They say a journalist’s greatest ecstasy and worst fear coalesce when interviewing an author. Because when a writer writes about a writer- literature sparks can fly. And this is exactly what happens when, in a conversation more interesting than their chocolaty mochas, Harsh Snehanshu – author of national bestseller “Oops! I fell in love!” and co-founder of “thewittyshit.com”, tells Abhilasha Dafria for YourStory , what propelled this IIT Delhi graduate to put pen to paper, emotions to words, humour to fiction, books to life and life back to equilibrium.
1. So Harsh, before we get to the detailing, please tell me in a nutshell about you and your start-up.
-> Well, I’m 21. IIT Delhi graduate, yes, after much speculation and sincere prayers- I did pass. Writing is my first love and I had my first novel ‘Oops! I fell in love!’, an erroneous love story, published two years ago. Besides looking forward to having my second book out on stands sometime soon, right now- Im engaged with my year-old creative entrepreneurial venture called thewittyshit.com, a one-of-its-kind creative networking platform.
2. I’m quite sure I said ‘nutshell’
-> Fine, in a nutshell- I’m an Engineer by degree, an Author by desire, and an Entrepreneur by deeds.
3. That was crisp and witty. Which reminds me- ‘Because wit happens’. That’s the motto your website bears testimony to. But before we discuss the wit, I’m curious to know how you marshaled the grit to amble this avenue.
-> I co-founded this venture with a friend because we saw an opportunity to monetize traces of creativity in common people. We saw that owing to the advent of facebook and twitter as social networking giants, many people started writing one-liners, which were sometimes witty and original. So we created this platform to give the common man recognition, voice and get their creativity reach a wider audience alongwith fetching them incentives.
4. What incentives do you talk about?
-> Incentives- as in both tangible as well as recognition. Monetary incentives include royalty, if an original quote gets selected for our merchandized product or if a submitted one-liner can serve as a tagline for corporates. Recognition - if a one-liner gets popular, the contributor’s name could be widely known.
5. Interesting.But like any other entrepreneur,didn’t you too contemplate the uncertainties that involved in initiating this venture? Or somewhere deep in your heart- there lies a Plan B?
-> Both of us, the co-founders of our venture, didn’t participate in our campus placements. We wanted to take the risk of plunging into the unknown, just because we were passionate about it. We still don’t know whether it’ll get what we visualize, but we are pretty sure that we are going to love the journey, because we love what we are doing. And when your work is your passion, there is no need of a Plan B.
6. When working for the website was your passion- How did you plunge into writing novels?
-> I have been writing since five years now. Entrepreneurship is something that happened very recently. Writing is my hobby and I wish to continue with it part-time for at least another 10 years. However, presently, I intend to continue with entrepreneurship full-time. The best thing about writing is that it can be managed and we can, even as working professionals, take out at least four to five hours a week to complete a book in the time-span of six-months to a year. I’d take up full-time writing sometime later on in life, when I could afford to take a backseat from my venture and be the ‘gardener’ for the same.
7. Isn’t the latest wave that has hit the Indian literary territory is young graduates of top instis taking up writing? I’m sure I echo the sentiments of many when I ask you here: What on earth makes IIT/IIM authors so special?
-> I don’t think IIT/IIM authors are any more special than others. The only difference is that publishers are receptive to hear their stories more than others, just because the market seems receptive. I think the market is receptive because a vast majority of Indian youth prepare for IITs and IIMs and these institutes are held in great awe. A well-written story about them, thus has a better chance to get popular amongst the youth for it feeds their curiosity about what happens within the compound walls of these institutes.
8. Now your first book ‘Oops! I fell in love!’ was based on an IIT campus too, and did recognisably well in the market. Did you fear being stereotyped?
-> Yes, I did fear, at times. But, thankfully, I'm evolving as a writer with every passing day, and I think I’d be able to make a distinct mark for myself two-three years down the line, when I work on the non-cliched themes that I’ve in my mind. Currently, owing to my involvement in my venture, writing light fiction works as a much required mood-freshener for me. However, serious plots that I wish to write about later on, would require in depth research and hence a lot of time, which I might be able to devote only when my mind is relatively less cluttered.
9. So how did this plot fabricate in your cluttered mind? And how did you convince Srishti Publishers to it?
-> It was a serendipity. I didn’t have any plans of publishing when I began writing. The story traces back to 28th September, 2008. It was a Sunday, I had plans to go out and enjoy the only day of 'aaram' my alma-mater had bestowed upon me. Imposing great discipline on my lazy bones, I got up early in the morning to execute my excursion plan lucidly. But just as I was about to leave, my Mom and sister called me to inform, "Harsh, don't go out! There has been a bomb blast in Mehrauli. It's not safe."
I was enraged. My eagerness of a pleasant September Sunday was brutally murdered by the sudden act of terrorism. I sat down in front of my computer and my anger instigated my mind to construct something destructive. The rage poured out through my fingers onto the keyboard. I planned to write a sarcastic plus funny short-story which struck a chord with the hot-topic of the day - 'How terrorism affects the life of a common guy who has to go on his first date?'
The short story turned into a voluminous novel and I published it on my blog. I encountered a brilliant response from bloggers, readers from all around, with over 5000 hits in just one month. My father, jokingly asked me to contact publishers, which I did. Srishti’s editorial team liked my writing style and were impressed with the response that they had seen on my blog. They expressed an affirmative response to publish my work in just one day. Yes, just one day. I consider myself lucky.
