Interview – Chetan Chhatwal – Author 55, A Novel

I got a chance to meet Chetan Chhatwal at Jaipur Literary Festival recently and talk about his debut book 55, a novel. I have already read it and have reviewed it here. Chetan is one of the wittiest people I know and he has got this magical ability to crack you up with his one liners. If you do not believe me, read this interview and you will know what I mean.

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Me – 55, how did it happen? What motivated you to write?

Chetan – A few years ago I had the opportunity to take a break from the daily grind in order to introspect and discover what really motivated me. It was while doing this that I realized that I would like to write. I also came to the conclusion that I was happiest when I was at my chubbiest. That’s a separate story though.

I had always been interested in cinema and filmmaking and the basic story of 55 had been fermenting in my mind for years. I started writing initially, a treatment, for what I thought would be a script. Once I began though, I realised that I had a lot more to say and perhaps a book would work better. Maybe one day I will have the time and talent to adapt this book into a script.

Me – How many papads you had to roll to get this book published?

Chetan – Not too many actually. I did however offer to sleep with anyone at Random House in order to have the book published. But for some reason, everyone in the team declined.

Me. The blurb of the book is already with people, what more you can tell about 55? Why should one read your book?

Chetan – A number of reasons:

  1. To experience the meaning of the phrase ‘to wet oneself laughing’
  2. To understand what makes a perfect turban and how to tie one
  3. To be able to break into the South-Delhi-Privileged-Life-Public-School-Prestigious-College bubble. Admit it, you want to.

Me – There are some pretty sensitive things in there in the book. Did this thought cross your mind that it might offend some people considering Indians get offended with every other thing that comes in their way?

Chetan – Good question. Yes, I did consider it. Then, I took offence at my own blatant attempt to self-censor. After demonstrating outside my own house for a few days, burning my own effigies and being sprayed by a water cannon (by the wife), I decided to stick with the original story.

Being serious though, if you find anything in the book offensive, please let me know. I promise that if nothing else, I will at least give you a tight hug and a Cadbury’s chocolate éclair (the one with the squishy centre).

Me – I was grinning throughout the book, did you have to push yourself to make things sound funny or it just flowed for you?

Chetan – No, I didn’t have to push myself really. There is humour in most situations, if you are willing to see it. I think it was Deborah Moggach who said that it is possible to be serious and humorous at the same time.

Me – Who is Chetan Chhatwal? What does he do when he is not working or around books? 194A8038

Chetan – He watches films and travels. Woody Allen and Ed Burns are his two favourite directors. He journeys wherever his wife takes him and although he enjoys these trips, he is never at ease away from home (and his own toilet). He is a nervous flier and wastes a significant amount of energy on stressing about diseases and ailments. He does not trust dentists and is afraid of all animals.

Me – What would be your advice to people who are writing their first book or planning to write one?

Chetan – Don’t even bother. It’s too hard. Moreover, I read your last piece. It was awful. Just leave it to the professionals.

I am joking clearly. Please keep at it. Do not let anyone dissuade you from writing. Some days you will feel like what you have put down on the page is no better than the print on a roll of toilet paper. But, trust me, just make sure you read and write everyday. Do not be tempted to edit as you write. Finish the first draft, no matter how awful you think it is, before you go back and edit. Also, read Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’.

Me – How is the response for the book so far? Anything in particular that you would like to share here?

Chetan – So far the response has been very positive. A few people have written saying how much they enjoyed the book. There have been some reviews as well (including one by the ‘one and only’ Yatin Gupta) which have been very positive.

Having said this, no good-looking girls have flung themselves at me as yet but I am cautiously optimistic that this will happen in the near future.

Me – Who got to read the first draft of the book? How was the reaction?

Chetan – The first draft was read by my wife and a few close friends. They have not been able to look at me in the same way since then.

Actually, each and every one of them had a positive response. The all encouraged me to submit the manuscript to a publisher.

Me – Your favourite authors and books? 

Chetan – P.G Wodehouse (Empress of Blandings, Jeeves & Wooster), Upamanyu Chatterjee (English, August), Jhumpa Lahiri (The Namesake, Interpreter of Maladies, Unaccustomed Earth), Anuradha Roy (The Folded Earth), Woody Allen (Complete Prose), Pierre Boulle (Planet of the Apes), Stephen King (Pretty much all his books with The Stand being my favourite)

Me – Future plans? Planning to write more books? If yes, are they going to be as funny as 55 or would you be trying your hands on some serious stuff now?

Chetan – Yes, I am going to write more. I am working on something at the moment in fact. I may cover serious subjects but the humour will always be there.

So, that was Chetan Chhatwal, at his wittiest best. His book 55 is available at all the leading bookstores and online portals and you can get in touch with his on twitter @Chetan_Chhatwal (He replies to lesser mortals like us and if by any chance you DM him accidentally (provided he follows you), he responds there too :P, saying this from a personal experience 😛 )

Buy 55: A Novel from Flipkart.com

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