In conversation with Amit Varma yesterday evening
What surprised me most – overwhelmed me, in fact – was Amit Varma’s unassuming, completely down-to-earth manner. Even though this was his event and everyone was there to see and hear him, he was intent, in a relaxed sort of way, on blending into the crowd.
His novel My Friend Sancho was well received in India. One review says, "The mighty Bombay blogger Amit Varma’s first novel, My Friend Sancho, is a quick and entertaining summer read, which also manages to make some serious points along the way."
His blog India Uncut is one of the widest-read in the country with more than 40,000 regular readers, and in May 2009, it put Amit on the Business Week list of India’s 50 most powerful people.
Anyone in his early thirties with these formidable achievements already behind him could be excused for feeling just a little bit pleased with himself. To be honest, I do see little traces of smug self-satisfaction on his blog occasionally - and who can blame him? But this is why I was all the more surprised to see that in person, Amit’s entire persona says, “Hey I have no idea what you’re staring at, I’m just an ordinary guy.”
In Pune yesterday, a small crowd gathered at Landmark to hear him speak and read from his book.
I had interviewed him by phone and email when his book was launched in May 2009 (you can read that here), but this was the first time we were meeting.
We talked about Amit and the journey he followed to become a writer, and he said he had worked first in Advertising, then Television and later became a print journalist. His first major experience as a widely-read blogger was with Cloudburst Mumbai after the flood disaster in Bombay on 26 July 2005. Through this blog, people were able to locate and get news of loved ones who were stranded, and it became a huge success.
Amit said that he had always wanted to be a novelist and had actually tried to write a novel unsuccessfully years ago. But with My Friend Sancho, he started writing and knew that he had found the voice of the novel long before four major Indian publishers vied for the manuscript.
The polarization of Indians writing in English is well known: some write for western readers, interpreting and often exoticizing our culture; while others write, often with a defensive who-cares-about-THEM, India-is-the-greatest! tone, exclusively for a home readership. My Friend Sancho is one of the first in a new trend of writers who write for an Indian readership but can be read and enjoyed without stress by readers from other countries.
The event was well attended, and some of the well-known people present were Ajit Harisinghani, author of One Life to Live, the prolific children’s adventure novel writer Deepak Dalal, the financial literacy activist Dr. Anil Lamba, and the short-story writer Aruna Jethwani, short-story writer and former Principal of St. Mira’s College for Girls. After the event, many in the audience told me that they had been impressed by the way Amit expressed himself and his ideas. They also mentioned how much they had enjoyed the passages that he read out from his book – but this I already knew, having seen them rocking with laughter while he was reading.