10. Who have been your inspirations?
-> My biggest inspiration is the joy in reading what I’ve written. I write to read. And laugh. It’s an amazing feeling when I burst into laughter reading something that I’ve written.
11. But you’d know what I mean, when I say- there are a lot who opine that light-reads, such as these, are commercially targeted to the average audience- in lieu of avid readers, who seek the so-called ‘intellectual highs’ of literature. Your thoughts, Harsh.
-> I infact agree to it. But it’s important for people to acknowledge that entertainment is just as important as these ‘intellectual highs’. What if all the movies in India had been ala Guzarish or Black? Despite those being outstanding movies, life would have been incomplete without Paresh Rawal’s riotous laughter sequences in Hungama or Hera Pheri. It’s necessary for the intelligentsia to understand this, because, as an entrepreneur, I can say that nothing sells in the market that doesn’t serve a purpose. Light fiction serves a great purpose, of not only entertaining people and reducing stress-levels, but also inculcating reading habits in many of those, who otherwise would have never opted reading and who could, eventually in the long run, elevate their level from light fiction to classic literature.
12. So, did you have nervous-breakdowns when the book was out for publishing? How would you advise nascent authors of the country to cope up with the critics?
-> Nervous breakdowns- Not really. Whenever you do anything different and ambitious, critics always emerge. Be it my novel or my venture, I’ve encountered them all the time. The best advice for authors to cope up with critics is to take the good things from their criticism and discard the things which don’t add value. Other than critics, it’s the cynics who bother authors the most. The best way to tackle them is to ignore them. Nothing annoys them more.
13. Okay, I’m coming back to your book- but I want you to tell me a little something more about the website. Say I type ‘thewittyshit.com’ in my Firefox browser on a random Tuesday morning. What must greet me?
-> You must have visited an art gallery. Suppose you like a painting, you feel like connecting with the artist. Unlike social networking, where meeting someone in the real world, drives you to network with him/her in the virtual world, art gallery offers a completely different kind of networking where it’s the creativity of the common man which drives you to connect. We call it creative networking. thewittyshit.com (TWS) is one such website.
Currently, we’re adding features to the website. On a random visit to the website, you’ll find many witty one-liners submitted by common people like you and I. It has a fun-zone section where you could display your literary creativity and get noticed, a contest section where you could earn cash awards for coming up with witty punchlines for corporates. The contest section is under construction, and would be launched in sometime. We are also working on Wit-store, a complete online store, for wit-based products such as tees, mugs etc, which will be a common man’s creation.
14. You know, a journalist has to be careful about her choice of words. I’m living in the virtual terror of losing my job everytime I take the name of your website! www.thewittyshit.com. Seriously, why?
-> Because it reflects us. We’re different, funny and youthful. I can bet you’re never going to forget the name, which also makes us unforgettable!
15. Talking about names. It is rumoured that “oops..” has a sequel. And the sequel has a mystery. And the mystery is the name. Enlighten please.
-> The question that I was waiting for. Yes. I’ve completed the sequel and sent it for publishing. However, in the course of writing, I got so engrossed that I couldn’t come up with a great title. I spent over 10-20 days thinking for it, but I couldn’t devise a catchy title. With my experience with TWS, I got an idea to actually crowdsource it from the common man. I’ve launched this competition called ‘The Lazy Writer’s Competition’ on my facebook fanpage to let common man come up with a title for my book. It’s still on and would remain till the end of this month. Even those reading this interview could participate from here.
16. A novel titled by public demand. This has to be something that the the country’s fictional compass hasn’t been witness to ever before. Be honest- lack of ideas or a plain marketing strategy?
-> Both, actually. As I said, after struggling with the title myself, I reached a block. I wanted another perspective, which could be best offered by someone who hasn’t read the novel and just reads the synopsis. Involving people is always interesting, since it offers too many new paradigms to observe. No doubt, another intention was to create a buzz for my second book, and this was a fresh way to do that. I call the campaign a novel way to market a novel.
17. So when is the novel christening? And what does the book behold for the readers curiosity?
-> Novel christening is going on. People are submitting numerous witty and catchy titles on my page. The best rated ones get into the Hall of Fame, where voting takes place. At the end of this month, the most ‘liked’ title, if it suits the plot, would be selected and the reader would get acknowledged in the book, besides getting two personally signed copies and a surprise gift from me.
The book is the sequel to my first book. With time, a writer evolves. Though, this novel touches the ticklish spot in you as well as the previous one did, with various witty romantic conversations, hilarious events, rare nerdy descriptions and scandalous revelations; this one also contains many moments of introspection, such as - the discovery of passion, the impact of 'cool' parents, the importance of faith and the meaning of respect - portrayed through several conversations, diary entries and poems; written to offer you a takeaway which could strike a deeper chord with you, the so called ‘intellectual high’.
18. So something to ruffle a few intellectual feathers and tickle the bone. Great. So thanks for this very interesting interview Harsh and let me quickly end this on one last question about ‘endings’- Now ironic to your facebook profile that says ‘Happiness is me’, your first book ended on a sad note. Does this one too?
-> Ahh.. I could say that this sequel gives you immense fodder for thought. So doesnt matter on what note I end my book. What a writer writes is reflection of his emotions and what a reader reads is reflection of his perceptions- and what lies within these two is unknowable void. So I’d say- it would be happy for some, sad for some others but quite surely, funny for all.