A conversation with author Karan Bajaj

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Karan Bajaj is an Indian American author of three contemporary Indian novels, Keep Off the Grass (2008), Johnny Gone Down (2010) and The Seeker (2015). 

Karan  also works as the Chief Marketing Officer of Aden + Anais in New York . His current novel ” The Seeker” has been creating waves all around and has received fabulous response from people. I came in touch with Karan through Facebook and was quite impressed by the genuineness and  positive approach to connect with his readers . I find his 5 minutes video on meditation and some  important aspects of our lives very useful .

In an exclusive conversation here , Karan talks about his inspiration , his books , his writing process , his deep interest in Yoga and also shares some valuable tips with aspiring authors.

Q) How has been the writing process for you? I have watched your few videos and came to know that you took a break for one year to travel and learn yoga. Does this help you to write better?

Yes – absolutely. In 2013, my wife Kerry and I left our jobs and apartment in New York City and embarked on a year-long spiritual and creative sabbatical. First, we went to a Buddhist retreat in the Scottish Highlands, then traveled from Europe to India by road on buses, trains, ferries and hiking with no particular destination in mind, deciding each day where to stop for the night and where to go next. Once in India, we stayed at the Sivananda Ashram in South India and learnt to become Yoga teachers, then lived in the Himalayas, learning meditation and hiking. En-route the U.S, I spent three months in an artist’s residency in Portugal, researching and writing.

Although I’ve been playing with the ideas in The Seeker for many years, the rugged external adventure of Max, the protagonist was largely inspired by this journey. Even the core philosophy of the book changed as my knowledge of Vedanta and Buddhism deepened during the course of this sabbatical. Throughout the journey, I also spent several months of dedicated full-time writing in isolated spots like the Himalayas and a writer’s retreat in Portugal. I had no cell phone or access to internet, and limited contact with people for weeks at a time. I read the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali over and over while writing. Many readers have told me that they’ve experienced a deep sense of calm while reading The Seeker, and I believe that’s related to my state of mind while writing. I was meditating for two hours a day, practicing yoga for an hour a day and writing with no contact with the noisy, chaotic world.

Q) The tagline underneath your website reads Modern life through yogic prism. Don’t you think Modernity and yoga are at loggerheads? How can they complement each other?

The Yoga Sutras say that man’s purpose is first, evolution, then involution: An eagle in perfect rhythm flaps its wings high, then brings them down gracefully. So must we first push ourselves to stretch, grow and experience the world, then detach from it. I think yoga reveals its full glory in the detachment phase but it does teach you a few lessons in the growth phase as well.

Right now, for instance, I’m balancing the role of a writer, a start-up CMO, a husband and a father and yoga gives me a spiritual framework to try to be completely devoid of ego or a sense of self in all my activities. So I wake up and meditate each morning as if it was a part of my routine, like brushing my teeth. At office, I practice karma yoga – doing the best I can for the company without thought of my own selfish interests. I try not to gossip or engage in petty politics. In the evening when I write, once again, I try to write or promote the book or whatever I’m doing with as much selflessness and honesty as I can. This is not to say I’m perfect. I stumble often but at least striving to live with the yogic ideal of complete selflessness allows a daily framework to approach life.

 Q) You have written three books till now, Keep off the grass, Johnny gone down and the latest one “The Seeker”. How different they are from each other? And do you think while writing these books you have evolved as an author or as a person?

The dominant theme that runs through my three books is how ordinary men reveal their full potential when faced with extraordinary circumstances. They’re all characters crying for the infinite in a finite world and pushing the boundaries of their existence in search of greater purpose. So in that sense, they are similar.

But definitely, my goal as a writer is to grow and become better with each book. So in a sense, I think The Seeker combines what’s worked for me in the past with Keep off the Grass and Johnny Gone Down—a thrilling page-turning adventure—with greater depth and meaning. At its surface, The Seeker is an adventure of a banker who goes from the dark underbelly of New York to a world of hidden ashrams and remote caves in India. But what makes it meaningful is the protagonist’s seeking answers to questions that have bothered all of us at some point or the other—why is there so much pain and suffering in the world, what would a modern day version of the Buddha’s classic quest for enlightenment look like and the end of it all, what makes for a meaningful life?

