Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Interview with INDU MURALIDHARAN the Author of "THE REENGINEERS"

1. What sparked off the idea for your first book?

When I started writing seriously, I found myself gravitating to the path of writers who have

explored and stretched the boundary lines between fiction and reality. I rejoiced every time I

reread Muriel Spark’s novels about literary protagonists whose narrative interweaves

between fiction and reality in the world of the novel while being cognizant at the same time

of the reality of the reader’s world outside it. This was my primary inspiration.

The Reengineers grew from a few stories that I wrote about a character Siddharth who was

forced to live in Conchpore - a place that he hated, and his relationship with his dysfunctional

family. I thought about developing this into a full-length collection. But I found that I hardly

knew anything about Siddharth, except that he was very unhappy and wanted nothing more

than to get away from Conchpore and his family. Sometime later, I began to write a story

about three teenagers from Madras in the early nineties who were displaced into another time

and space in a fictional world. I wrote many drafts of the story of these three youngsters.

Somewhere along the way, they met Siddharth and the metafictional premise took over the

novel that became The Reengineers.

2. Does the journey of seeing an idea develop and flourish into a full-fledged book teach 

you something about yourself or make you a better person in any way?

In her wonderful book ‘Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life’, Anne Lamott

writes about ‘shitty first drafts’ which become more and more and refined with each revision.

As I wrote The Reengineers, I discovered that not only manuscripts but ideas too could go

through shitty first, second and perhaps several draft versions before they take on a solid


It is an immense learning experience, each time. I started my second novel as a light-hearted

story of a young woman’s encounters with potential suitors on a matrimony site. I had

intended it to be a gentle story with fluffy humour, fuzzy sentiments and a neatly tied up

happy ending, as I created the plot framework, wrote the step-sheet and defined the

characters. But the first draft of the manuscript did not simply work for me, even though a

few kind friends who read it said that they enjoyed it. I rewrote the entire novel from scratch,

retaining just a few bits and pieces from the first, and found that it had turned into an

exploration of the power balance between genders in man-woman relationships through the

twentieth century until the present day. I was surprised at the things that the characters

revealed about themselves in the second draft. It certainly gave me deeper insights into my

own character and worldview, which was quite an enriching experience. I have a growing

pile of notes and a clear plot outline for my third novel which I intend to be a light comedy,

but when I get to the second draft of the manuscript, I am really not sure how it will turn out.

3. Writing is a craft that requires extended periods of alone time to allow creative juices to 

flow and take shape. Do you have any personal favorites of combatting this isolation?

I have always enjoyed the sweetness of solitude, with books as much as with my own

thoughts. As a writer and as an empath, I often find the company of other people predictable

and stifling. I avoid crowded places as far as possible and have no qualms about skipping

social visits and events that I feel do not add value. When I used to stay with my parents in

the city where they currently live, I had a tough time avoiding their relatives, friends and

neighbors who would drop in without notice and stay for hours, they even brought their

pesky children sometimes - it was quite annoying. Ever since I moved into my own home, I

have relished the peace and quiet that I have to myself after office hours. I have a select

circle of close extended family and friends with whom I enjoy occasional meetings and

conversations, interactions which stimulate and inspire me as a person and writer, but most of

the time I rejoice in solitude.

4. What is your life philosophy?

Short Answer: As a spiritual seeker, I explore the dimensions of meaning and reality through

the study and practice of literature.

Long Answer:  To add to why I arrived at the above, I have often wondered why my life did

not take the standard trajectory followed by most of my peers. As a topper throughout school

and college, I had very specific goals at different stages of my school and undergraduate

years. At fourteen, I wanted to do research in applied mathematics. At eighteen, I wanted to

get into consumer electronics design. At twenty one, I nearly got admission into an integrated

program for a doctorate in astrophysics. What I had not expected was that I would get

depressed at fifteen and the condition would persist on and off for the next few years,

hampering my courage to make independent decisions towards my life goals, each time.

Soon after graduation, I found myself working in the IT industry like most of my classmates,

not in the chip research firm of my dreams in New Jersey, not even in my hometown

Chennai, but in a nondescript little city where my parents had chosen to move for its mild

climate. Depression while it lasted, kept me in that place, and books kept me alive during that

phase of exile, both literal and otherwise. Soon after I was cured, I moved back home to

Chennai and rewrote the story of my life, even as I wrote this experience into what would

become my first published novel, The Reengineers. My forthcoming two novels likewise

explore dimensions of life through the prism of fiction. The written word has been my

constant source of strength and life. As a student of the craft of writing and as a practicing

writer, literature continues to give me fresh insights into meaning, truth and the nature of


5. Artists in any creative field are thought leaders. Do you agree?

I think that statement is a sweeping generalisation. The artist’s primary role is to create, and

create true to their inspiration, and keep practicing their art. An artist needs to have a wide

knowledge of the work done in their field, a formidable body of their own work as well as

acknowledgement of their work among the thinking audience, both academic as well as the

general reader (public), before they can be considered a thought leader.

6. Do you lead your imagination or do you allow imagination to lead you?

It happens both ways. It is always wonderful to feel imagination stirring within the mind,

evoking words, images and ideas, though very often these impressions turn out to be quite

different once they are written down on the page. A certain amount of discipline and

organisation is required to plot and structure a novel. I approach this the same way I plan my

software projects in my day job (I had used Microsoft Project to make a project plan for

creating the first draft of The Reengineers). But during the actual writing, I let imagination

take over. Of course, there are always many, many revisions.

7. How important is the commercial side of writing and promoting your book as opposed 

to the sheer joy of the creative art of expression? 

I write because I have to write. I cannot not write. Writing is at the core of my life. It is my

purpose, my passion and my greatest joy.

With so many books being published every day, many of them exceptionally good (my to-be-

read list covers a few good miles), authors must promote their books if they are to reach as

many readers as possible.

Since it was published, I have been delighted and gratified with the readers’ response to The

Reengineers. Many people wrote to me saying that they enjoyed the book and could strongly

identify with the characters. However, I realise that I must help promote the book if it has to

reach a wider audience. Promoting too is an interesting exercise, a time to retrospect on the

process of writing, on the book itself with respect to the feedback from the critics and

readers. (For example, I greatly enjoyed answering your insightful questions in this


The Reengineers is the story of a character and his author, which becomes complete when it

is read, which I mention in the book’s acknowledgements as:

“And you, Dear Reader, for it is when you read, that this story of the author and his hero

becomes complete.”

So yes, promotion is quite important.


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I am a writer from Chennai, India. To me, reading and writing are means by which I try to comprehend the meaning of life and reality. My first novel The Reengineers (HarperCollins, 2015) is a metafictional exploration of the meaning of the self, examined through the relationship between an author and the character of his novel. I am working on two other novels at the moment, both centred around the healing power of fiction and its significance in 'real' life.

I live in London, balancing a full time day job with writing and studying a part-time Master's Course in Creative Writing at The University of Oxford.

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