06 August 2009

Faking it by Amrita Chowdhury

One world for the artist, another for the buyer
This book is set in an extremely well-constructed

and authentic Bombay. It is, however, a Bombay where you travel not by “local” train but in a luxurious car driven by a liveried chauffeur. Where you eat not vada-pau stuffed with green chillies and dry spicy garlic powder at a street vendor’s – but linguini (in a pastou of walnuts, olives and roasted apples and prime steak – perfectly presented on large creamy platters). It’s not a Bombay where you perspire all day in a soupy atmosphere of diesel fumes and dried fish but one where the wintry air-conditioning has you all draped in pashmina as you recline on velvet sofas.

It’s a fun book, well written and racy. What I liked most about it was the easy understanding it presented of the art world. Best of all was when a character says:
“It speaks to me like no other painting has ever done. It gave me comfort and strength when my own world was falling apart. I drew my courage from it. How can it be a fake if the emotions it elicits are so genuine?”
In a world where people “love” paintings only when others have first endorsed them, I thought this statement might encourage us to try and understand how to develop an appreciation for art on our own.

Amrita Chowdhury has engineering degrees from IIT Kanpur and Berkeley, and an MBA from Carnegie Mellon. But she has always wanted to write. When she moved back to India she decided

to take a short sabbatical from management consulting to pursue that dream and write this book. “It was a sane way to settle down,” she says, “to write full time and get to spend some quality time with my kids. Time is a precious commodity when you are working in professional services and have young kids. Since this was my first book, there was a steep learning curve and I am glad I did it the way I did.”

She’s back at work now, as Associate Director of Harvard Business School India Research Centre – but also working on her next book, “a coming of age thriller that promises to be even more fun” which is likely to be out by end 2010.

Tara Malhotra, the heroine of Faking It, is a Finance professional. When her husband accepts a job promotion and transfer back to Bombay from the U.S. where they live, she follows sulkily. I asked Amrita what she personally has in common with Tara and she said, “Tara is as ‘autobiographical or not’ as most book protagonists are. She is definitely drawn from the sum of my experiences and perceptions - myself, people around me, society around me, and how I perceive or infer it.

“Am I Tara? No. That said, yes I have lived overseas for 15 years and then moved back to India with my family. I am a wife and mother. So I fit the general bill. I love collecting art. I started pretty late- 2001ish... a couple of years after my MBA. It was already too late to enter the market - by the early 2000s, it was already peaking rapidly.”

She added:

“My book was inspired not by one specific thought or incident, rather by an overall love of art. Indian contemporary Art has not been explored in fiction before and I thought it would be fun to do it. Prices have been rising. Forgeries have happened. So to add drama to the story, the forgery angle seemed a good one.

“Plus, there has been in recent years the whole reverse migration process that has been happening since Indian economy has blossomed. There are exciting prospects and many challenges. I wanted to capture that in fiction as well. Sort of "India Unbound" but in fiction. We all hear about the poverty and madness and chaos in Indian literature, and yes it exists. Tara herself sees that from her privileged confines. But through Tara we can see another world - of the rise of the Indian bourgeoisie, how they play on the global stage now. While Tara is aware of the things around her that do not work, she is also very aware of how much India has changed in the past ten years. Upward mobility, aspiration- not a possibility in 70s and 80s in India, is happening to young men and women across India. Yes, the problems still exist. But hey, has there been progress since our parents generation? Yes there has. My book tries to depict all that.”

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