After a successful stint in the Indian entertainment industry, Rishi Vohra went on to complete a Green MBA from the San Francisco State University before returning to his moorings in Mumbai.
He has a fairly impressive array of academic achievements to his credit.
He is a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) affiliated to the Society of Wine Educators, USA. He is affiliated to the Indian Wine Academy. Bombay Judo Club (having won a Black Belt from the National Judo Federation of India), Net Impact, and Sigma Pi Fraternity International, USA.
He writes for delWine and has been a guest columnist for several newspapers in India.
Rishi Vohra has as good a nose for a good story as he has for good wine! “Once upon the Tracks of Mumbai” is his debut novel.
Congratulations, Rishi, for your debut novel ‘Once upon the tracks of Mumbai’. How is the book being received?
Thanks Susmita. The book is being received very well. It’s sold out in all the bookstores I checked with and the reviews both online and in the press, have been very encouraging. Moreover, I’ve been getting positive messages from all over the country through my website (www.rishivohra.com) which further highlights that readers are loving it. Apart from congratulating me, readers are thanking me for the book. These words mean a lot.
The book hasn’t seen a book launch yet, so I haven’t been able to interact with groups of readers as of yet. But on a one-to-one basis, readers want to talk to me and about the book. The people I have spoken to so far, are interested in knowing what inspired me to write such a book as, in their words, “it’s something we’ve never read before.”
The only unique experience I can think of now is that of one reader in Mumbai who told me that her father read the book and wanted to speak to me (he was based in Delhi), as after a long time he said that a book really touched him. He was paralyzed so had trouble speaking and rarely did. We did a three-way conference call, during which he merely listened to me. At the end of it, he managed a very clear and audible “thank you,” which moved his daughter, on the other line, to tears. The experience was very touching. I promised to meet him when I visited Delhi next.
How long did it take you to complete writing the book?
The first draft took a little less than 4 months, writing for hours on end each day. After that, there were a lot of corrections and revising.
What is the inspiration behind the story?
I can’t remember what the inspiration exactly was. There were many things. I created this character in my head, and then really wanted to give him a life on paper. Originally, I wanted to write a screenplay. But then, I decided to write a book and kept writing for four months till I reached the last page. Also, at that point in my life, I was very frustrated and unconsciously must have manifested the same through Babloo’s character, I guess.
Mumbai railway tracks are kind of synonymous with Mumbai lives. Were you using the railway tracks as a kind of metaphor for life?
Well Susmita, I actually was but in a very subtle way. But I wanted to keep the book visual and entertaining so didn’t overtly highlight that.
The script seems to have a strong Bollywood inspiration. As Babloo says, Bollywood tales ‘mostly ended on a note of justice.’ Babloo’s life in the story is a fairy tale come true. Do you believe that it happens often in real life too?
Susmita, I believe in happy endings and believe that they do exist in real life too. But one has to go out and fight for happiness. At the end of all the struggle and pain, there is happiness.
Are there any plans afoot to make a film out of the book?
At the moment, the book is with several personalities from the Hindi Film Industry, including Mr. Salman Khan, Mr. Arbaaz Khan, and Mr. Sohail Khan. Honestly, I don’t know who is reading it as they have very busy schedules, and reading a book is a luxury for them. Besides gifting the books to friends in the Industry I haven’t yet actively tried to sell the idea to any producers.
But yes, I would like to see the book made into a film. It’s a story that I want to reach a larger audience and film is a medium that can do that. The book is in its second month now, and only after good press and higher numbers would it justify being made into a film. After all, producers have to pay a writer anyway and would only want to pay the added cost of film rights when they know that people want to see it made as a film.
You have portrayed Babloo’s world sensitively. Readers don’t feel anything ‘special’ in that world; it is as normal or routine as it can be though the protagonist Babloo is autistic, schizophrenic, and Psychotic’. Why did you choose a ‘special’ person as the protagonist?
An older friend of mine had the same disorders. He was intelligent and used to read newspapers page to page. One day, he was hassled about a news report on Railway crime and said that he wished he could do something about it. That’s where the thought of this book germinated from.
We all want to be ‘Rail Man’ in our life at some point of time. Have you ever felt that?
Of course I have Susmita! Haven’t you?:)
We live in a country plagued by problems affecting all of us, irrespective of our caste, class, gender, and geographic location. We all wish that we had the power to do something good that would not only change people’s lives but also give us a sense of identity different from that conferred on us through our profession, backgrounds, incomes, image, etc. Every Indian wants to make his/her country a better place but is bogged down by the system. Babloo, the protagonist, is able to create an alternate sense of reality for himself as he is prompted more by his mental disorders than a sense of reasoning characteristic of a normal person.
Our system is not conducive to convenience. Even the basic necessities are a luxury. I wish our system could be streamlined that could help people lead easier lives. Also, education and healthcare should be a right and not a privilege. In cities, we are still able to somewhat access these but in many areas of India, they are still a distant dream as are employment opportunities, water, food, safety, gender equality etc. I feel very strongly for these issues. This prompted me to study a Green MBA (Social and Environmental MBA) which I recently completed in San Francisco.
In terms of mindsets, I think that people are losing their sense of caring and consideration for other people.
Although writing itself is the product of a lone mind, still who all would you like to thank for their support as you trudged along?
My wife who gave me the space to sit in silence. At the time, we were in Berkeley, California. She read the first draft as did other friends, and encouraged me to push it for publication. And there are many people who lent their support in other ways – the list is endless!
Please do tell us something about your future plans. What other books of fiction are in the pipeline? When can we expect another Rishi Vohra book to hit the stalls?
I was waiting to see the response to this book before I pushed my next book for publication. My next book is ready, and will start going ahead now as the response to this book has been encouraging so far. And I’m very grateful to Jaico and readers for that.
Which are your favourite books? Is there any particular author who has influenced your life?
There is no particular author that has influenced me as such. Some of my favourite books are the ones by S. Hassain Zaidi, and Vikram Chandra. Since the past few years, I have been reading only Indian Authors. Before that, I had rarely read Indian Authors.
Would you like to offer any advice to aspiring authors?
Keep reading and writing! Keep your mind alert and observant since you never know where you might find a story! And write, only when you have a story to tell. Only then, will the whole process seem effortless and will bring you joy! All in all, try and be disciplined about it. Set aside at least an hour a day to write and keep writing everyday!
Once you finish your book, let people read it – the ones who will give you an unbiased opinion. After all, these are the people who are going to buy your book. Their feedback will be very helpful and will give you a different perspective of your book.
And once you start submitting your book to publishers, don’t let a rejection letter dishearten you! If a publisher doesn’t accept your work, it may be because your book doesn’t fit in their book list at that time. Keep submitting your work around and you will get published!
Thank you Rishi for your time, will meet again. Wish you good luck for your forthcoming novels.author interview Once upon the tracks of Mumbai Rishi Vohra Rishi Vohra book Rishi Vohra interview