From the cricket fields to international political summits, anything involving India and Pakistan raises eyebrows, questions and excitement levels in both countries. Shatrujeet Nath's recent bestseller, The Karachi Deception , is the gripping story of machinations at the highest level of the rival nations' intelligence agencies. Nath, a former editor at The Economic Times, grew up nursing ambitions of becoming an Indian army commando. He has lived that dream through his debut book sprinkled with spies, gangsters and terrorists. Full of unexpected twists and turns, the novel prompted a commentator to call it "a rare work of fiction that could actually be the truth". Nath talks to Charukesi Ramadurai.
You were a business journalist before you left your job to write fiction. How has this change been for you?
I think the change is refreshing and much needed. I had stopped drawing joy from journalism, and I could see I wasn't giving enough back to the profession. I wanted to write fiction, so the move from journalism was inevitable. I am much happier today than I was four years ago, with one book in bookstores and a second in my hard disk. There's another change at a very different level, of course. Now when I write, I don't have to keep checking after every third sentence to see if I've overshot the word limit. That is true liberation.
Spy-versus-spy stories are uncommon in Indian writing. How did you think of the theme for your book?
I find it amazing that in 60 years of Indo-Pakistani rivalry, Indian writers have produced so few spy thrillers. One would think we'd have dozens, given how fertile this geopolitical territory is. My book sprang from a deep liking for spy thrillers, and the complex games of deceit and subterfuge that nations engage in.
How much research did you need to do?
Tons, and then some more. In fact, only a quarter of the research found its way into the published version of the book. If a government agency were to look at the data in my hard disk, they'd wonder exactly what I am up to. The fact is that spy thrillers demand extensive, painstaking research - because the spy thriller reader is quite unforgiving.
Was it easy finding information, considering a lot of it could be considered sensitive?
Thank God for the internet. Without it, I would have got nowhere. Virtually everything can be found on the net, so long as one knows precisely what one is looking for. And whatever little gaps exist can be filled in with some leaps of imagination. That's why it's called "fiction writing".
Relations between India and Pakistan are always a touchy topic. Were you wary of treading on any toes? What kind of precautions did you take?
It crossed my mind that I might receive an anonymous phone call someday, asking me where I got my information from and whom I am really working for. Initially it did make me a bit uncomfortable, but at the end of the day, this is entirely a work of fiction, and I have no agenda beyond entertaining the reader with an interesting tale.
Your publisher's website says your book is set against the backdrop of global terrorism. Was it intended to be a comment on any specific incident or individual?
The book is indeed set against the backdrop of global terrorism because the story's primary antagonist is Irshad Dilawar, an Indian gangster who has taken refuge in Pakistan and is assisting Pakistan's intelligence agency in its proxy war against India. It is also set in the era after the 9/11 attacks, and America declaring the global war against terror. It is about a military operation against a terror outfit, so there is no escaping the terrorism angle.
Are your future books going to be of the same genre?
As much as I like spy thrillers, the answer is no. My next three books will be an epic fantasy trilogy based on Indian mythology and legend, where mankind goes to war against an allied force of demons and demigods. I'm not sure what will come after that, but I am very keen on doing an action adventure set in 17th-century India. The fact is that I don't want to limit myself to one particular genre. Stories interest me more than genres But still, there is a germ of an idea that's growing in my head, which could be a kind of sequel to The Karachi Deception.
Finally, can we look forward to a movie version of soon?
The funny thing is I started The Karachi Deception with every intention of writing it as a film script, but it turned into a novel. What gives me great joy is that celebrated filmmakers such as R. Balki and Govind Nihalani have loved the book and praised it for its plot, pacing and writing. But the movie business is extremely complex, with so many variables at play. So I can't say whether my book will ever be made into a movie. That it's a book that's being bought, read and liked is enough for now.