Interweaving fact and fiction
15 December 2017
Ravi Subramanian is a former banker and an author of eight best-selling titles. Known for his banking thrillers, he has been the recipient of the Golden Quill Readers' Award for his book If God Was a Banker, The Economist crossword award in 2012 for The Incredible Banker, the crossword book award in 2013 for The Bankster and recently in 2014 for his title Bankerupt.
In this interview with Swetha Amit, he talks about his latest non-banking thriller and how factors like logic, superstition and greed play an influential role in decision-making.
How did the idea of In the Name of God come about?
Two and a half years ago, when I was reading a newspaper article on the Padmanabhaswamy temple, it intrigued me to see a temple worth Rs20 billion in wealth run by a private trust with not much stress on security. They were relying more on fear of god rather than fear of the law to prevent thefts. At the same time, I was reading a book called Flawless, which was based on real life incidents. It talked about the heist in the Antwerp diamond district, which is the highest-guarded square mile on this planet. I thought if anyone could pull off a heist in such a place, then Padmanabhaswamy temple is an easy feat for anyone who wants to do it.
I thought this may be an interesting premise for a plot and started thinking on those lines. That's when I started digging deeper and gathering information about what really happened there and how the different generations of kings managed the temple. As I thought more about it, I realized that the temple alone won't be enough for a book and that's when I decided to throw in a series of events like a bomb blast in Mumbai, mall heist in Dubai, murders in the temple and link all three together.
The book is partly fact and partly fiction. How did you go about it and where were the instances in the book from?
A lot of instances from the book have been drawn from real life. For example, if you look at the second chapter, it talks about the robbery at the mall where two Audi cars drive into the mall. If you go back and do a search, you will find a video of this incident where two cars actually drove inside the mall. So, most of the book is based on real life incidents however some parts have been fictionalised to avoid offending people or unnecessarily evoking negative emotions.
Your book deals with two ends of the spectrum - logic and superstition. Was it challenging to bring both these aspects under one frame which is your book?
It was definitely challenging and for multiple reasons. One was that it was a new territory for me. I had never written about anything other than banking. Every single chapter was a task in itself. So, it took me time. Secondly, writing about religion is always challenging because while you are writing it, you have to be careful not to offend religious sentiments of people. Irrespective of how you write and what you do, someone is always bound to stand up and pinpoint a fault at something that you have written. There is not a place in my book where I have been disrespectful to Padmanabhaswamy temple.
Yes, I have raised questions on the management of the temple but that's fine, since I am not the only one who has done so. Many other people have raised the same. Also, the instance where I had written about a body being found in a pond is actually true. So, whether it's me or someone else writing it, doesn't make a difference. I have written a lot of things regarding the corruption in that place but then again, I am not the first person to do so. Maybe I am the first person to weave a thriller-cum-murder mystery around it. In the beginning of the book, I have written: "When you read the book, read it as what could be rather than what is. Read it as a fiction, don't find similarities between this and realty."
There is an interesting line in your book, ''If you think something is right, do it even the world goes against you." However, at present, many people are hell-bent on following a popular trend or adopting what is known as the herd mentality. How easy is it to prescribe to your statement?
I would like to draw parallels to the world of publishing. If you look at people who stood out in this field, they are the ones who have written something different and created a trend. For instance, Amish (tripathi) who wrote on mythology, Ashwin (Sanghi) on historical fiction, even Chetan Bhagat, after whose book people began to read Indian authors, a lot more.
Someone recently asked me if I was a rebel. I replied that I do things what I want to do and do it in my own way. I believe in writing as per my conviction and not what the world wants me to write. If it doesn't get accepted it will hurt me but I can afford to take chances as I don't depend on books for a living. There is another line in the book which says with every successive lie, the ability to defend that lie keeps going down, and that's because you have to spin more and more lies. At one point, you end up losing track of what you have said. So, I strongly believe in writing what you think is right. An author has to have strong conviction and belief in what he/she is writing.
"Not everyone appears to be who they are as they have their own deep buried secret within them," is a statement by one of your characters in the book, Kabir Khan. In such cases, does trusting a person become risky?
Today, every person has a secret, be it kept from their children, colleagues, spouses or friends. There is not a single person without some secret in this world. The characters in my story are a portrayal of human nature. I would just say that instead of black or white, every person has shades of grey in their personalities and that's the reality. No one is completely good nor completely bad.
Going by your book and its title, today In the Name of God, people do anything - violate, kill and indulge in theft. Any thoughts on this?
People these days in India kill anything in the name of a cow, forget God. Religion has become such a big issue. People think its unifying but I think its polarising. The question I have asked in this book is: Is it God who kills or is it man who kills in the name of God? More often than not, God is the protector and its man who kills in the name of God. That is because when you say you have killed in the name of God, a lot of things become acceptable and even if they aren't acceptable, nobody can go against them.
Coming to the character of Nirav Choksi, who comes across as someone very sentimental about not relocating his business from Zaveri Bazaar. Superstitions and sentiments tend to prevent people from attaining success. Since there is this constant tussle between the head and the heart, how does one attain that balance?
I think it's very difficult to turn around and say one is a good approach and another is a bad one. Nirav Choksi was not sticking to Zaveri Bazaar because he was superstitious or sentimental. He sticks there because he is scared that he will lose power and authority over the people in the business.
Today, while people tend to justify decisions based on their head or heart, they eventually take decisions based on what suits them and what keeps them in power. Ultimately, it's the greed for power and money which makes people stick to where they are sticking. This lust for power is the main factor that drives human action more than emotion. It's very difficult to find people who are ready to let go of personal and professional growth for the sake of human relationships. The character of Nirav pretty much symbolizes that approach. He is merely acting from the pure desire to rule and not from his head or heart.
What plans after In the Name of God? What's next in the pipeline?
The next book will be out soon and plans are still being formulating.