Laatst las ik Age of Vice (Tijd van Zonde) van Deepti Kapoor en was blown away. Het gaat over de georganiseerde misdaad in India en in elk hoofdstuk gebeurt genoeg voor tien boeken.
The Guardian noemde het ‘India’s antwoord op The Godfather’. Het Amerikaanse televisienetwerk FX betaalde na een biedingenoorlog 2 miljoen dollar voor de serierechten.
En ik, ik sliep aanmerkelijk minder omdat ik Kapoors boek niet kon wegleggen.
Nu is ze even in Nederland en heb ik de kans Kapoor te vragen naar haar wilde jonge jaren in het ‘ontwakende’ New Delhi, waar ze werkte als ‘lifestyle journalist’. Hoe heeft die tijd haar gevormd als schrijver? En wat kunnen wij daarvan leren?
Deepti Kapoor over haar jonge jaren
Je kunt het interview hieronder lezen of beluisteren op Podimo.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Deepti, thanks so much for being here to talk about your days of yore. Your newest book Age of Vice is an enormous success. I think we can call that your career breakthrough, right?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Absolutely, yes. And thanks for having me. It’s wonderful to be in Amsterdam and doing a podcast with you.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: I read somewhere that you consider Age of Vice as a map of your years in Delhi and you spent your twenties there as a lifestyle journalist. Can you tell me how you landed that beat and what did it entail?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Oh yeah, absolutely. So I was fresh out of college, university, which I also did in Delhi. I studied journalism and while I was studying journalism, my father got very sick and he had cancer and he was paralyzed.
So in a way to get out of this situation at home, which was quite sad, I started to work as a freelancer for a newspaper in Delhi. And it was random stuff like, go into a market, ask people who are in the market about, do they like malls or markets?
Or ask them random questions, people off the street, which is actually really good training for a journalist because you’re meant to basically be that kind of person who will just stop someone on the street or a stranger and say, listen, can you answer this question for me?
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: And live with the awkwardness of that moment?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And from being a quite shy and introverted person, it helped me to come out of my shell, to start to ask questions, to start looking at the city. Delhi, at that point of time, was a really interesting place to be in. It’s still interesting, but there was a lot of change happening. It was the late ’90s, early 2000s. So we are moving– India’s moving from a socialist economy to a capitalist one. So you had a very sleepy city suddenly get transformed and lifestyle journalism basically came to, it was born at that same time that I started working as a journalist.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: It wasn’t a phenomenon in the previous century?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: No, so you had suddenly these newspapers and news magazines which were run by very serious men, older men, very good at their job. Suddenly you had the marketing department come and say, listen, we need to open a lifestyle department or a features, which looks at consumption, looks at people’s consumer spending or looks at people’s lifestyle, social habits, what’s going on in the city, what are people doing in their free time, all of these things because everything’s changing and it’ll allow us to get more advertising.
So that’s how lifestyle journalism started in India. My editors came to me and said, “Listen, you’re the trends correspondent. This is your job. And your job is to go out in the city and document what’s happening and come back with story ideas.
So I had this freedom; driving around, smoking loads of cigarettes, talking to people, figuring out what’s happening in the city. Also going and doing things like covering the inauguration of the first metro system, the first trains, going and seeing the first mall, the first bowling alley. There was like it was a city of firsts. It was like witnessing the birth of a modern city.
But and there was another life I had, which was I was partying a lot.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: I think that’s a good habit for a lifestyle journalist?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Right. You have to experience it. Yeah.
And you know, getting introduced through a boyfriend I had at the time to new music and cinema and art, like where to go and find the best kebabs in Delhi. It’s not going to be in the big hotels or the big restaurants. It’s going to be in a back alley somewhere. And a guy is going to be sitting somewhere and basically making these kebabs on the roadside. And that was what this boyfriend introduced me to.
So I was discovering a secret city as well, while working in this job and partying at night, like all of these kinds of lives were coming together. So yeah, it was very exciting.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: And it sounds like there was a new jet set emerging there as well, right? Because of all the new money coming in?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah, totally.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Did you cover that as well?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah. So I was, I was not doing the parties as such at night. I was going to private parties, but not as a journalist.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: What kind of parties did you go to?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Raves, electronic music that was just coming into India and consumption of class A drugs. There was a counterculture that was merging with capital and money from outside and new ideas and new ways of being and living.
