An interview with the Novelist Chandru Bhojwani

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by Susan Abraham


The prolific Lagos-based Sindhi novelist Chandru Bhojwani who authored the  philosophical novel, The Journey of Om, is also a prize-winning short story writer and a magazine columnist for Beyond Sindh. He is currently working on his next two fiction titles. Bhojwani has lived in London, Mumbai and New York and continues to travel widely. He is represented by the Sherna Khambatta Literary Agency and published by Cedar Books India.

How has public response been towards The Journey of Om?

“Many who have picked up the book haven’t been able to put it down and have read through it in a matter of days, some in hours. Readers have expressed that when they read The Journey of Om, they felt as though they were reading their own words. The overall feedback has been fantastic and knowing that people relate to the characters at some level, leaves me with a warm feeling of satisfaction since that was what I hoped to achieve when I wrote The Journey of Om.”

How has The Journey of Om has a published work changed you as an individual?

“There isn’t any major change but I am eager to get more of my work out there and to continue writing my column for Beyond Sindh magazine, while improving my craft.”

What proved the most enjoyable part about writing The Journey of Om?

“Truth be told, I never set out to write a book. The Journey of Om started as a 12-page story and over time, I kept on with the additions.  After a couple of years, I arrived at the  point where I was about to start writing the final few chapters and I think that was the best part for me. I wasn’t sure just where The Journey of Om would be heading after that but to complete the book was a great accomplishment.”

What turned up as your worst struggle in writing The Journey of Om?

“The worst part was when I had written half of the novel and wasn’t able to add much more to it. I found myself writing chapter after chapter only to delete each one. During that period, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever finish the novel. However, after taking some time away from it, I showed a couple of friends the manuscript and the feedback I received assured me that I had something worth sharing. That was what inspired me to return to writing and to completing The Journey of Om.”

Do you like being a writer and if so, why?

“I still find it somewhat surreal to consider myself a writer and always have. Even when my articles were being published in Beyond Sindh and I received fan mail, I struggled to refer to myself as a writer. But now, when I look at my book sitting on the bookstore shelves and readers send me messages with their thoughts and reviews posted on websites, I feel like I’m living a dream.

“In addition, knowing that my work has touched and entertained so many, feels me with an indescribable sense of joy and pride.”

What singular message do you aspire to send out to readers through your writings?

“I don’t compartmentalize myself as a writer since I feel that will only serve to restrict my art. My portfolio so far includes a variety of genres from topical articles and film reviews to short stories and spiritual reflections.

“There isn’t a solitary message I hope to convey as each piece serves its own purpose. It could be to entertain, inform, leave the reader either pondering or simply smiling.”

Could you name your pastimes?

“One is playing and watching basketball. It’s been the most enjoyable sport since my teens, hence the reference to the scene in the book. I’m also a movie buff. I thoroughly enjoy sitting in the theatre with my bucket of butter popcorn and root beer and thus, escaping to the magic of the silver screen. When I get the time, I enjoy winding with a video game and I always need music, especially when I’m driving.”

How about favourite authors?

“Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy. I also quite enjoyed Conn Iggulden’s Wolf of the Plains,  John Burdett’s Bangkok 8 and most of Michael Crichton’s work.  On the spiritual side, there is Dr Brian Weiss’ Many Lives Many Masters and Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People which changed my perspective on life.

What are you reading now?

“Unfortunately, I haven’t had time of late to read much but I’m hoping to read Bangkok Tattoo, Lords of the Bow and Human Trace.

Do you like being a writer in Nigeria?

“If in the right frame of mind and with an uninterrupted focus, I could write almost anywhere. Nigeria has its own stories to tell, most of which I find amusing and hope to insert into a future piece.”


How about a Nigerian tale?

“There is one that makes me chuckle all the time I relate it which is often. It loses its charm without the Nigerian accent but here goes:

I was driving to work when I received a phone call on my mobile.

Upon answering I noted there was a Nigerian on the other end of the line.

With a loud, deep and gruff voice he said.

ELLO!’

‘Hello?’ I responded.

‘ELLO! I want to speak to Mista Ademola’

Who?’

‘ELLO! I want to speak to Mista Ademola!’


‘Sorry you have the wrong number.’


‘THE WRONG NUMBA?’ he seemed shocked at the notion.


‘Yes. There is nobody by that name at this number.’

‘Mista Ademola No de?’ he felt he had to confirm.

No, this is the wrong number!’ I stressed.

A moment of silence passed as he pondered what I was saying and then he responded with.

‘Ahhhh, ok.

So, what is the right numba?’

You travel widely and could relocate anywhere. Why choose Nigeria?

“I moved back to Lagos from New York to be closer to my parents. My education in the UK meant growing up away from them and I felt I needed to spend time with them especially that they’re now getting older.”

