“If Swapnil Bhatnagar was in a fairy tale, his house would be built of books instead of chocolate. He loves to write about relationships with their subtle shifts and twists. He believes that the setting of a story is a also a character within it, and should be developed with as much love as any of the characters. He is enamored by the fact that his daughter was born on his birthday, and thinks there is a celestial plan behind it – perhaps world domination.” this is what Swapnil has to say about himself. 

His story ‘Corporate Ladder‘ talks about how corporate ladders are not restricted to offices or even to legal work. It reflects on a much more visceral struggle, with stakes that are much higher than any office politics.

Please tell us more about your story ‘Corporate Ladder’.

The story has an unusual setting that you don’t really associate with the rather urban concept of corporate ladders. It reflects on a much more visceral struggle, with stakes that are much higher than any office politics.

It is difficult to classify characters in black and white here. Is Gopal a villain, or a hero struggling to overcome the terrible hand dealt to him? When can you say that ambition becomes greed? Whom do heroes owe their noble deeds to and why? Wherever your sympathies lie, the only true villain is the system that rewards strangling one’s soul, slowly but surely.

What was the writing inspiration behind this story?

Even as a child, I felt a lump in my throat whenever I looked out from my father’s car at the numerous children begging at red lights. This feeling was not driven by any noble thoughts, but by an early realization that it was but a quirk of fate that landed me on this side of the car-window.

Begging, nurtured by collusion by the very institutions that should prevent it, has become an organized plague on our so-called modern society. This story is my attempt to bring out the harsh truth in a way that hits home to the reader.

Do you have any particular rules or rituals you follow as a writer?

I wish I was disciplined enough to have rules! I have read of so many great writers who follow writing in an organized manner, spending a fixed number of hours every day. In my case, the method is different. I get fixated on a plot idea, or a character first. And then for the next few days the plot keeps percolating in my head. I could be driving, or be physically present in a boring meeting, and my plot and characters keep interacting and developing. Eventually, I throw off my lethargy and sit in front of my computer and write the whole thing in one go.

Yes, the one good thing I do, and this is something I learnt at a workshop, is not to be happy with the first draft. Keep editing, keep improving the story till there are no extraneous appendages. That’s when the story becomes worthy.

What is the first trait you pay attention to in your protagonist? Why?

Not just the protagonist, but all characters need to have an authentic back story that drives their behavior in the manner that the plot demands. So, for me, visualizing the character – her social background, her desires, her fears, her joys – is the most important part. Once that is done, the characters start interacting organically and the plot develops.

What got you interested in becoming a writer? Where do you go for inspiration?

I think I have my sister’s academic prowess, and my wife’s need for space, to thank for this.

My sister used to win cartloads of prizes during her school days. Fortunately, these were all fiction books. My love for the written word originated from all those afternoons spent poring over them.

I started a blog in 2007, and continued to be excited about sporadic comments left by readers for 5-6 years. However, I truly started thinking of myself as a writer, and completing proper stories, after my wife, in a bid to get me out of her hair for a few precious hours every weekend, pushed me into attending a writer’s workshop.

For inspiration, there are so many, many books and stories to read! Meeting people outside your own little social circle is also a great way to be inspired, though it needs to be done in a very deliberate manner.

Your favourite piece of work written by you. Why?

My favourite is yet not written! However, one story that literally wrote itself and is very close to me is called the The Fuse. It is a very simple story, but it poignantly tells the evolution of a relationship. It talks about the foundation of love, where there may be disagreements, but no one is wrong. It has got a good twist in the end, but more than that, it creates an atmosphere without using too many words or tricks. I am rather proud of it and the reactions it elicits. It was also my second story published in a literary magazine.

The first book you fell in love with and the author you admire the most. Why?

There are so many books! Amongst the first ones were the Three Investigators. Jupe, Pete and Bob had me enthralled and hooked to stories.

Amitav Ghosh is a perennial favourite for the beautiful prose he writes. The atmospheric writing just makes you sit back and become a part of the story. Ruskin Bond’s love for nature and hills seeps through everything he writes – he is the epitome of simple writing that affects the heart. There are so many others, but Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate is a unique one for me. Never too much of a poetry reader, this genius of a novel in verse just captivated me.

Any writing tips you’d like to share with fellow writers?

The one tip I can share, and I’m sure I’m paraphrasing, is that ‘rewriting is writing’. The first draft is just that, a draft. It has to nurtured, modified, edited, critically examined till you get a more readable second draft. And then begin the cycle again.

The other tip is to just write. It’s like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the more it develops.

You can read his story Corporate Ladder here.


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