Hariharan is a finance professional by default and a writer by choice. Not content with just a rewarding corporate job, he took to writing a couple of years ago. He blogged on media and current affairs for a year at valadyviews.blogspot.com before hitting on the idea for this novel.
Strangely, he got the idea for his first novel while reading the balance sheets of a few NGOs and corporates! An idea so powerful that it convinced the accountant in him that he could put together not just a balance sheet but an intriguing political thriller as well. Indian cinema over the last many decades has created many stereotypes— ‘Media crusades against anything bad’, ‘netas are, without a doubt, evil’ and ‘human rights activists are God’s gift to earth’ to name a few. What if any of these stereotypes is wrong— What if a human rights activist, consumed by personal frustration, tries to bring down an elected government? What if media plays the role of pliable ally? What if a politician is a victim of circumstances?
Answers to these what ifs, his wife’s challenge to write a novel out of them and about nine months’ of labour produced Surpanakha.
Hariharan lives with his wife in Dar es Salaam while his two sons are pursuing their ambitions in India.
Brief synopsis of your book:
Educated, young, no-nonsense bearing, able administrator—these are the qualities that won Sesha the loyalties of the people after three years of rule as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. An allegation that he was the mastermind behind the murder of 73 Kannadigas threatens to bring him down but he is miraculously saved in the 11th hour.
Even before he can relish his victory, Sesha is slapped with the charge of sexually offending a young nurse. This time round, the case is strong and his supporters are uncertain. Worse, his teenage daughter calls him 'vile' and walks out of the house. While Mythili, his wife promises her full support, her secretive activities—undertaken with the help of a retired cop—is a cause of concern for Sesha.
Will Zarina, the human-rights activist, succeed in bringing him down? What about the insinuations of a celebrity lawyer that he is casteist and anti-minorities? When the young nurse is found dead, the case becomes even more complex. Who is innocent? Who is guilty? And who is the mastermind?
What was your favorite part of writing this book?
The initial five chapters and the last chapter. These are my favourites for exactly the opposite reasons. The first few chapters have to be fast paced. The different dimensions of the crime should be unveiled in quick succession. Before the reader can think of putting down the book, he should be surprised with new revelation.
The last chapter— the denouement— should gradually untie the knots. There should be drama. You should prolong the conclusion a bit with intelligent arguments so that the reader feels on edge. Arguments should be intelligent as to not just cover all the loose ends but also make the reader feel why he could not deduce what the main character was concluding.
What inspired your latest novel?
A couple of years ago, a law intern alleged that a retired judged behaved in a sexually inappropriate manner with her. Celebrity lawyers took up her case. Media hounded the judge. He was forced to resign from a strategic post retirement job. Thereafter when the police registered a case and wanted the victim to testify, she vanished. We don’t know what happened. Was there pressure on her not to testify? Or was it decided that the purpose had been achieved? Neither the celebrity lawyers nor media felt obliged to explain their position to the masses.
Secondly, a series of articles by an IIM professor on the mushrooming NGOs and their questionable sources of funds forced me to think. Around the same time there were reports that well-known personalities who were running foreign funded NGOs were using the funds for buying branded jewellery, clothing and shoes! It made me wonder what the underlying motivation could be for floating such NGOs.
Both the above gave rise to a lot of what ifs in me and pushed me into the realm of fiction. And the novel was born. I would, however, like to clarify that it is not a real life story.
Are there any complex characters in your book? If so tell us a little about them.
Obviously Zarina, the human rights activist. She gets everything she wants in life—power, fame, and recognition. The Central Government awards her Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award, in recognition of her services. When she pursues the charges against Sesha, the powerful chief minister of Tamil Nadu, she gets the support of media and celebrity lawyers. Is she happy with she has got in life? If not, why?
If you could pick any author to review your book who would you pick and why?
More than an author, I would prefer a journalist to review the book as it revolves around contemporary issues and media’s coverage of those issues. It would be like showing a mirror to a journalist. Whether he likes the image, is what the review will be about.
Did you learn anything new while working on this book?