Has Nigerian literature influenced your writing?

“Unfortunately, I haven’t had the pleasure of reading any Nigerian literature yet but hopefully, that will change in the coming years.”

Where in Lagos do you live?

“Victoria Island. It was once a serene and pleasant residential neighbourhood until the banks moved there and now the rush hour traffic rivals that of Bangkok! Lagos has its charms but I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite place. I’m more inclined to the US and Bombay.”

Do you enjoy Nigerian cinema?

“I haven’t watched any local films but I do enjoy the posters plastered around the city. The one that sticks in my mind is The Virgin Prostitute 2. I wondered what could have happened in the first half of the film that caused her to be a virgin prostitute in the sequel. However, I wasn’t tempted to watch it.”

Nollywood posters

What inner gifts imbue your life as a writer in Nigeria?

“I do believe that my experience has equipped me with the tools to provide a new style and vision as a writer but I don’t attribute that solely to my time in Nigeria. I feel that my exposure to different cities, cultures and people everywhere has been instrumental in moulding me into the writer I am today. These experiences have birthed my spiritual side and allowed it to evolve. Like others, I learn and grow.

“I credit my family and good friends that have helped me become the person I am.”

Are you protective about The Journey of Om?

“Currently, the title is available only in India and on Amazon Kindle. I look forward to the day that it’s available globally. I don’t have additional attachments but I look forward to reader opinions.”

When is your best writing time?

“I write when I’m in The Zone. That said, I think it happens more frequently in the evenings.”

How did you approach the process of novel writing?

“Once I was halfway through, I shared it with my agent, Sherna Khambatta and a dear friend. I completed it with feedback and assistance. It was created ‘on the go’ I suppose.  After that, I made changed as when it was deemed necessary. I guess you could look at it as drafts or as I do, which is a foundation that was built on and detailed.”

Do you write by longhand or on the computer?

“I write on a laptop. I guess The Journey of Om has seen several over the years.”

Are you a cafe-watching writer?

“I don’t consider myself one but The Journey of Om does imitate life and the experiences of many.  I guess you could call it ‘fiction based on reality.’  As opposed to sitting in a cafe and watching people, I travel the globe, watch and interact with many and use those stories as inspiration. I suppose the world is my cafe.”


Do you carry a notebook for ideas?

“I don’t carry notebooks but if I stumble on an idea, I make a note of it in my laptop and refer to it at a later date. Often times, the idea of a good short story such as The Love Letter and The Darkness have turned up in the shower.

How long did it take you to finish The Journey of Om?

“The truth is I sort of stumbled into my writing profession. My novel was originally to have been a short story for a friend. But I was moved by the spirit and added to it and two years later, I had a stack of pages.

“It was then that I started to push forward and once I overcame a few obstacles and mental blocks, it was done. All in all, I’d say four years.”

How did you find a publisher?

“A friend connected me to my agent, Sherna Khambatta who read the manuscript and provided a lot of positive feedback. She did the legwork and contacted publishers. If it wasn’t for Sherna, I think The Journey of Om would still be an unfinished story languishing on the hard drive and read only by a handful of friends.”

Who is your favourite character in The Journey of Om?

“A lot of readers loved Mona for the connection. Mine would probably be Jim. His character is layered with subtleties and a balanced attitude that is as simple as it is genius. His life is practically problem free as he chooses to live it on his own terms for enjoyment. He also provides a much needed, brash, comic release for Om and the readers which I found quite entertaining.”

Being newly-married, do you still find time to write your second novel?

“I think I’ll have to wake up in the early hours while my wife sleeps and type away in the shadows.  All joking aside, my wife is aware of my passion for writing and has been very supportive. Once the dust settles, I hope to set time aside to write. I am presently about 30 pages into Bombay Pure, my second manuscript.”

Do you have a favourite writing place?

“A large chunk of the manuscript for my novel was written while in bed in Mumbai. I would type away into the late hours.”

How did you settle for the themes & plots as regards the two writing projects you’re working on?

Bombay Pure was an idea that seemed interesting and I discussed it with Sherna. It revolves around the story of a 30-year old Non Indian Resident who becomes an overnight dot.com millionaire in New York. He visits his home in Bombai hoping to reconnect with lost childhood roots only to be taken back into the reality of the city.

Whereas Bollywood Hero spawned out of a conversation with a producer and we thought it a good idea for a tv show. I find the idea amusing but am still just two chapters into the story. “

How about a favourite writing genre?

“I’m still experimenting with different genres from the paranoramal with my short story Saya to a romance with The Love Letter, both of which are available on my website. That said, I’d like to dabble a little more in the comedy/drama niche since I enjoy writing about subjects that people can relate to.

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