Bookaholicanonymous is extremely privileged to present this amazing, witty, insightful conversation with Chanchal Sanyal, who has written the book 'The Glass House'. A resident of Delhi since his childhood, he has seen the city grow, evolve, mutate and spawn a Noida and a Gurgaon in hastily contracted marriages with its neighbouring states. The city and its peoples are a source of endless fascination for him. They are the foundation of his novel.
About Chanchal Sanyal: He is an entrepreneur in the live events and activation space of the advertising industry, currently based in Gurgaon. He has been at various times—sometimes concurrently—college lecturer, itinerant traveller, mainline advertising professional, business owner and now a writer. While this is his first novel, he has as he says—‘been writing fiction for twenty years—after all, I have been in the advertising business for over two decades.’
Your book 'The Glass House' is on Delhi, why do you think the city is a muse to so many writers?
This is the city of the seven cities - Delhi Tourism says eight - one of the oldest living cities of the planet. A place where history breathes in every stone, whispers in every street corner. A city that has made fortunes, destroyed them, given wings to ambition, brought dreams crashing down to earth. Obviously, it will inspire literature - ‘kaun jaye zauk, yeh Dilli ke galiya chod kar’. However, it also tragically the most polluted city on earth, one of the most mismanaged and sometimes a very difficult place to live in. Millions come here. Millions try to stay, scrabble to find footholds in its currents. This churn creates conflicts and conflicts create stories. The Glass House is only one such. There will be millions more.
How does one feel or react when someone like Nasseer saab says nice things about one's book. Let alone say things but agrees to read excerpts from the book?
It feels privileged. It feels humbling. It feels uplifting. It feels a whole rush of emotions - it feels that somehow all the effort has been worthwhile.
Naseer Saab is not just one of our greatest actors-he is one of the most forthright artistes in India today. He is a straight shooter, a thinker who says what he thinks and means what he says. When he said that he ‘liked the book, the style, the subject and the treatment’, I was quite overcome. And then, his reading! The way he can just bring alive a page of text is amazing. We all know of his acting and how he breathes life into a character - he does that and more to a description of a city. When he reads, one just closes one’s eyes and be transported into the scenario he is describing. Once again, I felt truly humbled and truly privileged that someone like Naseer Saab found resonances enough with my book to read from it.
You are an entrepreneur and an advertising professional, did that help you in any way in your writing or they are two different facets of you?
I think everything is an input into one’s artistic output. If one is receptive enough, one finds inspiration everywhere. The kinds of people and the kinds of interactions I witness in my business life, certainly enrich my experience and it all contributes to my writing. As an entrepreneur I have had to cultivate the habits of discipline and time bound delivery - and both these certainly help in writing. Advertising taught me to write at supersonic speed and always meet deadlines. However, this kind of writing is very different from advertising writing.
When did you know you wanted to write? When did you start writing?
I always knew that I would write. I mean write more than advertising copy or documentary film scripts and event flows. I am not really of the blogging generation, so I knew it would either be a full blown novel or full blown frustration. I have been writing advertising and related stuff from my mid-twenties - but this is my first attempt at anything bigger - and well, I started this in 2015.
When you first approached a publisher...what do you think made them accept your proposal/manuscript?
They did not!! The publishing journey was and remains full of ups and downs. I wrote the book in 6 frenzied months. The agent - Kanishka Gupta (God Bless his soul!) - took it up like a trout taking the fly. His editor was confident that publishing houses would be breaking down my doors with offers. Then, came the rejections. One after the other and after the other. All turning it down-with the crisp finality of a five star hotel bedsheet. At one point, I remember writing to Kanishka:
‘Rejected, dejected, here I stand.
Unloved, unread novel in hand.
Tell me my literary agent friend,
Is this truly and finally the end?
Should I self-publish, or consign to the tomb?
This unwanted child of an untried womb?
Then, finally Rupa took it up. My relief was endless. The wait was over. Now, I would be a published author. I signed the contract with a flourish and grandly spent the advance on a dinner with the wife (you do know the huge amounts that first time authors are paid as advances? enough for a dinner for two I assure you). This was December 2016. Then, began another wait. Gradually I got used to the glacial speed of the publishing industry (at least in my case). Finally, in May 2018 the book was released. Now, every week I write to the publishers loudly complaining that I never see it at any shop shelves!!