I had preconceived notions on activists, journalists and celluloid personalities. But then as I started writing chapters from their viewpoint, there was a subtle change in me; inadvertently I started appreciating why they do what they do.
Did you have to research anything when writing this story?
The novel revolves around political controversies and human rights violations. So, I spent a good amount of time researching the legal and constitutional provisions, how media houses run the show in the wake of dwindling ad revenues…
Who would you recommend this book to?
This is a political thriller. Social media deals with these issues on a daily basis. So, the youngsters in India and NRI would be able to connect with this book easily.
What is the first book you remember reading, that affected how you thought or felt about something?
Panchatantra stories were one of the earliest books I read. They continue to be my favorites even today. They influence the way I see life and condition my responses to unexpected developments.
Which three authors have inspired you the most, and why?
1) Arun Shourie
2) Ayaan Hirsi Ali
3) Rajiv Malhotra
I like all of them for the same reason: their fearless, relentless pursuit if truth.
Have you ever read a book that you didn’t like in the beginning but ended up glad that you stuck with it and finished the story?
This has happened to me more with movies. There are quite a few of them; I had resisted the intense urge to leave the movie hall in the first 15 minutes and I was happy that I did.
What are your thoughts of e-books versus printed copy?
I like to read e-books in my tab. I am not a particular fan of printed books.
How old were you when you first began writing seriously?
Fifty. I started blogging on media and current affairs.
Do you have a favorite genre?
My first preference is for non-fiction. In fiction, I like thrillers.
Do you need to be anywhere special to get in the mood to write?
Early morning, my writing table and filter coffee—all these bring out the best in me.
What were three challenges you faced when writing your book?
1) The book deals with sensitive and emotional issues. I had to tread carefully while dealing with these issues. My writing has to induce interest in the reader, yet it has to be balanced.
2) When the book went through the first round of editing, the editor suggested that I rearrange a few scenes. This was tough. If I had to move a scene up by a few chapters, all references to the scene in the interim chapters had to be removed.
3) How to end a chapter with a question or suspense so that the reader doe not think of taking a break.
What is one of your favorite sources for research and why?
Internet. Discussions with my lawyer friends.
Do you rely on other authors to help you in any way? If so what?
Was there a time when you felt possessed by a character when you were writing? If so from which book and which character?
There is a character in Surpanakha by the name Janaki. She is a Brahmin girl and falls in love with a Muslim director who comes to Srirangam for a shoot. She elopes with him. Her marriage turns out to be a failure. At the time I was writing this part of Surpanakha, I read Avarana by S L Bhyrappa. Janaki’s story was very similar to that of Laxmi alias Rasia, the lead character of Avarana. Inspired by what Bhyrappa had written, I started writing 2-3 chapters on the travails of Janaki. Then a beta reader pointed out that Janaki had a limited role in my novel. By bloating her character, I was confusing the reader as to who the real lead character was.
Do you take part in creating your book cover and if so what do you find the most difficult part of the process?
Yes, I did. I created the concept by using images from Google. Then the publisher’s artist came up improved on it. It was a fairly simple process.
What part of the writing process becomes the most critical for you?
The changes I had to incorporate during editing.
What is the most common interview question that you dread answering and why?
Almost any question on my personal preferences. I am a moderate introvert and would like to talk less about me.
Do you envision any known actors/actresses as characters in your book?
Perhaps Konakana Sen Sharma for the role of Mythili.
What are your favorite methods of promoting your work?
I am doing it for the first time. So, I am enjoying everything now. Maybe I will form an opinion at the end of this process.
What inspires your ideas for stories?
Personal favorite info:
Color – Blue
Snack – Anything South Indian
Beach – Marina beach at night
Song –Any Carnatic song, particularly Sarvam Brahmamayam by Bombay Jyashree
Dessert – Kulfi
Comedy movie – Priyadarshan movies
Science Fiction Book – I am not a fan of science fiction.
Addiction – Filter coffee
How can people connect with you?
Goodreads: Hariharan Iyer
Where can readers find your book?
- Amazon Gift Card worth $12 or 750INR
- Amazon Gift Card worth $10 or 500INR