a handful of relatives. I felt lighter to speak my heart. After I shared this story, I felt that from here I can move on. It brought the much needed closure in my life. It is like venting the steam out through words, sharing it with others. So when I felt lighter, it was good, it was therapeutic to write.

Among your fans you are commonly known as the unexpected author. So any other alternative titles which you got and would like to tell us?
Many actually. For the current, ‘the undisputed king of romance’ is the punch line for marketing my new books. My publishers came out with this and the signboards everywhere display ‘undisputed king of romance’. Lots of such names keep coming out there.

All your books are related to love, emotions and relationships. Are you willing to change your genre?
 Well, ‘Like it happened yesterday’ was a change of genre. It was about nostalgia, it was about childhood.  The book starts from nursery and goes up to class XII. So it is a jam-packed school days story, which was a very different angle altogether. In case, if you haven't read the book, I wouldn’t know that it is complete change of genre. And yeah, in future, I would like to; as I said that what is important to me is enjoying the journey of writing. And if I enjoy it, then why not, any genre is perfectly fine.

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