When Ravi Subramanian, senior vice-president and head of consumer finance at HSBC India, began writing his debut novel two years ago, little did he know that it would become more than a means of whiling away time while his wife was out of town. Two years, and three books later, Subramanian, author of If God was a Banker and I Bought the Monk’s Ferrari, talks about writing fiction, why he’ll never give up his day job and how his daughter is wielding his pen. Edited excerpts:
What is your forthcoming book ‘Devil in Pinstripes’ all about?
It is about a young couple that, by a quirk of fate, move into the same banking firm and then sees their marital relationship change into one of professional colleagues. One of the two is susceptible to political machinations. Over time, the individual goes from being a nice, quiet and coy fellow to a manipulative one.
Pulp fiction: Subramanian’s first book is still in best-seller lists. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
Surely a lot of the book is inspired by things you have seen and experienced?
Well, like any author, all my books are inspired by what I have seen in real life. And many incidents are exaggerations of real life incidents.
But did you ever work with your wife in the same company? Like the characters in your book?
Yes, we worked together in a bank for three years. But please don’t tell her you are going to draw inferences on our relationship from what you see in the book! Our relationship is perfectly normal. Only 20% of what you see in the book did I really witness. In other people’s lives, of course. The remaining 80% is exaggeration.
Is there a continuous thread that binds your books?
The context remains the same. And the name of the bank remains the same—New York International Bank. But I don’t believe in sequels or trilogies. I initially contemplated a sequel to my first book, but that didn’t make market sense. I would have alienated people who didn’t read the first one. Interestingly, my first book sells better today than it did when it first came out in 2007.
Going back to your origins as a writer…were you a writer trapped inside a banker? Or did you discover a passion for writing late in life?
No, there wasn’t really a writer hidden inside. Like many people, I too wrote poems and stories when I was young. I never thought of publishing any. But then it started becoming a stress buster for me during my job, which is all about worrying about assets, credits, collections and so on. I am a banker and always will be. See, even if I write a best-seller, I won’t make one-tenth the amount of money I make today.
How motivating for anyone who writes for a living!
Has the success of your books changed your life? Is it easier to convince clients to part with their cash?
(Laughs) No! I haven’t changed at all. It did give me a lot more visibility within the bank, both in India and abroad. But I haven’t changed as a person. My daughter is much more proud of me as an author. If people get on her wrong side, she threatens them by telling them I’ll write about them in my books.
So what’s next? Are you going to keep writing on banking or will you branch out into other topics and contexts as well?
(Thinks) Do you want the honest answer or the politically correct one?
Both...but the honest one first.
Thousands of people in this country want jobs in banking. So the market is really lucrative. I want to make my stand in this domain of banking. I don’t think I will be successful if I experiment. Remember John Grisham who wrote some nonsense about Christmas or something?
And what was your politically correct answer?
I need to do different things and evolve. Only then will I become a well-rounded author. (Laughs).
Devil in Pinstripes will be out in January 2009