When I was younger, I went to a girls boarding school near Delhi, and there were lots of very wealthy families who had sent their kids there. So I grew up around very wealthy people, even though I came from a more like a middle class professional family that gave me access into the lives of the rich.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: How did you end up in that school if you weren’t part of the elite?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Oh, my father worked for the State Bank of India, which is the national bank. He was, it was a transferable job. He was in posted in Bahrain at the time of the Gulf War, the first Gulf, ’91. And when that happened, my parents felt that the region was unstable.
So they sent me to this school that they had known about because an aunt of mine used to teach there. And it was a girls boarding school. It was set up by an English woman to make Indian women into like independent young women. But it was full of the kids of the top business people, politicians, so it was a place where young girls went to get groomed to marry rich young men. Except the intent of the lady who set up the school was that these young women should get schooled and become powerful or independent young women in their own right.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: You were there as well, but as someone coming from the middle class. So did it make you feel like an outsider?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that outsider, watching, observant attitude that I had was what I carried with me into the next few years or my years in college as a journalist and also then as a novelist.
But also what it allowed me to do was move in between spaces. So even if you feel like an outsider, you’re still treated like an insider.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: People treated you like an insider?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah, I mean, you have your friends and they invite you everywhere. So interestingly, it’s like, my day job as a journalist is giving me a kind of glimpse into the changing city. But my nightlife as a person who’s getting invited to these private parties is giving me another perspective on people in the city.
But I’m not a journalist in those hours, but I’m making obviously mental notes.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: While you were making those mental notes, did you feel like ‘I can use this for my journalism’ or was it like a second nature to you to just observe?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah, second nature to observe. I didn’t ever think I would use it as a journalist and I never even at that point of time intended to be a novelist and that came years later. So I think subconsciously I always thought this is good material.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: So you, even though people treated you as an insider, you felt like an outsider. Wasn’t that lonely? If you have this beat as a journalist, you go to those parties with this new jet set, but always feeling like the outsider. Didn’t you sometimes feel like maybe this is, this is my world now. I can be an insider or didn’t work that way?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: I sometimes did, especially if you’re high, you know [laughs]
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: That helps!
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah. But there was always a sense I lived,at this point of time, my father had already died and I lived in a, in a pretty unfashionable part of the city. I lived over the river. And all my friends and all the people I knew, they lived in the in the cool bits of the city. But I always lived over the river. So I always had to, at the end of the night, drive my car back home.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Which I assume was a sobering experience?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah, always. I lived in a tower block. And it was not pretty where I lived.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Right.
DEEPTI KAPOOR: So there was always that feeling of being an outsider. And in India, we don’t have this thing of leaving. When you guys will start university, there’s the idea that you’re going to leave your family home. We don’t have that, at least at that point of time. My parents were not modern in that way. There was a sense that you will only really leave your family home if you leave the city or if you get married.
So I lived with my mom. Yeah. Always a sobering experience coming back home [laughs]
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: I can imagine, yeah, especially when you’re high. [both laugh] In your new novel, Age of Vice, there are a lot of scenes describing this jet set, right?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Well, when I was writing Age of Vice, it took me a long time to actually even make that decision to write about that time and that world. Being a novelist, I always look at it as like, it’s a little bit like a social thief or a vampire even, or a predator, you’re constantly watching people. The way my characters are, many of them are drawn from stories I’ve heard or people I’ve known. At least the initial idea will be a character is based on someone I know, and then the character will change and do other things. But yeah, I just used those years.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Using people’s lives as material?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: I will use myself as well. Like I will expose myself and, you know, anything in the service of the writing.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: If you go back to your days as a journalist; smoking cigarettes during the day, having conversations, writing these trend stories, partying during the night, were you happy back then? Was it a good decade for you?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: I don’t know if I was happy. I think I lived very intensely and I had a very intense relationship with the city, but I did burn out very quickly. So I think, um, I was around 27 or 28 when I was just ready. Okay, I’m done.
And I, it was at this point of time when I met my husband, my future husband and on a beach in Goa, we looked at each other across a room. And he is from the UK, but he was living in India at the point of time. So I think I was done with that world.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Done with that world and you saw a new chapter ahead of you?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah, and then we moved to Goa and I became a yoga teacher.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: This is a completely different career. And you said you didn’t think about a career as a novelist yet when you were in your 20s. When did that thought enter your mind, the possibility?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Oh, when I moved to Goa. So I worked as a journalist and I quit. This is Goa in the old days. It’s changed now. But we didn’t have so much internet. We lived in these little villages, incredibly beautiful. It’s a coastal state. Our house was just bordered by jungle. You basically had dial-up internet for about half an hour a day, very slow. So it allowed me to really start reading novels. I had read novels in my college days and otherwise, But it was like really to engage with writing and fiction and to start to discover novelists that I liked.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Was that intentional? Were you like, ‘now I’m going to read novels’ or did you just stumble upon them?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: No, my husband had studied English Lit in university in London. And it was just I love reading novels. So I loved reading. But I was living that life in Delhi, it didn’t give me time to read that much. Also I spent loads of time just stuck in traffic in Delhi, about four or five hours every day in my car listening to music.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Right, no audiobooks yet.
