Published: 03rd September 2019
This private equity professional has taken to novels to express his vivid imagination!
Manu Dhawan is a first time author who has poured his heart out in writing his debut novel, and he has drawn upon a vast array of resources to pen the book
Private equity professional, banker, serial start-up entrepreneur, poker enthusiast and author. Manu Dhawan is quite the man with some flair. His latest book, The Unprodigal, is a riveting narration that caters to an all too familiar audience – the ‘coming of age’ genre. The book tells the story about the adventures undertaken by the son of an exceedingly powerful scion, his unique relation with his father and the efforts of his grandfather to nurture his dreams. Published by Rupa Publications (a commendable feat for any first-time author) and boasting rave reviews, The Unprodigal is the culmination of the author’s ideologies, thoughts, realisations and personal research. We catch up with Dhawan and bombard him to know more about the book and the man himself. Excerpts:
What inspired you to write your first book, The Unprodigal? It’s listed as a ‘coming of age story’- did any part of your own childhood or early life experience influence your writing?
Everyone has coming-of-age stories. Everyone has challenges. Some they overcome and some they learn from. I did too. I have come a long way from a hardened corporate junkie with dreams of fatter pay cheques to someone who can find joy in sipping a tepid cup of coffee. My journey was long and winding. And I am happy it was. I have used my memories of places, people and experiences from my life to create this melting pot. I have infused drops of people I know – friends, family, acquaintances and strangers to create this ocean. Having said that, my childhood was full of love and I’ve had the privilege of having the most loving and adorable parents, a fact which has helped me to try and be a better man every day.
Without giving away any spoilers, briefly tell us about the book.
At the heart of it is the touching story of a man who finds himself in a treacherous situation with only the values and love given to him by his grandfather to fight the mightiest, including his own father. The man gives it his all but fails. But just when he’s about to give up, truth awaits him in the strangest of places. For his last shot at redemption, he must go back in his life, his growing years, to make sense of this truth. For it is this truth which will decide what he becomes – a father’s son or The Unprodigal. It is a combustible melting pot of three generations of powerful fathers and defiant sons. Exceptional father-son relationships high on testosterone. But at the same time, the human emotions and engagement are real and something which all can relate to.
What sort of research did you undertake prior to writing the book? Did you seek advice or help from reputed authors or other writers?
There is a lot of research which has gone into this. For starters, the opening sequence on a desert train chugging towards Pakistan border is based on a train called the Thar Link Express which used to travel through the deserts of Rajasthan and to the last station in India called Munabao. Trains were then swapped before entering into Pakistan’s first station called Zero Point. Although lesser known compared to the train which travels through Punjab, this is a very powerful and symbolic journey and if you read the first few chapters, you would find that the arrival times of the train, distance between stations, the visual depiction of the terrain, the dialect and so on are pretty accurate. Then there is a key chapter of the protagonist graduating from Stanford University. The graduation ceremony described in the book including the event flow, specific awards, the seating arrangement, description of the Stanford University campus, the Hoover Tower and the dried up lake – all are real and based on detailed research. This book is extremely special. Not only is it a culmination of a lot of hard work and passion, it is also a manifestation of my personal growth, realisations and changes. It means the world to me. I also believe that it is a message to people treading the paths less travelled – as long as you are honest to your passion, it will get up and say hello to you.
I have learnt a lot from Stephen King’s book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I also spoke to a few authors, Tahira Kashyap and Amish Tripathi, to understand the dynamics of the publishing industry.
What message do you seek to convey to your readers?
I like telling stories which gives people hope, positivity and the strength to stand by what is right. The aim is to make my readers reflect, laugh, react, question, answer, think and express one tiny emotion at a time. Or perhaps a giant opinion. Or a mediocre question. Or maybe, just maybe, a bright thought. After all, it is what we were born to do. The book is a moving read of courage, love, hope, failures and redemption. It also has adventure, drama and humour and will, I believe, keep the reader turning pages to experience more.
Many youngsters in India have strained or difficult relations with their parents. Does your book offer solace to those readers who experience something similar?
The underlying message, regardless of the relationship, is that you have to be true to who you are. No matter what the outside world says, no matter what rules are dictated to you, your genesis, your nucleus should decide the way you live and the way you nurture or not nurture relationships. The book isn’t really a moral compass. Just a story of ordinary people in extraordinary situations.
What obstacles or problems did you encounter when writing your book?
The only challenge as a first time writer is to believe in yourself and your storytelling skills. It starts with you. And that reflects in your writing. There will be people who will like and people who might not, but the key is to keep doing it. I believe that the heart to good writing is bad writing. You have to keep chugging along till you find those little gems and build on them. I’m extremely happy and grateful with the response the book has got. I was so happy to see so many children and young kids sitting in the audience and asking questions during the book launch in Mumbai. My only dream is to make my expressions reach out to people and move them. That people form an opinion about it and from it.
Please tell us a little about yourself, particularly your educational background and personal interests.
I am an erstwhile private equity professional and banker. I am also a serial start-up entrepreneur, having run multiple successful start-ups in the space of consumer internet, technology and content production. I did my graduation from Pune University and MBA from XIMB back in 2002. Based out of New York and New Delhi, I am married and blessed with two beautiful daughters. Apart from writing, I’m passionate about new experiences, great coffee and a game of poker.
You claim that writing was your first love but are currently working as a private equity professional and a start-up specialist. What caused you to deviate from your initial passion?
Yes, writing is my first love. But this passion needs time to nurture. Back in the day, we didn’t have the professional opportunities and options to study creative writing. While I continued working full-time chasing other pursuits, I continued fuelling this passion by writing blogs, being the editor of school magazines, heading the college’s creative wing and writing for monthlies. At the same time, I continued learning the art by reading great books and spending time online to understand the nuances of the craft. I believe that writing is chiseled by more writing and newer experiences. And when the time is right, you know you have something great to say to the world.
How do you juggle between your corporate job and writing?
You have to be passionate and committed to it. You have to do more. But the important thing is that you have to love what you are doing, otherwise you will burn out. I can sit through the night writing words and not feel the fatigue the next day because I am happy with what I created. And I am thankful for that.
What are your immediate plans for this year?
I want to spend some time taking this book to people across the country and the world. Learn more from their reactions and their feedback. Hopefully have meaningful conversations with some. I am already working on my next book and I’m super kicked about it. I have a feeling it’s going to be very special.