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Interview with Shakti Salgaokar

Joining the list of budding authors in India is Shakti Salgaokar (27) who works as a journalist and moonlights as a novelist. Born and brought up in Mumbai, she belongs to a family of writers. Her grandfather is an astrologer and an author whereas her father Jayraj Salgaokar is an economist and a businessman who recently published two books in Marathi and grandmother has a recipe book to her credit.

Growing up in a house that had bookshelves for walls was what got her interested in reading. Her family encouraged her to read and think aloud. As children, her father had a rule for both, her and her sister. If they were interested in or curious about something, they read about it.

Imperfect Mr. Right is Shakti Salgaokar’s debut novel which released early this year.

Tell us something about your book? Why should one read your book this weekend?
Imperfect Mr. Right is the story of how an ordinary perfume salesman becomes India’s most eligible bachelor. It is a quick, breezy read that will leave you with a smile.

What prompted you to start writing this book?
The idea for the book came about over a chat with my dad’s friends. I was thinking aloud about how popstars were being created on reality TV – which was a new thing on TV those days. I said, what if a reality TV show created the perfect guy? And then the idea kept developing inside my head, until last minute panic for an essay due at my university set in. I had to submit a 2000-word creative writing piece and I had nothing. So, I started writing this idea out…

Did you have a target readership in mind?
Not really. I didn’t think much when I wrote the book. I wrote it as I saw it in my head. In a way, I was entertaining myself when I wrote it. If something bored me while writing, I’d scrap the whole chapter. So, my target audience would be girls like me I guess.

How did you come up with the title?
Again, University of Sussex, where I was doing my post-graduation, required me to title my creative work, even if it was a working title. I was a few minutes away from my submission deadline and I just thought of Rahul Rajgopal, the protagonist. What was he? Who was he? And Imperfect Mr. Right came to mind. I put it down as a working title but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to be a perfect fit.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

It is a very tough choice to make. But I’d love to be mentored by the playwright Neil Simon. He creates such strong images with simple words.
What do you feel about the impact of English fiction on the youth of today?
One has lived the adage ‘You are what you read’ and the sheer extent of books that are easily accessible through online bookstores, e-books and more makes it a very interesting time to be both – a reader and a writer. The fiction we see on the shelves today is a reflection of today’s youth. It is varied, vibrant and vivid. There is something for everybody.

What do you have to say about the boom in cheap, low-cost paperbacks, some selling at less than Rs 100?
A story is a story is a story. And a low-priced book will be accessible to more and more people. It only means that people want to read and they can afford to thanks to this new competitive pricing trend!

Do you think 2012 will see Indian authors outsell foreign ones, as even foreign publishers are shifting focus to publishing commercial Indian authors?
Foreign authors’ books cost two-three times more than Indian paperbacks. And I guess it makes commercial sense for a publisher to come out with an Indian book which will cost less, sell more and therefore earn more. On a personal level, I haven’t stopped buying foreign authors because there are more Indian authors on offer. But yes, I do end up buying a lot of Indian authors on an impulse simply because they write in my context and the books cost much lesser, whereas foreign authors are bought only when strongly recommended or out of loyalty. Both have their own market and I feel it would be unfair to compare their volume of sale or marketing strategies.

Do you think 2012 will be a watershed year for e-books?
With e-book readers and apps that aid reading on mobile devices, globally, e-books have seen a lot of acceptance. In India however, I think we are yet to accept the idea of e-books because e-book readers are very expensive and the cost of an e-book is still high for popular titles. But having owned a kindle since 2009, I can say that e-books are here to stay and will eventually be a cheaper option in comparison to a book because it is cheaper to produce and distribute them. The younger generation is more comfortable reading on an electronic device. So today, while majority prefers to read a book, in the future, a majority will prefer to read on their digital devices. It’s a slow process but it is here to last!

According to you, what is the biggest problem that writers face in the industry?
There are far too many to list. A writer’s life – right from writing the book, to finding a publisher to finding the right venue, dignitaries for the book release – it is a constant struggle. But there is something poetic about that struggle and I’ve enjoyed them all. The rejection letters I got before Imperfect Mr. Right was published only made my book release taste sweeter.

This whole trend of adapting books of Indian authors into films has been on the rise. What do you make of it? Would you like to see your book being made into a film? Whom would you like to see playing the main protagonist in the film?
I started writing Imperfect Mr. Right as a screenplay. I envisioned it as a film. But somehow I ended up writing it as a novel. As an author, anything that takes my story far and wide is a huge honour. So, I’d love to see my book being adapted into a film. As to who’d play the protagonist, I would like to see Shahrukh Khan.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?
Write until the story and the characters possess you. Don’t worry about finding a publisher and getting logistics in place at the onset it will only daunt you and affect your creative process. Instead, write the best you can and worry about the rest later!

What are your future projects?
I am working on documenting my grandmother’s recipes. I am also writing a few short stories and playing around with words. Hopefully, my second book will make itself seen soon!

Babita Balan

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