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In Conversation : Paritosh Uttam

Post by: Alpana Mallick

Dreams in Prussian BlueWriter, editor, voracious reader, techie, Paritosh Uttam wears many hats. His first novel, Dreams in Prussian Blue was published by Penguin India under its Metro Reads banner in January 2010.  

 

He has also edited Urban Shots, an anthology of 29 short stories.  While his latest offering, Urban Shots hits the shelves this week, we get talking about his first novel, Dreams in Prussian Blue, writing and much more.

Read on...

 

  

 

You come from a technical background, working in the IT industry. People mostly write something that they know through and through, but you ve taken a completely different approach by writing about a young unmarried couple and painting. Was this a very deliberate move?
 

I am serious about being a writer. A good writer should be able to write outside his own personal experience. I don't want to be known as a techie who can only write about life in the IT industry or about techies or about IIT. So yes, in that sense, it was a deliberate ploy to write about characters far from the circles I usually move around in, about painting (an art that I don't have any talent in), and to tell the story from the female protagonist's point of view.
 
 
What kind of research did you do for character and plot development? 
 
I did do a lot of research on painting. I read up a lot of stuff on the internet, about artists, colours, brushes, canvases, oil paints, and so on. I also talked to a couple of artists as I wanted to be as convincing as possible. For character and plot development, I didn't need to do research. These are supposed to bread and butter for a writer. You have to use your creative imagination. For plots, I do like to have an outline before going on to the details. I have a clear idea about the beginning and the end. The rest is a matter of connecting the two in a way that makes it more interesting to the reader. There are plenty of plot development techniques, but you pick one that you feel comfortable with.
 
Are any of your characters or sub-plots based on real persons or events? How much personal experience have you imbued into your story?
 
No character or sub-plot is based wholly on my experience. But there could be a few characteristics here and there in different characters, that I may have used from people I know in real life. Sometimes that is deliberate, sometimes that happens subconsciously. Similarly, in the plot set pieces, there could be a few minor incidents that I chose from real life. But overall, the principal characters and major plot are based on pure imagination.
 

As you say, your book is a breezy read. If you could, would you make any changes to how the story finally turned out? 
 
True, there were a few editorial suggestions that were intended to make the book breezier, but which I didn't wholeheartedly agree with. If I could, I would make Naina's character grayer, in the sense, she is not the innocent victim of circumstances and other people always. Perhaps she gets involved with Abhi on her own accord and not because she was coerced. Also, the poisoning part towards the end... I would do away with that. I am normally not in favour of such dramatic turn of events. One dramatic turn, like Michael's accident and blindness, is enough for one book. I prefer gradual changes. 
 
Your story has four main characters- Michael, Naina, Ruchi and Abhi. Which one you do like the most, which one do you identify with most and which one did you have the most trouble with? 
 
I like Michael most because he is the most unpredictable, and yet understandable, in a remote way. But it is difficult to identify with him because he is too unconventional. Naina is most identifiable, more so, because the whole story is told from her point of view. Because this book was intended to be a short, breezy read, I was working within a word limit. I would have liked to dwell more on Abhi and Ruchi to make their characters more rounded.
 
Paritosh UttamYour first brush with writing came about when you were in the 9th grade. How do you see your writing evolve from the piece in The Hindu to Dreams in Prussian Blue? 
 
Back then, I used to think of writing only in terms of short articles to be published in newspapers. I have been a voracious reader since childhood, but I didn't imagine myself writing books like those at that time. I think that ambition became clearer later on, when I was in college. Then I started looking at the art and craft of fiction writing seriously with the goal of learning. As you grow, with experience, you learn what works and what does not, what are you strong points and what are your weak ones.
 
You ve read a lot, as is evident on your site, which writers do you like the most and why? 
 
This is such a toughie. I have found so many different works of different writers appealing in different ways. But if you ask me to come up with some specific names, I would say: V. S. Naipaul, mainly for his non-fiction; Nabokov; the old Russian masters like Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy; Gabriel Garcia Marquez; among Indian writers, Anita Desai and Amitav Ghosh come to mind.
 
Which writers do you think have had major influence in your writing?
 
I haven't tried to imitate any writer, but I don't know if I have picked up some trait subconsciously. I like Naipaul's sentence constructions, I like Garcia Marquez's hopping back and forth in the narrative chronology; the dialogues of Steinbeck's characters; Dostoyevsky's eccentric charcters; and so on. 
 
You have a very impressive technical background. Your career in writing is also taking off well. If you were to make a choice to pick any one, which would you pick as a full-time profession? 
 
I always used to think that this was a no-brainer, that I would pick writing as a full time career ten times out of ten. But now, I don't think I can give up my techie life altogether. It has been a major part of my life so long that it would not be possible for me to do without it. Right now, I am a full time techie who also writes. Perhaps I would like to invert that: being a full time writer but who is still technically hands on!
 
You're one of the young Indian writers on the rise who are writing for the local people, who have stories that Indians can identify with.  How do you think the Indian literary scene is shaping up?
 
Earlier, Indian writing in English was more or less meant for a western readership. It's good to see the recent trend of writing for a domestic readership. That said, we need to see an improvement in the quality of writing too. Writing for a local reader should not imply that the standards should slip. I hope that this phenomena of writing for a local readership grows, but at the same time, also evolves into more quality writing. It should not be a mere passing fad.

 
 If you could get a chance to meet one of your idols, who would that be?

Perhaps V. S. Naipaul. But he is said to be a forbidding character, so maybe I am better of not meeting him! Actually, I believe writers are best met through their works. Most writers turn out to be very different personally.

 
What would you be ideally doing on a lazy Sunday afternoon?

I would be half-asleep but still trying to keep awake reading an interesting novel.
 
Urban ShotsYou've come up with an anthology of short stories titled Urban Shots. Would you like to tell our readers more about it and also of your experience as an editor this time around? 


The theme of the anthology is relationships in urban India. I like the theme because it is neither too vague not too restrictive. By relationships, I don't mean only romantic relationships between two young people. It could be about relationships between a husband and wife, between elderly people, or a lonely person looking back or longing for someone else. So you see there are endless possiblities within this theme, and when you have a number of different writers of varying experience applying their unique perspective and skills, you have a rich combination of stories to savour.

Being an editor was a different experience. Usually, I am on the writer side of the table, insisting on my version of the story or language. This time, I was on both sides, as I have contributed ten of the stories and edited most of the others. You come across different styles and ways of thinking when going through the stories of different writers. I enjoyed the experience.
 

You can know more about Paritosh through his website. You can read reviews of Dreams in Prussian Blue here, or also add your own. You can also add your review of Urban Shots here.

 

Let us know what you think of his books and the interview through your comments. :)

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