Saturday, February 6, 2016

Meeting Dilip D' Souza - Author, Activist, Free Spirit and a Gentleman

I met Dilip quite by chance a couple of years ago. He was in town to deliver a TED talk. My friend Anita Nair was in town to deliver a talk at the same event. She had an event to promote her book ‘Cut Like Wound’ as well. I was in conversation with her at the event and it was there that I met Dilip. The rest of the city had gone to a more high profile event with Amitav Ghosh or Gurcharan Das or someone else, so it was more like a bunch of friends that got together that day. Dilip formally launched the book that day and we stayed in touch since.
Dilip and Me

At the recent Non-Fiction festival in Mumbai we were both on a panel discussing cricket writing. That evening Miskil and I spent a delightful evening at his home in Bandra, bang opposite Sachin Tendulkar's house (Dilip's 'Final Test' is a critical evaluation of the Little Master's last test match), with his family.His other books include Branded by Law (about India's denotified tribes), Narmada Dammed (politics of development), Roadrunner (an Indian quest in America), The Curious Case of Binayak Sen and now, The Final Test.

For someone who is so unassuming Dilip is a much accomplished man with many awards to his credit (too many to mention here) and does many wonderful things. A BITS Pilani alumnus and an MS Computer Science from Brown University He writes mainly on social and political causes. Currently he writes a column for Mint on Mathematics and for other publications on sports and several other topics. Dilip is also described as an activist on his Wikipedia page - he is a member of the Managing Committee of Citizens for Peace in Mumbai, has worked with People's Union for Civil Liberties, Narmada Bachao Andolan, Ekta, was a member of Pakistan-India People's Forum, was on editorial board of the Consumer Guidance Society of India etc  He also supports Ummeed, an organisation that is engaged in child development - and as part of their fund raising walks the beaches in Goa - 55 kms a day every year.

Dilip was at the University of Hyderabad this week delivering a 3 day workshop on writing to the students of the Department of Mass Communications. On the last day of the workshop I stole him away for a few moments to speak to my students at the Department of Dance. It was an interesting question and answer session – why did you choose to write after a degree from BITS Pilani and Brown University and a lucrative career in software, how do you balance writing and money, how should we go about with our careers. Dilip told them that its about the journey. Though he is not trained as a writer he was drawn to it and enjoys the process. He’d like to be on the road if he wants to achieve something in this field.

We spent that evening at home chatting about this and that (including old girl friends and cricket). The next day I asked him if I could formally do an interview. Dilip graciously agreed.

Me: What is your average day like?
D: I try to wake up by 530 or 6 in the morning and get in an hour of work. Then the usual hustle and bustle as we get the kids ready to go to school. Then I get back to work again from 9 am to 12 am. Lunch. Back to work again from 2 pm to 5 pm. Some days I go to the Bandra Gym to play tennis. By now the kids are back home and hopefully before I hit the bed I try and get another hour of work.

Me: What are your hobbies? How else do you spend your time?
D: I read. Anything really. Non-fiction. Crime books. I enjoy reading Dennis Lehane the author of ‘Mystic River’. I am currently reading ‘The Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller. I enjoy listening to music. Older rock and roll and a few select Hindi songs. I love ‘Roop Tera Mastana’ and ‘Jaaneman Jaaneman’ which I remember singing with Vibha once. I have lots of music at home but don’t get time to listen to it. I was learning the piano and stopped. Want to start again. Want to explore jazz. I enjoy watching the odd film – the rare Bollywood film and more frequently Hollywood films. Then there is tennis and I am constantly on Twitter.

Me: Do you think your writing career is panning out that way you want it to?
D: Yes and No. I feel I’ve got to a stage where there is an audience that will accept what I write. But what's unsettling me right now is that I am not settling down to write my next book. I am not comfortable with that. I have written a novel – unfinished. I wrote 50000 words and then I got distracted and lost momentum. Need to get back to it.

Me: How has your progression been as a writer?
D: When I read my older pieces I see a naivety about it. But now I think I have become more nuanced. I feel when I read my older pieces that I was more angry. Now, I am angry but I can still put it across gently and in a better way.

Me: Do you think you found your voice?
D: Over the years I feel more like I found my voice. For long I think I copied the way my Dad wrote. But I think I write the way people speak so when people compliment me and say "I wish I could write like you etc" it feels good.

Me: How do you think you write?
D: I think I write clearly. With logic and reason. It's more about clarity. Style should serve the purpose.

Me: What advise would you give to any youngster on writing?
D: That 1)  Anything you write is about telling a story so find that story first 2) Look after the details 3) Flesh out the characters, observe people for little ticks that make your characters believable 4)  Provide a sense of place i.e. tell us about the place 5) Make connections, when thoughts come to you at tangents use them. Don’t dismiss them.

Me: Who are your favorite authors?
D: Jon Krakauer (Into the Wild), Pico Iyer, Dennis Lehane. And I absolutely love John McEnroe’s autobiography.

Me: And among Indian authors?
D: Naresh Fernandes (Taj Mahal Foxtrot, City Adrift), Suketu Mehta, Arundathi Roy

Me: Do you think there is a gap between foreign writers and Indian writers?
D: I don’t think there is a gap.

We ran out of time then so we wound up. But it was great talking to Dilip. We promised to catch up the next time I was in Mumbai and do a reality tour of Dharavi slums. That sounds interesting. In fact many things that Dilip does sound interesting like his campaigning for Ummeed and one gets the feeling that just by walking beside him and about him you will experience life at a whole new plane. Its an angle I like and admire. There is also a sense of balance about it all as he goes about it - his fine sense of humour and his firm, nonjudgmental and critical eye surely goes a long way into making it all fit into the same frame and coexist. So its easy to talk of my own superficial experiences with life and know he will listen with no judgment while I know that if I do scratch the surface of the subject matter of any of his books we would need days to even get to the heart of the matter be it denotified tribes or Narmada Bachao or Binayak Sen or Sachin Tendulkar or Mathematics or John McEnroe or Jazz music. Explosive stuff. I know nothing about most of the above. I will save that all for another interview (my excuse to ask stupid questions really!

Thanks Dilip. See you soon.


Rajendra said...

Can TEDdy buddy be a new term for TED Talker buddies?

Harimohan said...

Hmmm...good name for a club.