Rishi Vohra’s debut book, Once Upon The Tracks Of Mumbai has been very well received by celebrities, critics and readers. Currently based in the business capital of India, Mumbai, Rishi is a well read and well travelled guy. Writing is a passion for him and he has plans to take it up quite seriously. Some of the prominent personalities of the entertainment industry, such as Prahlad Kakkar, Kabir Bedi have read and given positive reviews about the book.
So, I got a chance to do an interview with Rishi and here is what he had to say.
Ques. Mumbai, if I ask you to explain the city in 100 words, what would be your answer?
Ans. Mumbai is mysterious, yet exciting to outsiders. But to Mumbaikars, it’s like a relative that you may not by overly fond of, but whom you tolerate out of habit.
Mumbai is one place that takes care of you, if you respect it and know what you want from the city. But if you expect opportunities to come your way without pushing in a specific direction, you will find yourself grow weary and cynical with hopelessness.
This city has more problems than any other city, but offers more opportunities than any other place. Despite recent criminal incidents, there is respect for women here, which says a lot about the character of its people. You have to love Mumbai and its people to last in this city. Otherwise, you are bound to feel trapped.
Ques. When did you think of writing a book? Any inspiration or particular moment you wish to share?
Ans. Well Yatin, it happened in 2006 when I moved to California from Mumbai. I had written screenplays before, but never books. I remember opening my laptop and typing. I had a concept in mind for a screenplay, but decided to write a book instead. The experience of writing in the peace and serenity of Berkeley was so exhilarating that I wrote everyday for close to four months, till I finished the first draft.
Ans. Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai’ is a mass fiction, written from the point of view of a young man who has mental disorders. But in this book, it’s not these problems that define him. He is like anyone else who wants to fit into society and find his place in the world.
It’s his mental problems that propel him to find normalcy in the fast-paced city of Mumbai that he feels ostracized from. I know that the book cover makes it appear as a love story. But the love story is only a part of the book. It’s his struggle and feeling of hopelessness that forms the crux of the story. Apart from the love and humane angle, there’s humour, action, adventure, crime, and heartbreak – all the ingredients of an entertaining masala read.
Ques. Autism, a very fragile topic to touch and weaving a character around it, how tough was it?
Ans. When a writer creates characters, he/she is free to define them in whichever way he/she wants. But with a personality disorder, intensive research is required which cannot be derived solely through reading. I had to closely observe and interact with such people, while in California, to understand the thought process and way of speaking. And I had to carefully handle Babloo’s character in such a way, that autism came across only as a personality trait of his. But autism is just a part of it. There’s also Dyslexia and Schizophrenia that I had to research in a similar manner.
In the book, it is the reactions of other people that made him feel different. No one points out his disabilities and pokes fun at it. That would be highly insensitive.
This is the story of Babloo who happens to be autistic. It’s not the story of an autistic person. There’s a difference, Yatin. And I’m glad that people who reviewed and read the book so far understood his character in that respect. Including you, Yatin.
Urmi Vaz, who reviewed the book and happens to be a mental health professional, commended me on the handling of the character and subject.
Ques. Mumbai Locals, the lifeline of Mumbai. The incidents shared in the book, have you experienced some of them yourself?
Ans. No Yatin. All these incidents are fictitious. If I had experienced any of the incidents in this book, I could say that I’ve led a fascinating life. But as AdFilmmaker Prahlad Kakar said, “You’ll find bits of yourself in the book.” Everyone who has read the book so far, told me that they did. They said that the reader not only feels for Babloo, but feels what he feels.
Ques. Rishi Vohra, as a person?
Ans. I would call myself a learner, an observer, a traveler, and a person fascinated by both the ordinary and extraordinary. I used to be very social, but writing has made me somewhat reserved.
Ques. Rishi Vohra, as a professional and an author?
Ans. My professional qualifications include a B.S. in Finance (with a minor in Multi-Ethnic Film/Theatre), an A.A. degree in Film, a Green MBA, a Masters in Environmental Law, a Wine Specialization (CSW). I have worked extensively in the Indian Entertainment industry, in the U.S. corporate world, and in the Wine space.
As an author, I love writing. It’s effortless. My stories are more about people and life. I wish I could solely make a living out of writing, but our country is far away from that.
Ques. What is your future plan with respect to writing?
Ans. More books. I have my next one ready. Despite being in the market for only a month, ‘Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai’ has been accepted and is selling well, and I was waiting to see how this book fared before I pushed my next one for publication. So I now feel ready to put my next book out.
Ques. Are the characters of “Once Upon The Tracks Of Mumbai” inspired from any real life people though it is purely a work of fiction?
Ans. To be honest Yatin, I got the thought from a much older friend who had similar mental problems as Babloo. He was intelligent and used to follow headlines, and report them to me whenever we met. One such headline was a particular railway crime. It made him really angry, and he said he wished he could do something about it. That’s from where the thought was germinated. The rest is all fiction.
Ques. Talking about publishing a book, how tough was it for you to get “Once Upon The Tracks Of Mumbai” published? Was there a lot of running around involved
Ans. I tried getting it published in the U.S. first. I got only rejection letters back. In the U.S., you deal with literary agents and no one wanted to take up my work. One literary agent, who was familiar with mass fiction in India, advised me to push the book towards India. At the time, I was unaware of this growing market in India and followed her advice. Within months, I received positive responses.
Ques. Again, 100 words about “Once Upon The Tracks Of Mumbai” on why should a reader pick this book up?
Ans. The book is unique in its characters, story, and setting. While people are propelled to action by their sense of reasoning, the main character is prompted by his mental disorders, which enables him to go past his inhibitions and create an alternate reality for himself. This is the feedback I’ve got from people so far – The language is simple and the story entertaining. It’s a true mass fiction in that it can be enjoyed and understood by people of all classes. It’s an experience more than a story. The reader will keep thinking about it once the story is over.
All in all, people who have read the book so far have told me that it’s one of its kind – a first in Indian mass fiction.
So, that was Rishi Vohra, honest and candid. His book, Once Upon The Tracks Of Mumbai is available on all the leading bookstores and online stores. Read it. Here is my review of the book
Also, you can reach Rishi through the following channels
Website : www.rishivohra.com
Facebook : Once Upon The Tracks Of Mumbai
Twitter : @FishyRishi
Rishi Blogs @ Being Rishi