Rishi Vohra recently settled himself back to Mumbai after completing a Green MBA from San Francisco State University and a Masters Diploma in Environmental Law, prior to which he had a successful career in the Indian Entertainment Industry. He wrote various articles for national newspapers and magazines and he currently writes for delWine and is a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW). ‘Once Upon The Tracks Of Mumbai is his debut novel. Thousand Miles feels fortunate to have a sweet conversation with him and the talk is as follows:
TM: What was the inspiration behind writing your debut novel ‘Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai ‘?
Rishi: The thought just struck me, and I wanted to put the story down on paper. At the time, neither did I know that I was writing a book nor that I would be placing it for publication.
TM: Tell us briefly about your debut novel. Is this a complete fiction?
Rishi: Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai’ is a story of love, courage, hope, and adventure. It’s a visual book that takes the reader through a rollercoaster ride, through the eyes of Babloo, a 24-year old unemployed man, who is defined more by his mental disabilities than the unique person he is. Yes, the book is a complete fiction. It’s only the locations, all in Mumbai, that are real.
TM: Did you ever get any rejections for your novel? If yes, how did you react to them?
Rishi: I had just finished my MBA in the U.S. when I looked at placing this book for publication. I received more than 100 rejection letters from agents and publishing houses there. I couldn’t understand why each and every agent/publisher had rejected it and began to doubt the power of my story, which I had immense confidence in. I asked the last agent, who had rejected my manuscript, for an honest opinion. Coincidently, she was familiar with the mass fiction market in India. She explained that the book wasn’t written with Western sensibilities, and that I should tweak the book a little and push it towards the Indian market. I rewrote the entire book (cutting the book down from 500 to 250 pages in the process) and then started looking at Indian Publishers.
TM: How did you come up with the title?
Rishi: My wife suggested this title and I instantly liked it. I found this title to be apt, as it was open-ended and mysterious, and suited the nature and flavour of the book.
TM: How do you usually find your ideas?
Rishi: I keep getting hit with story ideas. But it’s the ones that fascinate me that I keep thinking about. If it’s still in my head after awhile, I know that it should be put on paper.
TM: What were the major challenges that you have faced in writing this book?
Rishi: There were two major challenges. The first was time. I was working full-time and had to really find time to write. The second challenge was the research for the main character. Since he’s autistic, schizophrenic, among others, I realized that I had to make an extra effort to understand his disorders completely and portray them honestly to the reader.
TM: How has the response been and has it fulfilled your expectations as a writer?
Rishi: The response has been overwhelming. The book is selling really well, and has been garnering great reviews and press from newspapers and blogs alike. As a writer, I had no expectations at all, so every small word of praise is touching.
TM: Do you see writing as a career?
Rishi: I prefer to keep writing as a passion as then it makes it something to look forward to and will enable me to write stories that I care about. Otherwise it would become an activity that I have to fill my day with. Besides, one can’t really depend on writing as one’s main source of income until a good amount of our population takes to reading Indian English fiction.
TM: Is there any message in your novel that you want your readers to grasp?
Rishi: There are several underlying messages in the book. Some reviewers did get them. Different readers will take different messages away from the book, so I would rather not identify one for them to look out for.
TM: What are your hobbies besides writing? Your other interests and passions.
Rishi: Hobbies keep changing with time. As of now, I spend my free time in learning and educating about wine, and reading up on social/environmental issues. I’m also trying to learn an additional musical instrument. I used to love playing all kinds of sports, but that’s become a luxury now.
TM: Any particular genre that you would like to write about more?
Rishi: I want to write about people and their lives, hopes, and dreams, all in an entertaining way that would appeal to readers. The genre doesn’t matter.
TM: Any new book you are preparing to launch or writing for your fans?
Rishi: I have finished a book, which I have yet to place for publication. It’s slightly offbeat, but yet an entertaining and fun read. It’s set in the Hindi Film Industry. Though the story is a fiction, the characters are based on real people I have met during my time in the Hindi Film Industry.
TM: Do you have to travel much concerning your book? If yes, how was the travel from place to place?
Rishi: For ‘Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai’ there was no travel at all, mainly because of the presence of social media, which is a very effective tool in reaching out to readers. Some events were to be scheduled in Delhi, but were cancelled owing to the Delhi Gang rape case protests at the time.
TM: Who designed the covers and helped you in publishing the book?
Rishi: The publisher, Jaico Books, designed the cover and took care of all aspects of publishing.
TM: Which is your favourite book and favourite author of all time?
Rishi: My favourite book keeps changing. It’s always the last good book I read. So now it’s From Dongri to Dubai by S. Hussain Zaidi.
TM: Any message you want to deliver to your fans and modern Indian writing trend?
Rishi: Thank you so much for giving my book such a long journey, and for your encouraging messages through my website. With regards to modern Indian writing, it’s great to see more writers writing in a language and style that readers find appealing and easy to read. This has really helped the publishing industry and created a booming English mass fiction market.
TM: Your book delved on the perspective of the autistic protagonist who is simply ignored by everyone and is sometimes taken advantage of. He is not even given attention by his own family; as a result he learns to keep himself out of their sight to avoid trouble. In this regard, how do you think society should treat an autistic man/woman who lives in their neighborhood or family?
Rishi: Education about these disabilities is very important. Unfortunately, there is not much information or awareness out there on how to deal with people who have such disabilities. Patience, love, and understanding is very important, as these people wanted to be treated as normal as anyone else. It’s a mental or psychological handicap that they have no control over.
On another note, an autistic child can be born into any family and only with the understanding of autism, can parents and teachers look out for signs in their own domains. In our country, there are ‘special’ schools to educate such children. I feel that such children should not be ostracized from the education system and in fact, mainstream schools should admit a few such students in each classroom. This would not only help these special children to be educated in a normal atmosphere, but would also sensitize other students to these conditions and equip them to handle such disabilities. It’s very important for our next generation to be considerate, helpful, and understanding towards people who society looks upon as ‘different.’
TM: The story relates the story of a man called ‘Rail Man’, who is a superhero in the public’s mind but for him, he is just someone who is not afraid to help people in trouble. He is powerful, intellectual and strong and everything Babloo wants to be. How did the characters of Babloo and Rail Man come to your mind? Tell us briefly about the nature of the ‘characters’.
Rishi: I got the idea of Babloo from an older friend of mine who has disabilities similar to those of Babloo. He was an avid reader and used to recite newspaper headlines to me whenever we met. One day, a headline on a particular crime in a local train bothered him and he said that he wished he could have done something about it. That conversation got me thinking and gave me the roots for Babloo’s character. Rail Man was a common man Super hero that I created. He has no superpowers, he just understands human nature, has no inhibitions, and is driven by the pressing urge to serve his own sense of justice.
TM: Your thoughts on being featured in the Valentine’s Day Special Issue of our magazine Thousand Miles.
Rishi: It’s great especially since an entire chapter of ‘Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai’ is set on Valentine’s Day! In most real life love stories one person always feels not good enough for the other person owing to some shortcoming of his or her own. That’s what one of the tracks in ‘Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai’ is based on. I strongly feel that the book will make both an ideal Valentine’s Day gift and read! A special thank you to Thousand Miles for making me, and my book, a part of your Valentine’s Day Special!
[box_light]He could be contacted online @ www.rishivohra.com[/box_light]