XIII Supercall

Dilip D’Souza  trained in engineering (BITS Pilani) and computer science (Brown University). For years, he worked in software in the US (8 years) and then in India (13 years). At some point he began writing, and soon realized that was where his passion lay. He has published four books (before this one, “Roadrunner: An Indian Quest in America”) and has won several awards for his writing, including the Newsweek/Daily Beast Prize for South Asia Commentary. He lives in Bombay with his wife Vibha, children Surabhi and Sahir, and cats Cleo and Aziz. His new book of non-fiction The Curious Case of Binayak Sen has just been published by HarperCollins India.

* Soaring into heaven moment:

Probably when I realized just how obviously hopeless was the evidence the prosecution presented in court against Sen. Because it struck me that I didn’t need any legal training to recognize it as such. I couldn’t help thinking that anyone who looked at it all would be as perplexed as I was by how weak and empty this evidence was. Not that I expect the case to easily wither away because I happened to realize this about the evidence. But at least it gave me material to write about, and — I hope — material for my readers to think about.

* That infernal fire time:

My manuscript went to an editor who did two things: one, found a fair amount of repetition and overemphasized points that I cleaned up, for which I was very grateful. Two, tried to change, it seemed to me, nearly every sentence I wrote, for which I was not grateful at all. Wading through all that in search of the useful things was annoying and dismaying.

There were points when I felt I couldn’t even see the end of this process; and when would the book come out? Infernal’s a strangely appropriate word.

* The purgatory point:

Oddly enough, about a month before I first thought of writing this book: December 24, 2010, when Binayak Sen was sentenced to life in prison. I hadn’t even met him then. But I was despondent that my country had decided to come down so hard, for no clear reason — I knew it even then — on this man. What did that say about us, about our democracy, our judicial system? For all my cynicism about where we are, for all I feel I know about the venality of our politics, this was still a low point. Where have we reached when a doctor in rural India can be given a life sentence, only because he stepped on some powerful toes?

* 1.5 years, I don’t know how many drafts and 50000 words thereafter, would I do this differently and again?

Certainly again. And again. It may have been depressing, as I perhaps indicate above, but the process of researching and writing this book was a great intellectual stimulation. I love reading and analysing, and this gave me plenty of opportunity to do that. Would I do it differently? Unlikely. Maybe change around the order of the chapters slightly, that’s all.

By and large, it’s about what I wanted to achieve: a relatively slim book that would make its case without going into every detail, a book that doesn’t amount to a biography of Sen, etc. So I don’t think I would do it very differently if I was starting out again.

* What does Dilip D’Souza the writer – Fear the most?

Probably unalloyed praise, because I always worry that it will turn my head and leave me complacent about my writing. When I write, I want to be thinking always that what I’ve written can stand to be improved. That is, that I’m not good enough yet. That little bit of uncertainty is what I need to keep myself working hard, striving to get better. I greatly fear losing it.

– Desire the most?

The ability to make readers think. The day I give up on the pursuit of that ideal is the day I think I’ll have to give up writing.

– Hate the most?

Hypocrisy, and being accused of it. The one thing I try to do in my writing is to be true to myself, to be myself. Readers don’t have to agree with me and my views. But to turn disagreement into an accusation of dishonesty, hypocrisy: I find this not just personally abusive, but a dismaying snapshot of the place for dialogue.

Why is it hard to assume about the other guy that, despite your disagreements, he is a thinking person who came to his views via much the same process of reason you believe brought you to your views?

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