 Q) Your latest book “The Seeker” has been creating quite a buzz. Is it your own autobiography? What was the force behind writing this book?

In a sense, all novels are emotionally autobiographical since the author’s deepest yearnings form the genesis of the character’s motivations. Here too, Max, the protagonist asks many of the meaning-of-life questions that I have wrestled with.

I’ve also walked many of the same roads as the protagonist. I did a yoga teacher training course at an ashram in the south of India, I meditated in silence for weeks, I hiked through storms in the Himalayas and even crossed a glacier barefoot, just as Max did in the story. Every character in the book has the name of a real person I met at some point in the journey. Every place mentioned is a place I physically visited. As they say, fiction is real life without the boring parts!

 Q) Describe your writing process. Do you conceive the story and then work it around or you just go with the flow? Does the story take it over you after a point?

I start with a broad theme which is of great meaning in my life, then wrap it in a pulsating, page-turning story. Once I have that, it’s just a matter of discipline. I write an hour a day when I’m working and four to six hours when I’m not working—and just keep plugging away.

The bedrock of great writing is one’s ability to create a fictive dream so that a reader is transported to the world the author is creating with his or her words. A very rich sense of detail is needed to create this fictive dream. The moment a detail rings false, the fictive dream breaks and the author loses the reader’s attention. For such meticulous detail, you have to research very, very thoroughly and then keep re-writing until you become just a medium for the story to tell itself.  In order to make the beginning of my new novel authentic, for instance, I read more than fifty books on growing up in the housing projects in the US and visited the Bronx again and again until I could see, feel, and smell the danger in the streets. Only then did Max, my protagonist’s, thoughts, feelings, words and actions become his own. And in fact, I was not intending to visit the Himalayas during my sabbatical – but because Max was going to the Himalayas to find a cave for his meditation in the story, I had to change my plans to also go there!

 Q) How important is promotion for an author? There are so many books coming in the market nowadays, do you think the quality of literature has downgraded?

It depends on your objective. If you measure success by how deeply you’ve touched a few lives with your art, then promotion is immaterial. The book finds the reader. In my case, I truly feel The Seeker is my life’s work. The reviews have been incredibly positive as you can see on Amazon, the Internet etc., and people’s lives are being deeply impacted by the book so I want it to reach everyone. As a result, I’m doing as much as I can to promote it.  In the bigger scheme of things, I’ve spent five years writing The Seeker and less than five months promoting it—the quality of literature would be downgraded if it was the reverse!

Q) What will be your advice to the first time authors? Any Do’s and Don’ts for them?

My only advice is to live a big, interesting life, unfettered by the dictates of convention. Ultimately, a great life isn’t dissimilar from a great story—the hero reaches for a lofty, unattainable goal and gives all of himself to achieve it. Sometimes he makes it, sometimes he doesn’t but at-least he lives a life of meaning because he’s in pursuit of that big goal. The more you do so in real life, the better your stories.

I have also shared 7 Things I’ve Learned in 7 Years of Writing on my blog – your readers might like to check that out too!from a great story—the hero reaches for a lofty, unattainable goal and gives all of himself to achieve it. Sometimes he makes it, sometimes he doesn’t but at-least he lives a life of meaning because he’s in pursuit of that big goal. The more you do so in real life, the better your stories.

I have also shared 7 Things I’ve Learned in 7 Years of Writing on my blog – your readers might like to check that out too!

Thank you Karan for your valuable time. It was such an honor to host you at my blog and it was such an enriching conversation. To know more about Karan Bajaj , visit his website http://www.karanbajaj.com/

Books are my soul and I love reading all genres of work .My blog A Creative Bay welcomes new authors for interviews and critique.I truly believe constructive criticism gives an author new wings for uncharted territories. For getting your work reviewed or for interviews connect with me at my Fb page https://www.facebook.com/ACreativeBay or send an email at reach.shwetaa@gmail.com 

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