Who is Akira Yamashita?


Meeting Vasudev Murthy, the author of ‘Sherlock Holmes in Japan’, at the Urban Solace book club meet was an interesting experience simply because Vasudev has so many interests of his own: violin, teaching, consulting, animal rights, yoga, and travelling (to quote from his twitter handle – @dracula99.) He’s called his blog (http://vmurthy.blogspot.in/), ‘Music Literature Weird Stuff’. Again – interestingJ

So what prompted Vasudev Murthy from Bangalore to assume the Japanese identity of Akira Yamashita to write ‘Sherlock Holmes in Japan’? Vasudev explains that eight years ago he assumed the persona of Akira, which to him is clearly more than a pseudonym. He says the concept of writing as “someone he was not” interested him deeply. He began thinking like Akira, rather than as Vasudev. The blurb in his novel says “Akira Yamashita is an elderly Japanese expatriate from Osaka living in Bangalore. He runs the elite Nippon Star Academy…..his book “sambhar for the Indian soul” was on the bestseller list for years. He hopes to marry an Indian woman who excels in the preparation of that exotic Indian dish and invites applications”.

Quite a creative avatar for Vasudev, who by the way, is very much married. How do I know? I’ve met his lovely wife, who I heard is a tarot card reader.

Vasudev says he enjoyed writing the book, and it made sense for him to envision Sherlock Holmes in Japan rather than in any other place due to his own fascination with Japanese culture. His deep interest in Japanese literature, the fact that the first company he worked with was Japanese, his knowledge of spoken Japanese, and a visit to Japan made Japan the ideal place to set his story. Vasudev says he arrived at the title of the story before he came up with the plot.

The book came about when he wrote the first three chapters and sent it to Harper Collins and hallelujah! they accepted it. To quote Vasudev “I wrote the rest of the book in six weeks in a state of panic”. He says he had three or four key points or milestones in the story and spun the rest around it. For example, he says he simply had to bring in Angkor Wat in the book when he visited the place.

When asked how many of the different avatars in this book had an essence of the author, Vasudev admitted that writers, essentially, talk about themselves. He asserts that every book is a reflection of the author and it’s true with him, too. He adds that he has structured the story in such a way that several of the characters got to tell their version of the story in first person. 

When told that he has been able to retain the style and language of Arthur Conan Doyle, he says he is happy if that has been achieved, and it was probably due to his avid reading of the author’s works, which helped him imbibe the style. However, he is happy to have “smuggled in” his pet themes of vegetarianism, music, and animal rights into the book.

He heaps praise on his editors and says there were some sections of the manuscript that did not come into the book and he was happy to accept the editorial input because he feels it helped create a better book.  When asked about the numerous themes in his book, he says he was “lucky in that the Yakuza is a ready-made theme” and that “it was just a matter of connecting the dots”.  He sure makes it sound easy, but anyone who reads this book will see that a lot of themes have gone into it.

He says he has a lot of different projects cooking with different publishers and he might write a book on “mindless humor” inspired by “the complete chaos and anarchy” that he witnessed at a lit fest recently. Vasudev comes across as a multi-faceted, grounded, and versatile individual with a great sense of humor and all you Sherlock Holmes fans can order his book here: http://www.flipkart.com/sherlock-holmes-japan/p/itmdkv85gnu4zzdd?pid=9789350296691

Happy Reading!

Does Radha Thomas really have Men on her Mind?

On 8 September 2013, I went to attend the book discussion of ‘Men on my mind’ by Radha Thomas at Urban Solace, Ulsoor. This was my second visit to this charming cafe that clearly lives up to its name. I’d been here earlier for the book discussion of “Days of Gold and Sepia’ and had the opportunity to interact with the author Yasmeen Premji then.

This time, I was even more excited ‘coz the genre ‘chick lit’ (that ‘Men on my mind’ falls into) is really close to my heart. As I firmly believe, the next best thing to sitting with a really close girlfriend and having a chat is reading a good chick lit novel. They fulfil the same need that lies at the heart and soul of every girl—the need for a BFF.

And reading ‘Men on my mind’ was a fun ride ‘coz every line made me want to laugh out loud and nod knowingly at the author even before I’d met her. The tone is wickedly funny and the book is light, breezy, hilarious, and fun.

