Book Release – “The Alum Crazy about Trains”: In Conversation with Deepak Sapra
Congratulations Deepak for this wonderful book and for the response you are getting. First question – Why this book?
At any point of time, a number equivalent to the population of Australia is travelling on Indian trains. Trains and the railways are integral to the lives of millions of people in India. Other than the externally visible stuff, very little is known about what goes on behind the scenes. This is my attempt to open the doors to that world behind the scenes. The Boy Who Loved Trains is a story adapted from my experiences in the Indian Railways Service. Set in the 1990s, it captures the transformation of a shy teenager to a Brown sahib on the Indian Railways. The protagonist goes through a variety of situations, journeys to a number of places and deals with many kinds of people. Many of these are unexpected, many are unusual, but none uninteresting. It’s my belief that the story of The Boy Who Loved Trains will open up a very different world for readers and do so with a smile.
And of course, who else could write this better. Tell us something about your fascination for trains.
My fascination for trains began as a little boy of five when I wanted to be an engine driver. At 10, I knew the whole of the Indian Railways time table, every train, every station, every arrival departure time. When life offered me a chance to run trains in India, it opened up a new world, a world which i had been fascinated about since childhood. There is something about being on a train that sets the adrenaline racing. I have experienced this thrill on all kinds of trains – from the Sealdah Lakshmikantapur local to the Tokyo Osaka Shinkansen.
Has writing this book helped you in any way, as a person?
The process of writing helped me look at a number of things from the perspective of other people. As I got into their shoes, it instilled in me a greater sense of empathy and connect. And a much greater degree of respect for all the people who work tirelessly to make things happen.
The book is heavily autobiographical. Are there instances around your life in Railways that you did not put in the book?
Actually, the book is only partly based on personal experience. A number of incidents are based on the experience of friends and colleagues. And some of them are pure fiction. Similarly, there are plenty of memorable incidents that could not get covered in this book. Hopefully, they will find a place in the next one.
What was your writing process? Given that writing a book was completely new, how did you go about it?
This is a book about trains written almost completely while on planes. My work requires me to travel quite a bit and it was during those travels that I started recollecting incidents that had left a mark. Initially, it was not with the intent of writing a book but with the intent of capturing those moments as part of my blog. Many people had given me positive and encouraging feedback on my blog and that was the initial trigger. It was much later that I attempted to put it all together and give it the form of a book. The big realisation during the process was that a book is very different (and a lot more demanding) than writing a blog. In a book, the writer has to hold the attention of a reader for 60,000 words; in a blog it could be just 500 words.
I understand that you have some other interesting hobbies too.
Collecting stamps was my favourite hobby as a schoolboy, closely followed by collecting matchboxes and collecting coins, in that order. I loved all sports – wish I could play sport as well as I know about it. Travel has been a passion since the days of the railways. Connecting to new people and enhancing the repertoire of my experiences is something I cherish doing. I was one of the earliest members of the Hospitality Club and Couchsurfing in India (internet-based clubs to host travellers from other countries ).
You are taking me and the readers down memory lane. So does your book. When I read it for the first time, I wanted to go on a train journey immediately. More about the book later, tell us something about your love for TV (pun intended!).
Ha ha ha. I have been living without a TV for over 15 years now . It happened quite by chance as I had moved to a new city during the time of the 2003 cricket world cup and somehow , the World Cup passed by without me having a TV at home. That was the eureka moment – if I could live through a cricket World Cup without a TV, there was nothing in the world for which I would possibly need a TV. And so it has been since then.
Bravo! That’s incredible. Coming back to the book (now we know why you love books so much!), you also seem to be telling people to respect the Railways.
Of course I do. We ought to respect everything that takes someone’s honest efforts to run/maintain. Everything that we take for granted in our daily life happens on account of the commitment and extraordinary efforts of many people we never see, we never meet. Railways in India are one of those. India would never have been India had it not been for the railways. We owe a lot to it. You may actually find this message at many places in my book.
Any message for your readers?
The book intends to open the doors to the fascinating , behind-the-scenes world of people who run trains. It intends to take the readers on a journey that opens the human aspect of trains, train journeys and the people who run them. So, go for it to discover some part of yourself and your journeys in this book.
Finally, a question related to your batch at IIMB. What is it about your batch and books ?
Our batch (PGP class of 2000-02) today has more authors than investment bankers, maybe more than even management consultants. Karan started it all, followed by Yashodhara, Vikas Rathi , Ashish and Manav Mehra. Most of them have been very accomplished writers for several years and I have really enjoyed reading their books. Feel proud to be a part of the class of 2002.
Rapid Fire with Deepak Sapra
- Your Favourite Author
– Ruskin Bond
- One book that you can read any number of times
– “Tintin and the Explorers on the Moon”
- One memorable moment from your writing journey of your debut book
– There is a chapter about the protagonist contemplating next steps while sitting in a waiting room in Howrah station. I had recorded a video of that scene, played that video on my phone later and just wrote whatever I saw in the video .
- Your biggest inspiration to write
– My family and my friends who encouraged me on my blog.
- The actor who should play Jeet Arora, if this was to be made into a movie
– Without a doubt, my favourite – Shah Rukh Khan!
You can view, buy and review at http://amzn.in/dN95pQJ.