Harsh Agarwal is a third year mechie, an author, and a half-way-through-entrepreneur. He runs an organization for aspiring authors – The Asylum (www.theasylum.in). His interests include reading, writing, travelling, music and meeting new people.
Q. Out of all professions, why writing?
Writing is not my profession. I wish it was! Totally! FYI, I am a third year mechanical engineering student at NIT Silchar, Assam. I know a lot of engineers are writing, but my engineering background should not be related with my writing. I am not in that creed.
Q. Tell us something about your professional endeavours.
Just as I mentioned, studying mechanical engineering. Apart from that I am running a company named ‘The Asylum’ which is dedicated to aspiring authors. You can visit the website at www.theasylum.in. I am also a freelancer, editor and the first project I mentored under the banner of Asylum recently got completed. It has been titled ‘Love and Lokpal’ written by a really talented author Pooja Wanpal and it would be releasing soon.
Q. Why “An Excursion of Insight”? Why this particular title?
Well somewhere it’s because of my love for alliteration. The book had a philosophical touch and in the end, the protagonist – Sonam Dorji has his own excursion to his insight. It also points towards the significance of such excursions which help us know ourselves better. We also thought of naming as ‘The Road Not Taken’, celebrating the theme of Robert Frost’s popular poem. Due to legal issues, we couldn’t, and settled back on ‘An Excursion of Insight’.
Q. Tell us something about An Excursion of Insight. When did the idea for such an expression first strike you?
Here is the secret – The protagonist Sonam Dorji was my wall-mate in hostel. I chatted with him a lot and I could see the world from his eyes – from the eyes of a teenage engineering student who has come from Bhutan. I loved the concept and started it as a blog post and later decided to write a book. So, I picked up his character and built a story around him and this is how ‘An Excursion of Insight’ came into being.
Q. What prompted to you to set the story in a North-eastern/Bhutanese backdrop?
I am living in north east and I am in a college where we have students from all across the nation. In an all, there is a small India in our college itself. So I can just say that it’s not really a north eastern back drop…it’s a back drop of a small India very compactly adjusted in a small region.
Q. Brilliantly put. What brought on this passion of writing?
I have been writing since school. I don’t really know how I got so enthusiastic about it though. Maybe because I used to talk less and writing was one way I loved to express myself. Initially I wrote poems, both in Hindi and English and then I drifted towards fiction. Somehow I metamorphosed into a story teller from a poet. How it happened – I guess I had been too careless to notice. But I am happy it happened.
Q. What is your take on the suicides that are being committed by the younger generation?
Suicide is a selfish act. We need to realize how much we owe the people who love us and who cares for us despite our flaws. I have witnessed suicides and all I can say is that it’s because of lack of patience and the communication gap. There is always an alternate way, always.
Q. Both the women in Sonam’s life betrayed him in some way or the other. Any particular reason for this?
It’s more about the character actually. Sonam is innocent and can be taken advantage of…very easily…Moreover, I agree that Maya betrayed him but from the perspective of Sarika, she never betrayed Sonam. It’s just she was in some sort of unusual dilemma.
Q. You have taken up a sub-theme of the plight of Indian education system. What is your perception of the current education scenario?
Honestly, I am too immature to comment. I have experienced it…I have witnessed its flaws devastating lives…I have tried to portray a part of that through this book…But still, I guess I have not learnt enough to openly comment about it.
Q. Do you think writing is a solitary pursuit, or do you have early readers – with whom you brainstorm and discuss the way the book progresses?
Writing – yes. While you write, more or less you are aloof of the world. You have to be aloof if you want to deliver the best. At least that’s what I think. Other authors may have their own notions and ideas about the same. I had early readers because writing poems and stories was not so common and people around me overhyped it at some level. Since I have been doing so many things in this industry, in current scenario, I am fortunate to have numerous people I consult and discuss about my work. They are old friends, published and unpublished authors, bloggers and voracious readers. But I had been choosy about them. If a good advice can help you, a bad one can hamper the things too.
Q. What were your favourite books when you were growing up and how did they influence you?
In the beginning, I had been reading regular campus love stories and after reading a few, I got bored of them. And then I read ‘The Alchemist’ and things changed. After this book I drifted to Arvind Adiga, A. Roy, S. Rushdie, Kiran Desai, Tarun Tejpal and many other popular authors I had heard of. They influenced me to write better. To write something substantial and to write it beautifully. And I am still trying to achieve that…I guess only my readers can tell how much I have succeeded!
Q. If there was one person you could claim had influenced your life the most, who would it be?
It would be my mother – Mrs. Neena Agarwal, to whom I dedicate my works as well. Yes, she has been at my side always, loved me more than one can imagine but apart from all this, she has taught me the important lessons of tolerance, ignorance and she has taught me to struggle and never give up. This is something I value the most.
Q. Are you working on something else right now?
Yes. My third book – Nazakat. I completed the first draft recently and now I am editing it. It’s about a girl who takes prostitution on will, becomes an entrepreneur and shakes the nation.
Q. Never let it be known you are not unambitious! So what is the one thing that you cherish the most and the one thing that you regret the most?
I guess I cherish the fact that I have passion for something. Sometimes I feel if I had not been into writing what I would have been doing with my life! I believe that we live only when we are passionate about something, otherwise we merely exist and that’s all. Regrets…none as such. As per now, there is nothing I would like to undo. I like to live in present and try my best to catch on the new opportunities rather than regretting the ones which are gone.
Q. Any authors whom you specifically look to for inspiration while writing?
Arundhati Roy. I loved ‘The God of Small Things’. She made me realize the difference between storytelling and writing. She made me realize how powerful metaphors can be. She made me realize that imagination has no limit and we must embrace it.
Q. Any message to struggling writers?
Read more, write more. Avoid hastening and don’t write for the sake of getting published. Start a book when you are sure about the idea. Planning and research helps a lot.
Publishing a book is not a gateway to fame or money; so don’t write for that either. Write to satiate yourself at first place. It consumes a lot to write a book, so just make sure what you are doing is completely worth it.
Sonam was young of course, but this does not tell the story of just another young lad! Sonam did fall in love with Sarika, but this is not just another candid love endeavour! It all happened in an Engineering College Campus, but still it’s not just the tale of another Campus. Sonam, who had his own dreams and vision, came from the Land of Bhutan to India to pursue Engineering. A Buddhist (both by birth and faith), a little philosophical too, but the reader is not given a philosophical treatise on Buddhism. A story that takes you from the valleys and tea-gardens of Assam, to the hullabaloo of student life and eventually to an Excursion, An Excursion of Insight…
Thank you, Harsh! We wish you luck with all your future endeavours!