New chapter for the city

Updated: Apr 29, 2020, 10:25 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

For his debut audiobook that is centred on modern Mumbai, author Nikhil Raj brings together famous faces from F&B and entertainment

Unlike most authors who've featured in this section, Nikhil Raj didn't want to write a book. Das, his debut novel, is now out in an e-book and audiobook format — the latter features narrations by some of the city's most prominent faces in the art, entertainment and F&B circuit including comedian Daniel Fernandes, chef Thomas Zacharias, actor Hazel Keech, musician Maalavika Manoj and radio professional Rohini Ramanathan. "It happened by chance. I had jotted down some parts of it, and one day a couple of friends happened to discover it; they planted the idea into my head. I put it away for a while but then got to writing half of it. The idea of it becoming a novel took shape in early 2019," he tells us.

Hazel Keech
Hazel Keech

Even though the thought of writing a book was iffy, the author knew his protagonist inside and out. Raj, 32, was sure that the plot would revolve around a certain Vikas Das before he could even prepare a character sketch. Vikas Das, coincidentally, translates to "slave to progress" which is the underlying theme of the novel. An entrepreneur who runs an advertising business, Das is crippled by copious amounts of alcohol and finds himself in difficult situations with the police, politicians and priests.

Thomas  Zacharias
Thomas Zacharias

The title has been self-published and elaborating on his reasons for doing so, Raj says, "It was a very organic journey for me. I did speak to a publisher but when I was told about how the deal would work out for first-time authors, it didn't sound promising. The five per cent royalty didn't mean much and I wasn't doing this for money anyway. It was always about getting more people to read it which is why I collaborated with these personalities for the audiobook since it would attract a diverse audience."

Maalavika Manoj
Maalavika Manoj

The book wasn't meant to be released specifically during the lockdown and the recordings commenced last year. Manoj was instantly hooked on to the story — ''As I read the chapter out aloud, line after line, I felt my heart racing," she says. Ramanathan states that it was an interesting project to work on because the first interface to experience this book would be via audio. She recalls, "I remember recording this from my home studio at one go, and was parched by the end of it. But it got me curious to go read the chapters after the one I had narrated. And that's what you want in a
good book."

Nikhil Raj
Nikhil Raj

Raj offers a glimpse of his background in the indie music scene and his tryst with people in the advertising industry, too. "In the ad world, you don't see people talking about the big Bollywood movies but they'll gravitate towards Batman instead. Hence, you see references to the superhero in the story," he explains. He also captures the spirit of Mumbai through the use of colloquialism and intricacies like the automatic switch to Hindi while talking to an autowallah.

Rohini Ramanathan
Rohini Ramanathan

Citing Neil Gaiman and Jeet Thayil as his influences, Raj is aware of his limitations as a writer; he knows he cannot write prose that sounds pretty or a sentence deep enough to qualify as a quote on Instagram or on a poster on the wall. "I would like to think it's a nice, easy, fast-paced read. I don't think it's like a Chetan Bhagat book because it's not meant for a mass audience. But for a person from the city or who has friends or family here, you can imagine people talking like my characters," he shares.

Log on to https://linktr.ee/nikhilraj (to access the e-book and audiobook)

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