False Ceilings, Amit Sharma’s first book, was launched during the World Book Fair, Delhi, on 12 Jan 2016. Employed with a Software Firm for the last ten years, he lives with his family in Delhi, NCR. Fond of world cinema, travelling, diverse cuisines, cooking, music, painting, and blogging, Amit’s top priority, however, is to make his two-year-old daughter laugh. That when he is not helping his teacher-wife with her prolonged shopping trips. Connect with him at twitter & Facebook.
Kulpreet Yadav: False Ceilings has been getting very good reviews, both by the readers and the critics. How did you manage to impress everyone with your very first novel?
Amit Sharma: I believe that the key was to satisfy myself first. I wasn’t in a hurry to present the book to the world and that is why it took six years from the germination of the idea to holding the first copy in my hand. The canvas was large and the ideas needed a lot of research. I promised myself that I will keep improvising the draft till I could read the book in its entirety without cringing at any part of it. It was a labor of love (as a lot of reviewers have pointed out) and I was very passionate about the project. Even though, my wife officially declared the manuscript as my mistress, I am very glad that the book is garnering positive reviews.
KY: A family secret spanning generations is almost a fail-safe formula that teases the readers enough to be attracted to any story. In a country like India where family values are undergoing change at a rapid pace, was the choice of this theme intentional?
AS: It wasn’t a conscious decision. The novel is based on true events, stories, and individuals that were a part of my growing up years. So when the time came to pen a book, I subconsciously inclined towards writing what has deeply affected me and shaped me as a person. For example, there is an incident in the book where a five-year-old boy is witness to a brutal burning of a Sikh person during the 1984 riots. That episode is derived from my life; I saw that happen in front of my eyes.
The family secret is what binds the six protagonists together but I would like to believe that the book is more about their relationships.
So, this theme was not a choice but a necessity and a resolve; a resolve to go back into the past and carve what has always disturbed me into this book. This was the reason I dedicated the book to my demons. It’s a very angry book. I hope that has come across.
KY: As a busy IT professional, I understand, you have a packed daily routine. How did you take out time to write this novel?
AS: No matter how much I hate the five days gap, I am able to write only in the weekends. I usually wake up at 5 in the morning and write for 4-5 hours on Saturdays and Sundays. If I get any ideas in the weekday, I jot it down in my mobile. It’s a sluggish (and sometimes frustrating) process and I take six months to finish what could normally finish in two, but I have made peace with it.
KY: What was your childhood like, were you reading a lot of books? If yes, who were your favorite writers?
AS: My childhood was very much like Aaryan’s in False Ceilings. I was largely livid with humans (but not to the extent of turning me into a misanthrope like Aaryan), in love with steam engines and dancing peacocks, and usually absorbed in a book sitting in front of a water cooler. I was a fan of Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Bronte sisters and Arthur Conan Doyle during my school and college time. I moved on to the modern classic later for variety.
My favorite writers are Murakami, Kurt Vonnegut, J.D. Salinger, Jeffery Eugenides and Margaret Atwood, to name a few.
KY: The intrigue that the readers experience throughout while reading your novel and the narrative pace that makes it a page-turner are two significant reasons that make it suitable for a movie adaptation. I have heard that there has been some interest from Bollywood. Is it true? If yes, whom do you think the role of the protagonist and other lead characters should go to?
AS: There isn’t a concrete movie offer yet but I have set the pieces in motion. Hopefully, something interesting will take shape soon. The story span of 130 years will make it a challenging movie to make from an art director’s perspective. A director who has handled a variety of timelines will be able to do full justice to the story. From a characterization point of view, the chosen actors have to play the full lifespan of the protagonists, which I think is very exciting from an actor’s viewpoint. For example, Shakuntala’s character was born in 1930 in Dalhousie; she lives through various decades of India’s transformations (and hers) and breathed her last in 2002. Her emotional arc moves from one end of the spectrum to another during her journey. Personally, I don’t think a single actor can play the complete curve but Vidya Balan is a perfect choice for Shakuntala as a married woman.
KY: You are also a successful blogger. How much has the experience of being a blogger help you to write better?
AS: I was a very shy and quiet person when I started blogging. Writing something and serving it to unknown readers to judge gave me nightmares. So, I owe the courage to even contemplate the idea of writing a book to the love and encouragement I got from the readers of my blog. It was a wonderful, enriching experience when I was in the thick of it. I used to post 7-8 times a month and my short stories were very well received. I was asked on several occasions about my imaginary book which was nowhere in sight back then. In fact, I can safely say that I was forced into believing in myself by my readers, a quality I lacked till then.
KY: As you have mentioned in the acknowledgment section, your book is inspired from true incidents. How much of it is actually fiction?
AS: Let me categorically state that the novel is 30% fiction. The setting of the pre-independence era story of Shakuntala and her marriage to Manu is largely based on the stories my grandma told me of her life in Dalhousie and is predominantly fiction. I have taken a few snippets from her life, like when she saw an owl (which is considered a bad omen) just before her father’s death.
Most of what happened in Delhi from 1950 till 2002 is based on true facts and incidents. The affection, friction, distrust and malevolence that bind the six protagonists are real. That is one reason the readers found the characters very believable because they were not a mere figment of my imagination. They displayed shades just like a real flesh and blood human, like they did in real life.
From 2002 – 2065, the story takes a fictional turn, largely because I do not know the fate of the protagonists who are still alive. The thread of the secret is fiction.