DEEPTI KAPOOR: [laughs] No, nothing. And yeah, so when we moved, there was a great bookshop nearby in our village and so suddenly it was just amazing to have the time in the day to just read.
Now I look back at that time as idyllic and as my formation as a novelist because this is why I tell people who want to write that you have to read. You can’t just write without reading. You have to like read a lot first.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: So do you remember a book from that time that really had an impact on you?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Oh yeah, I remember reading “The Sheltering Sky” by Paul Bowles.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: What’s that book about?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: It’s about a couple, Paul Bowles was a writer working, living in Morocco, American writer, but in the mid 20th century. So it was about a couple who, post World War II, go to, I think they’re in Africa, they start somewhere in Africa, I forget where they are in the beginning, and they’ve just landed in a port city. And then as they go deeper and deeper into the continent, they get more immersed in this kind of like world where you’re basically examining their marriage and examining their relationship with America, but also their relationship with this new world. And then it’s a, I think it’s a story about marriage, it’s a story about madness, it’s a story of like a post-colonial relationship of America with the world. It’s many things.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: What did it do with you specifically? What did that book teach you about writing or about novels?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: I don’t even know if it taught me about [writing], I was just so immersed in it. I just remember that I used to read it all the time, that it didn’t teach me, at that point of time, I’m still not thinking about being a novelist, I’m just reading.
Another book I read at the time, which really influenced me as a writer and made me think that I could do it too, was “The Lover” by Marguerite Duras. That is this short book. It’s so powerfully written and it’s direct. It’s confrontational. And that voice was something that I hadn’t read before, at least in Indian, in English, in India and by Indian novelists as well, because I think the way Indian novelists who are writing in English, we’ve all kind of grown up on classics, on Dickens and Hemingway, and these are the people you must read. At least that was the kind of literature I had to read when I was growing up.
So suddenly I’m reading something which is so totally different. And it’s a woman talking about her relationship with a lover, her lover and in Indochina. And it was just so frank and audacious. That’s really what made me understand or made me think that I can I can try something, I can attempt a novel too. I had a relationship with my first boyfriend who then eventually died which was partially what my first novel is based on.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: A Bad Character.
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah, The Lover was what gave me sort of the inspiration to write it.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Was that the same boyfriend who showed you the kebab stands?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah, yeah.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Is it too personal to ask what happened to him?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Oh no, no, it’s not too personal. He fell off a train. So he had this and he was pretty, you know, he led a very kind of bohemian countercultural life, a very outside, non-conformist life, very outside the mainstream. I came from a very conventional background, a family of lawyers, doctors, accountants, bureaucrats.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Right, so conformity?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah, and the path that is mapped for you is always like, you will study journalism and then you will maybe go to New York and try and do a master’s degree at Columbia and then you will get a job somewhere as a journalist and then you will get married to someone, an Indian maybe, not always an Indian, who is maybe a banker or something. This was my mother’s dream for me. And I just basically went and…
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: You took a slightly different path.
DEEPTI KAPOOR: [laughs] Yeah, I yeah, just a little
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: When you read The Lover and having that history with your boyfriend, did you want to write a book or did you want to tell that specific story?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah, I think and this is something I now understand. The first novel is always something that you just have to get out of your system. And so that was my my it was almost therapeutic writing that novel because I obviously had a lot of unresolved feelings about his death.
And the reason I led that very hard partying life in Delhi was also because of the twin deaths of my father and first boyfriend, which happened very close to each other. So so I think that made me very rebellious. But I was also grieving.
So when I eventually wrote that character, it was a form of coming to terms with those years. And it’s a short novel, and it’s been called many things. It mostly got very favorable reviews, but it’s also been called solipsistic, self-absorbed, narcissistic. And I think that when you’re dealing with a point of view of a single character who’s writing about sex and drugs and desire in Delhi, but it is one single point of view. That is something that you are going to get. But I had to get that out of my system to be able to then move on as a novelist.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Do you remember what it felt like to write that first book?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: What did it feel like?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: So a very, routine structurally, I had a very, very simple, I led a very simple life. So completely different from Delhi. I would wake up very early to go and do about three hours of Ashtanga yoga with a German teacher who had moved to India years in the 70s and was very famous. And then come home and just write in the morning hours and then maybe read or just have a kind of very relaxed day.