Radha Thomas has led a rich life replete with unique experiences and has savoured a slice of different cultures across the globe. While she admits that some of the characters in her book may have been loosely based on the different men she’s come across during her travels, she is quick to add that none of these men seem to have realized that fact. She clarifies that the book is based on fantasy and the use of memories and incidents to tell a tale.

When asked “Do you believe that women always have men on their mind”? , she wisely answered:
“Well, that depends on your age. At some times in life, men matter more than at other times. When you are a little girl, they matter all the time.”

The idea for this book germinated when she was writing a column called ‘Between the sexes’ for The Bangalore Monthly to indulge in a bit of good-natured male bashing. Once she had written 10-20 pieces, she spoke to someone in Rupa publications and was told that rather than string together a series of columns, she would do well to write a book from scratch. Talking about the writing process, Radha says once she started writing, it all just flowed out.

Something you might not know—Radha planned to include a chapter on penis sizes in the book, but did not do it since she received feedback from the editor that it might be considered insensitive.

She had also planned to call the book ‘What women are really thinking of when they have sex’ before settling on ‘Men on my mind’.

‘Men on my mind’ is the first part of a trilogy commissioned by Rupa publications and Book 2 is on its way! Talking about Book 2(which is yet to be named) Radha says “I like it better ‘coz it just flew out of me. I took just a few months to write it. I sometimes had to grab slices of time between dinner and bedtime to write.”…. “I think the book’s funnier. The protagonist is more mature. At the age of 30-35, she is more real.”

Who are your favorite chick lit authors?
I’ve never really read chick lit and wasn’t aware it was a genre until my book was classified so. I think men should read this book. It’s not just for ‘chicks’!

Who are your favourite authors/literary influences?
I went through that teenage phase of reading Ayn Rand and Dostoevsky. I really like murder mysteries . Leon Uris is a great airplane read. William Safire and P.J. O’Rourke are great writers who play with words.

Meeting Radha was like a welcome breath of fresh air, and reading her book leaves you with the same feeling!

Getting into the ‘writerly’ groove with Yasmeen Premji

Did something  new today. Went for a book club meet at Urban Solace@ Ulsoor Lake, Bangalore. My first ever book club meet.

It was a book reading session with a Q& A at the end, giving people an opportunity to interact with the writer.  ‘Days of Gold and Sepia’ by Yasmeen Premji was the book. I’m not a huge fan of Indian writing other than perhaps Indian chick litt, so left to myself, I might not have bought this book. I viewed this as an opportunity to experience a book club atmosphere and interact with like-minded people, learn something, and get into a ‘writerly’ groove. And I think I did the right thing. I bought the book from Landmark yesterday and wanted to get Yasmeen’s autograph. Of course, in the intervening one night, I couldn’t read the book. So I did the next best thing: Googled her:)

So when she stood next to me this morning, I recognized her. Currently, with no cable TV and living in my own cocoon, Google is my lifeline.

What interested me about her background was that she had studied psychology and was a writer. So I asked her when I got the opportunity whether her background in psychology helped her develop the characters in her novel, or whether it was her own personality that she drew inspiration from. She said most people take up psychology thinking it will help solve life’s problems, but only life can help in doing so, not the study of psychology, per se.

Another question I put forward was whether the fact that she had taken 20 years to write the novel altered things as far as character development was concerned since one grows so much in 20 years. She laughed it off saying she probably hasn’t grown that much. Since her book is more historical fiction than a memoir or a novel that draws heavily from her own life experiences, I guess this question wasn’t that relevant.

There was a lot of other discussion around editing and the characters in her book, which I won’t get into here since there are some things you’d just like to savor as your own memories of an event and wouldn’t want to publish on the worldwide web.

When I went to get her autograph, I requested her to write any message for me that she felt would be appropriate for me. She asked me whether I wanted to be/was a writer…I said ‘I’m not sure’….to which pat came the reply “Then you are”. I do hope these words are prophetic:)

On the whole, I enjoyed my first session and consider it a step in the right direction toward leading a ‘writerly’ life.

And I think it’s incidental that she is the wife of Azim Premji – Indian business tycoon and philanthropist, Chairman of Wipro Limited, and the third wealthiest Indian – because I believe every woman has her own identity.

In that sense, Yasmeen Premji is clearly an inspiration.

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