How has the book been received so far?
Rather well I think! The reviews have largely nice - complimentary and thoughtful. Naseer Saab did readings in Delhi and Mumbai. The noted actor (and my brother in law) Sabyasachi Chakrabarty did a reading in Kolkata at The Oxford Bookstore. I do not know about the sales and I do know that literary fiction is very difficult to sell because as the publishers rue ‘nobody reads nowadays’ - my happiness is however in receiving mails and messages - sometimes from people I do not even know saying how much they enjoyed the book and how they are waiting for the next one!
What 'idiosyncrasies' of Delhi have you captured in the book?
The only real idiosyncrasy that I have tried to capture is how it simultaneously attracts and repels. This is a city whose air you cannot breathe, whose water you cannot drink, whose streets you cannot walk upon, whose citizens you cannot but fight with - but this is a city you cannot do without. You must try and put down roots here. You must live here. There is warmth here, a life here that is uniquely and individually the city's own.
The protagonists are a yuppie couple trying to make their space in this city, how did you conceive the idea? Have you known many such couples?
Who hasn’t? If you have lived for any length of time in any city, sooner or later the conversation gravitates to homes and home purchases. Loans, EMI’s, Schemes, Locations, Facilities-all of these become hot topics of conversation. Earlier, homes were often purchased upon or close to retirement - nowadays, especially with yuppies and the kind of salaries they command, this point comes much earlier. Typically in the early to mid-thirties. That is how the couple in the book are representative.
Anybody who lives in Delhi can identify with all the characters, how did you make them so believable? Like Mr Khanna and his son.
I too have lived in Delhi :-) I like to think I am an observer of peoples. Its great fun to just look at people sometimes and see how they behave. Often one dominant characteristic emerges - a characteristic that tends to colour the whole personality. However, the parts are equally as interesting as the whole - and when you focus on those too, they start becoming believable. For example, Mr. Khanna’s heart is certainly as big, if not bigger than the body part he is named for. And that is what is so true of so many people - they may seem to be something and if our observation stops at that - then their ‘wholeness’ is not revealed to us. They will not then be believable - they will be a bit like cardboard cutouts.
Then there is Gurgaon, you have captured the aspirations of rich Delhiites who want to own apartments in Gurgaon. Tell us something about this aspect?
And then there is Gurgaon!! Rich Delhiites would actually never leave Delhi. It’s only that Gurgaon was originally a lot more affordable and close to the place of work - all the offices came there and then the homes followed. It was also the place where Delhiites got a taste of high rise apartment living. Once it became popular - as a ‘modern’ lifestyle in apartments with captive power and gyms, clubs and pools, it became a large business.
Through Gurgaon you have also delved in to the real estate commotion so to say, do you know someone who has dealt with it?
A lot of people have suffered - not just in Gurgaon, but also NOIDA, Mumbai and every other metropolis - at the hands of unscrupulous builders out to make a fast buck. Everyday the newspapers are full of this scam or that fiasco. This is an industry that is not only corruption laden but skewed more towards making the ‘quick and easy buck’ rather than creating the warm glow of solid achievement, of helping both the builder and the buyer bask in the legitimate pride of making a home, a castle, a hearth.
What or which part of you is in this book?
Not much I would like to think. Many people who know me in my professional capacity of a hard driving, street smart entrepreneur and have read the book often ask me ‘where did you dredge up this limp-wristed, beta type loser from?’ However, how do you like Yeats said, separate ‘the dancer from the dance’? A child from the parents? There will be bits of me I am sure scattered here and there across the characters in the novel. And certainly, my love for the city and my distress at what we have done and continue to do to it will come through.
Tell us why should anybody read your book?
Now that is an unanswerable question - simply because this is not a prescriptive, formulaic book. There will be as many meanings as there are readers and therefore as many reasons to read. You may read it for the city, your friend may read it for the romance, and another might read it for the real estate scenario, yet another may read it for the tale of human alienation and urban angst.
What next? What are you writing on next?
I really do not know yet. When the time comes, I guess we will all know J
Carry on Chanchal Sanyal…we are waiting for your next book! We at Bookaholicanonymous wish you all the best!
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