Maybe I’m romanticizing it now, in my memory, but it was writing with no expectation. Obviously there was a hope that it would get published, but I didn’t really know that many people in the industry and I think there’s something quite liberating with the idea of you’re just writing for yourself and then that’s your first novel.
And then if it gets published, it’s a big deal, of course. And it’s like, wow. But those years were spent just working with myself and the work. And now, of course, it’s a completely different world. And you feel like when that first book is out of the way and you have an agent and your publishers and they’re asking you what’s next. You’re suddenly a novelist.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Was there a moment when you thought, wait, I’m quite good at this?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: [chuckles] No, no. I don’t have that kind of self-confidence, I think. I’m always, no, there’s always a sense of, there’s a struggle to get what you have in your head onto the page. There’s always that feeling that what you see, you can’t get quite communicate across.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Yeah, Ira Glass from “This American Life” called that ‘the gap’. So you already have taste and you want to write, but then you recognize it. it’s not as good as you want it to be.
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah, yeah, totally. Everyone else can tell you that this is amazing, but, you will always see your mistakes that no one else can see. But then sometimes there’s like, you can try, numerous times and you can’t fix it. And that’s just your struggle. But at some point you have to decide, well, I’m going to show this to someone.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Who was your first reader?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Oh, my my husband, Matt. He helped me with editing and yeah, first reader. And then there were some other readers, friends.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: How did it get published?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Oh, again, very lucky. I got introduced to David Godwin, who’s a literary agent based in England, the UK, but he was pretty famous in literary circles in India because he had been the agent for Arundhati Roy, who published of course, “The God of Small Things” and she became a very big novelist.
So he was like, for all us Indians, it was like, if you can get David Godwin as your agent, you’re done, you’re made. So I sent him an email through a common friend introduced us and then he said, “Yeah, send me what you’re working on.” And I said, “Okay.” And I sent it and he said, “Okay, this is great.”
However, two years before that there had been a couple of rejections from other agents.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: For A Bad Character?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah. Because I actually was writing the novel in third person, thinking this is what people want to read. It was a very different tone and style. And when I got rejected and I realized that actually I am going to jettison what everyone else is telling me and just do what I want to do. And that’s when the voice came.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Interesting. So you had to forget about other people’s expectations?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah, and lots of rewrites, loads of rewrites. I got, I remember getting the first page and then really struggling with a lot towards the middle and latter half of the novel and then doing many rewrites, one of which I did in longhand.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: See, this is what I like about talking about younger years, because this is what you normally don’t hear if you look at your career, from the outside it looks like this seamless…
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah a smooth path, but it’s not. When David finally got that version I’d been working on it for years. It was quite polished already. It’s not something I dreamt up in six months.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: And when you send that first draft, were you confident about that draft, or did you still feel like “I’m just going to give it a shot”?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: I was confident enough that it now needed to be seen by an agent.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: And then you became a novelist. [laughs]
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yes, and that again was very strange because I lived in Goa and I had a very kind of non novelist existence, teaching yoga, but also just living in Goa, very bohemian. I wasn’t really interested in ever having a day job again. That was like my only aim, never have to go to an office, just work for yourself. If you can support yourself financially like that, that’s perfect.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: With writing or teaching?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah. Writing, teaching lots of freelance gigs, doing basically a hotel reviews, doing loads of travel stories because Goa is a holiday destination.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Anything to avoid water cooler conversations and fluorescent light bulbs?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Exactly. [laughs] And I’m lucky that it worked. Of course Goa was very cheap at least at that point of time. Rent was cheap, food was cheap, you could live a pretty good life being an artist and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I lived in Delhi or Bombay or anywhere else.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: But having this new label as a novelist, did it create some kind of pressure for you like now I have to live up to it?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Oh yeah absolutely. I think it takes some of the the pleasure out of just writing. Because suddenly the writing does come, it’s weighted, the weight, there’s expectations and will you be able to write something else? Can you write something else that’s different? You don’t want to be just writing the first novel over and over again. So all of these things are weighing on you and it just, there’s a joy that you lose, I think, when it becomes work.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Right. It’s like a catch 22, because if aspiring writers are listening to this, they’re not going to feel like, oh, I have to enjoy these years because now there’s no pressure because they want to be able to have something published. So it’s almost impossible to enjoy those romantic first years.
