Actually, my first books to get attention were three short crime novels—The Iron Bra, Murder & Champagne, and Ten Dead Admen—also hailed as 'the first crime novels in English' by an Indian author. Vertigo was written first and sold first, but published fourth. The crime novels got a fair bit of nationwide attention and gave me a label that was tough to shrug off later. Even Vertigo was mistaken for a crime novel, and as recently as 2003, journalists were still assuming that my Ramayana series was some kind of a modern-day thriller reworking of the epic!
Frankly, Vertigo was a novel. The fact that it was autobiographical in parts, and intensely so—the title refers to the sensation that reading the novel evokes in the reader, by the way—is incidental. There's as much fiction as fact in it, and even my Ramayana books are very autobiographical, although only I know where and how. To me, it was my first successful attempt at capturing the kind of realistic detailed quasi-journalistic style that I regard as the most important literary effect of late 20th-century literature. Is that too pompous?
Sorry, but I'm just trying to tell you that I take my clues from journalism and non-fiction, and to me, something is fiction or non-fiction only in terms of labels. In reading terms, it simply is what it is, a story. The fact that it's based on truth, or not, is irrelevant to me.
For instance, I could be a fictional construct you made up and posed questions to for this interview, and then answered yourself. What does it matter that I'm a real person? It doesn't to me.
Bizarre as it sounds, it's at heart of my philosophy of writing. To blur the lines between reality and fiction.
You started out as a journalist, do you want to describe what that was like? You have some pretty strong opinions on the state of journalism in India right now, did that play a part in your deciding to focus more on novel writing? Or was the timing just right?
I started out writing everything: poetry, essays, fiction; but it was the poetry and essays that found publication first. Also, I realized early on that while journalism didn't pay much, there was a great need for writers who could comment on contemporary issues—or report on them. And I loved reporting, much more than commenting. To me, even fiction is reporting—except that one is reporting on things taking place in an imaginary place inside oneself, not out there in the real world.