On 27 June, HSBC CEO Naina Lal Kidwai came to the Crossword book store in Mumbai to launch a work of fiction by a first-time author. Me.
Multitasker: Subramaniam did not neglect his day job when writing
Yes, I am also head of consumer finance at HSBC. But the CEO’s gesture summed up the encouragement I have received from my colleagues for my second calling. Kidwai said: “It’s not often we have a writer in our midst. We must give him all the support.”
But what I consider a real pat on my back was her acknowledgement that the book, If God was a Banker, had happened even as my business was going from strength to strength. That, for me, was the final affirmation that I had not neglected my career to focus on writing.
I had always wanted to be a writer. But a corporate life never gave me the time to write. Last year, opportunity arrived unexpectedly. My wife, Dharini, was away on work for long stretches. Returning home from work around 9.30pm, I would find my daughter Anusha, then six, fast asleep and my mother ready to join her. And I would have literally nothing to do.
That’s when I turned to the computer. I had no plot line in mind, but the background was a no-brainer. Having worked in a bank for more than a decade, the choice was very natural. Defining the characters and working out the broad flow of the novel took time. However, once I started, the thought that I could realize my dream of being a writer kept me going.
You could say that’s the way it has always been. Growing up in Ludhiana, where my father was a professor of engineering, my elder brother and I excelled in academics. We were the typical middle-class Indian family with high aspirations.
In 1985, my father left Ludhiana for Bidar in Karnataka. Though I was in the Top 10 in the Punjab University results for Class XII, I joined a small engineering college in Bidar to be with my family. Towards the end of the course, however, I realized I had erred: Despite topping my college and university, I knew a degree from Bidar would not be valued.
To be successful, post-graduation in engineering or an MBA was necessary. I cleared both GATE and CAT and, finally, I joined IIM Bangalore.
At 21, IIMB was my induction into real life. I was suddenly confronted with competition and the corporate world. In my first term, I won the nickname “Kotler” (after marketing guru Philip Kotler) as well as the Directors’ Merit Scholarship. At the campus placements, I joined IBM and moved to ANZ Grindlays in 1995. I’ve stuck to banking ever since.
Like me, my fictional protagonists, Sundeep Srivastava and Swaminathan, are IIM graduates who go into banking. Though I intended them to be grey characters, I realized when I finished the book that they were largely black and white. But I thought they still worked, since similar people exist in every organization.
I worked on the book for almost a year. Since I always intended it to be published, I also spoke to my colleagues about it. Some of them were scandalized, believing I was staking my career on an “insider” novel. Others were very positive. I sent around the manuscript to the HR and compliance teams. None of them had any objections.
If I had any problems at all, it was with naming my characters. Many names are drawn from real life: Rakesh Makkar, CEO of the fictional New York International Bank, is a dear friend and CEO of FutureMoney; Jinesh, a non-performing sales head for Western India in the book, is my top-performing sales team head. Hard-pressed to name an honest, down-to-earth auditor, I gave him my name. This is something Jeffrey Archer, one of my favourite novelists, used to do, but it’s something I got to know only later.
If God was a Banker is something I wrote for myself, working sometimes from 10pm to 2am. Since its release, people have told me they finished the book in one sitting. Pleasurable as that is, I’ve also discovered writing is a great stress-buster. I have almost finished my second novel, set in the Indian family fabric, and a management book, I Bought the Monk’s Ferrari, my answer to Robin Sharma’s The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari.
Yes, writing takes up a lot of time, but it is time I would have spent watching TV. If you want to do more in life, you need to squeeze 26 hours out of 24.
As told to Sumana Mukherjee. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org