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: If I understand correctly, two of the books you wrote after A Bad Character were rejected, right?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: What kept you going? It must be so defeating to have these two books getting rejected.
DEEPTI KAPOOR: It was. And surprising, because actually when your first book gets published and you have a good publishing house, you think that, OK, you’re kind of OK now and they’ll support you. That’s the old fashioned view, where you have a publishing house that invests in your work and your thinking and ideas. But with, I suppose, capitalism and the idea that if your first book doesn’t recover its advance, there’s marketing people, there’s sales people who are gonna come in and say that, “is this book going to sell”? And it’s not just about the writing or language or whatever else publishers look at.
So yeah, those two manuscripts were rejected. And there was a time when you thought, okay, I don’t know what I’m gonna do next. And I might not write novels. And I have to figure out how to make a living. So “Age of Vice” was really my last shot. I’m gonna try and do this. and if it doesn’t work, I don’t know what else I’ll do, but I’ll figure it out, yeah.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Between A Bad Character and starting writing Age of Vice as your last shot, how had you changed as a writer? Beause they’re completely different. Well, there are similarities, but they’re in a way completely different books.
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah, yeah. A Bad Character’s very lunar, it’s kind of, it’s more poetic in style. Age of Vice, it’s political. I think…, I think it was just, I grew up as a person and as a novelist. For me, a formative moment was 2012. There was this brutal gang rape and murder of this young girl and the protests afterwards. And it was a moment of deep shame for most Indians. And for me it was, yes, the act itself was extremely brutal, but why did it happen?
It happened because of corruption involving out of hours bus routes in Delhi, corruption involving the police. So I started to look at all these systems and how they work and realized that as a novelist, I had to in some way examine them. Or at least, I can’t write those solipsistic novels. I have to find another way of approaching my work. And that really was what made me think about writing a novel that was also about power and corruption and complicity.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: So it wasn’t enough for you anymore to just to write about the stories you wanted to get out of your system, you wanted to cover a political and power structure as well?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah. I love reading Bret Easton Ellis. I love his novels. I loved “Less Than Zero” and a lot of that work. And I could have written a similar novel about like say the Delhi disaffected and elite and wealthy. But I realized you have, I hate to use that word, but you have a moral duty.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Why do you hate to use the word?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: I don’t know [thinks] I think I said I hate to use that word because I don’t want to be a didactic novelist or a storyteller, I’m not. You wanna be able to write about things and then you allow your readers to basically form their own conclusions. Understand the world you’re writing about.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Does writing with this moral duty in your mind, Does that, did it liberate you or did it felt like a duty? Was it harder to write?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: No, I don’t think it liberated me, but it just made me more, it made it more interesting and complex, the writing, the work, because I started to read a lot more, a lot more research, academic papers, about caste violence, about the way the relationship between politics and the mafia in North India. Iincredible journalistic work written by very good journalists. Examining all of these different aspects of power in India, how power is exercised. And yeah, it was just, it made it more interesting. And also difficult.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: And you said it was your last shot. Well, that turned out pretty well, because there was this bidding war for your book, like a week after you finished it, right?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah it was very surreal, super surreal I had a I was writing it and then there was a Frankfurt book fair which happens every year in October.
Three weeks before the Frankfurt book fair I was kind of almost done with it but and my agent said it was a great time, she had been telling publishers about this book.
First my grandma died. She was someone I was very close to and she had an incredible life story and I decided to go back to India for her funeral so that was this big chunk of time I took away. But my grandma was extremely formidable woman who had gotten married at 16, gotten widowed at twentyseven when her husband was a police officer, was chasing a robber at night, but he was a very fast driver and his jeep’s brakes didn’t work. So he slammed into a tree and died on the spot. And she had three children at that point of time.
And her mother in law blamed my grandma for the death, she was superstitious. So she went back to school and became a doctor and then a gynecologist. And then she was running this hospital in pretty in a pretty violent place in North India and UP, close to the places that I’ve written about. And we’d go back there for summer holidays and she’d kind of like rule the town with this iron fist. Everyone loved her because all the babies were being born in her hospital.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: So, oh wow.
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah and she was incredibly powerful
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: So the hospital was like the power center?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah yeah yeah and you had all these gangsters who were going, whose babies were also being born there. And she fought a battle with the land mafia of the day for that property, because it was ancestral property, but the land mafia were occupying it. So all of these stories were stories that I, family stories that you hear.
