Abheek Barua, who’s written the terrifying new thriller The Beheading and is also chief economist at HDFC Bank, has a great playlist at hand when he’s writing: a terrific Blues band, Pearl Jam, Hindustani classical and Bach! We asked him why he found it easier to write newspaper columns than fiction, and how he writes fiction despite holding a corporate job:
Do you write everyday? When and where do you write?
I tend to write in random spurts, and my New Year resolution was to discipline myself to write a little every day. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to stick to it but I hope to get there in a couple of months. I wrote The Beheading in all sorts of places – airport lounges, hotel rooms, parks – whenever I could snatch a little time away from work. The bulk of it was however written in my study, on an ancient desktop computer. The machine squats on an enormous desk that comes with a bookshelf, with a somewhat eclectic collection of books. I am not sure who arranged them, but I find Alexander McCall Smith’s Scotland Street novels flanked by Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl on one side and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall on the other. So in a very literal sense, I was constantly exposed to diverse genres of writing.
Do you listen to music while you write? What’s on your playlist at the moment?
I do listen to music while I write. My playlist is just as diverse as the bookshelf. There is a lot of Hindustani classical vocal music, a number of Bach records, then Pearl Jam, REM ,the Tedeschi Trucks Band (one of the best Blues bands around if you haven’t hear them yet) and then some jazz piano albums. I also browse quite a lot while I write. I am a committed follower of The Voice and obsessively watch old auditions on YouTube. I also discovered some great Indian folk/Sufi music on YouTube that helped me unwind while writing – the collaboration of Mukhtiyar Ali and the French guitarist Mathias Duplessy, the Nooran sisters from Jalandhar to take a couple of examples.
How did you find yourself writing crime despite your occupation as a chief economist?
I have been a great votary of the clichéd work-life balance and find time to read, listen to music or play a sport despite being a corporate drudge. Thus fitting writing into my routine wasn’t terribly difficult. There was a trade-off though. I read very little when I wrote the book. I have been addicted to crime fiction since I picked up my first Feluda 40 odd years ago. But I had never thought of writing a detective novel myself. Over the last couple of years, I have seen some really riveting television crime serials – The Fall, The Killing and Wallander (with the brilliant Kenneth Branagh in the lead) to name a few. Strangely enough, these television serials made me think of writing for the first time. The idea was to explore if I could create something raw, gritty and dark in a setting that I was familiar with. That happens to be Kolkata.
What scares you more: writing columns or writing fiction?
I find writing fiction far more scary than writing a fortnightly column on the dry business of finance and economics. Writing a first novel is a humbling, ego-wrenching and physically exhausting endeavor, but deeply satisfying at the same time. I was plain lucky to find an absolutely fabulous editor at a very early stage of writing the novel who understood the genre well, made critical suggestions without being intrusive or interfering, and patiently talked me through (and continues to do so) my bouts of paranoia and self-doubt. I would say I was mentored very well.
How would you commit the perfect crime?
To find out how I would commit the perfect crime, you should read The Beheading!
To read Abheek Barua’s brilliant crime thriller The Beheading, download the Juggernaut app here.