Written by : Puneet Agarwal
Mahesh Rao, who considers himself more a reader than a writer, revealed that he finished One Point Two Billion quite fast as he was enthused to put it down on paper. He also revealed that the title itself represents the idea behind the book— that in a country of 1.2 billion people, every single person is an individual story— which allowed him to diversify his character and plot base and create thirteen of what might be the stories of few of those people.
He talked about few of these stories in particular, and confessed how these stories came to be. One of these stories, he admitted, is about a middle-aged woman who was introduced to the world of online dating— a concept usually popular only among the young. He revealed the idea came to him when he, sitting on a park bench, eavesdropped on a conversation between two women, who happen to be bashing (funnier than you might think) this middle-aged widow who was walking and talking with a man. This, he said, got him thinking how unusual it is in our country for a middle-aged widow to take up romance again. But, an author has got to research, especially when writing from a woman’s perspective. So, he went home and created a fake profile with his character’s name on an online dating website to see what would come up. To defend his clear conscience, he avowed that he did not reply to any of the messages, which were many.
He also read from another story, titled The Agony of Leaves— a story about a man who falls in love with is daughter-in-law. He explained, before reading out, that naturally the idea seems outrageous and revolting, but it is not impossible, nor it might be as distasteful as we all might think. The readout was magical, which helped everyone fathom such an idea, and disappointing when he stopped.
He also mentioned the idea behind ‘Heritage Land’ which represents the classic conflict between tradition and modernity.
When asked for tips for new writers, Mahesh advised that it is best to just sit down and start scribbling. Then, figure out a pattern and routine you are most comfortable with and sticking to it. No matter what happens, put down words on a paper. He revealed that, in his experience, a writer feels abhorrent and disgusted with himself when his daily quota is not met; and feels lively and confident, when it does.
He cracked everyone up when he compared ‘writing/reading a novel’ to a long grudging marriage, in contrast to ‘reading/writing a short story’ to an intense flings.