But when my grandma died, she, and it’s like a superstition, but she had this beautiful, it’s Durga, it’s an Indian goddess. She had a framed photo of Durga. who’s sitting on I think a lion and she’s like very strong and and I remember I went back for the funeral I saw that and I said that I want this I’m gonna take it back home and I took it back to Lisbon and in my hand luggage because I wanted to make sure it didn’t break.
And that was I feel like that has really like bringing that back and everything changed after that.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: How did it change?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Well the deals happened.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Right okay in that sense.
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah it’s like my grandma’s luck or something came with me, her power, and it’s a weird superstition, I know, but it just feels like she was in some way responsible and and then I had a magazine asking me – because I still did lots of freelance journalism to pay the bills – to do a wine story in Portugal to drive around drinking wine and write about it. And I said okay I’ll take that out, because well not only is it a fun story I also need the money.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: You don’t want to end up in that office…
DEEPTI KAPOOR: This was ten days before I’m supposed to [finish the book]. So a lot was happening in that time. And then eventually I ended up writing it, not sleeping at all and yeah it worked. It’s a story that never really happens and it happened and there was so much appreciation, so many people saying this is amazing.
And I was just hoping for one publisher to say “I’m interested and I’m going to invest in the book” because that would have just enabled me to keep writing and not have to have to worry about paying the bills.
At this point of time, my husband was working as well as a freelance copywriter. We have a very close friend from our Goa days. He’s half German and half Indian, but he grew up in South London, but he lived in Goa and he used to run a tofu business, organic tofu. And he was basically helping us pay the rent.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Oh, wow.
DEEPTI KAPOOR: So that’s how also the book got written, because Max just said, I’m going to support you guys.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Right. So it’s not just hard work. You need luck and support as well.
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah. From just friends who believed in you.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: If you look back on this journey, there’s still a lot to come, of course, for you, but looking back on this first part of the journey, are there any lessons in there for aspiring authors or young writers that you can share with them?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah. I don’t know if my own journey is instructive…
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: In this podcast it is.
DEEPTI KAPOOR: [laughs] It’s a combination of luck and hard work but also I just I feel like I didn’t follow the rules and that helped me in a way.
If I had basically done what my family asked, told me to do I wouldn’t have been here right now. Nonconformity helped. And I think the is also about just being super curious about people. And just going out there and putting yourself in unpleasant situations can also help.
I often think that I’m not scared to be in a place where I’m uncomfortable because I’m so curious about where that’s going to go. It’s just as a human being, but also as a writer. And, be just like, can I use this? And that’s horrible because you’re always looking at things and places and events and saying, can in some way use this?
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: I’ve never thought about it like that, but it’s a great way to cope with social awkwardness. Just see it as a source of possible inspiration.
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah. And also to cope with maybe horrible things to be able to use it, but not just like use it in a way of like where you’re writing, say, a thinly veiled memoir all the time or whatever. You just have to find intelligent, creative ways of using it. You could put it in a situation with a character or a character gets themselves in some situation. It can be many different ways.
And again, I got very lucky because I ended up living in a a place which was really cheap and easy to live for an artist for years and that really was my formation as a novelist. If I didn’t have those years ago I would never have even attempted to write a novel
In 2008, the financial crisis, my husband is English so we were gonna get married and move to London and we had these jobs in advertising lined up for us and the jobs vanished. So that’s why we moved to Goa.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: It would have been a completely different life.
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Oh yeah.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: And the thing you told me about your first novel A Bad Character, that it got rejected a couple of times and that then led to you discovering your true voice. Do you think there is an opportunity for young authors listening that’s a shortcut possible there? Going straight towards your own voice by ignoring all the expectations of other people you have in your mind?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah, absolutely. I think you can study writers, different writers, as much as you want and you should, and their writing. But at the end of the day, you have to come, you have to come up with your own voice. And it doesn’t have to be original, but it has to come from within something authentic. Everyone’s influenced by someone or the other, that’s fine. But sometimes I’ve heard agents or also spoken to different literary agents and they all say that we the first few pages is what tells them whether it’s a good book or not, whether it’s something they can work with. And often that comes from just voice.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: The nonconformity you chose in life, you should also choose that in your writing?
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Yeah, that worked for me and I think that every writer comes to their work in a different way but it really worked for me living this kind of life.
ERNST-JAN PFAUTH: Well thank you so much for this conversation Deepti.
DEEPTI KAPOOR: Oh no it was a pleasure thanks for these questions, they’re great.