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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 November 2018

Joygopal Podder: India's marathon author

He holds his country’s record for writing the most crime fiction novels in the shortest time. Sean McLain finds out what keeps Joygopal Podder ticking.
Joygopal Podder admits that he visits bookstores to see his work on display. Simon De Trey-White for The National.
Joygopal Podder admits that he visits bookstores to see his work on display. Simon De Trey-White for The National.

“No, take a right,” says Joygopal Podder as he guides the driver to the rear entry of Gurgaon's Ambience mall in Haryana to what he claims is the best parking. “I set a gun battle here, that’s why I know this place so well.”

Podder, 53, is one of India’s most prolific novelists, but it is the speed at which he writes that is most astonishing. He is in the Limca Book of Records for writing the most crime fiction novels in the shortest amount of time.

The Limca records are akin to the Guinness Book of World Records, but contains only feats by Indians, such as “the most prolific writer ... in prison” and “first book launched by an elephant”.

When the new edition of the record book comes out in 2013, he will have shattered his own previous record of five books in nine months. To date, Podder has written 11 novels in the space of 21 months. His 11th book, Merchant of Dreams, came out on Tuesday. The 12th book, Vanished, will be out in August.

He is currently writing his 13th book.Podder was at the mall to stop by a bookstore to look at his books. “I write so much, because I like seeing myself in bookshops,” he said. He maintains a blistering publication schedule and tires to “publish a book every month” to ensure that a title of his is always a regular feature in the new arrivals section.

Each book is at least 40 to 50,000 words.While he enjoys the attention that has come as a result of his speedy writing, Podder said he never set out to break records. “It happened accidentally. I just happened to write fast and people happened to notice,” he said.Podder had his first novel published at 50, which he said fuels his desire to churn out novel after novel. “I am making up for lost time.”He began writing at the age of nine and had his first short story published in a children’s magazine at the age of 12. At 14, he created Ramesh, a teenage detective who featured in a dozen stories.

Eventually, adult life and a career took over and he left writing. It was Ramesh that made Podder want to start writing again. “Some time in my mid-30s a group of children showed up at my house, saying that they wanted to meet the author,” he said. “I had no idea what they were talking about.”

Apparently, one of his Ramesh tales had been placed in an English primer used in Indian schools. A decade later, a friend told him that a collection of stories from the defunct magazine that once published Podder’s works contained Ramesh stories. “This book has stories by people like Satyajit Ray, so I began to think that maybe there might be a future in writing for me, not in terms of writing, but as a career.” Satyajit Ray is a famous Bengali writer and filmmaker, and Podder, who is also Bengali, thought it a sign.

The final impetus came with the near death of his wife. “On January 19, 2008, my wife got blood poisoning. All her organs failed, and she nearly died,” he said. “I realised that life is fragile and if you have a passion, you should stop thinking about it and pursue it.”He knew he wanted to write, but did not know what to write. The inspiration came when Podder, a fund-raising manager with a charity in India, attended a conference. “I realised that there is a cornucopia of stories from experiences in the NGO sector – tragedy, successes, beating the odds.”

Those stories served as the inspiration for one of his first books, A Matter of Survival, in which “the successful test firing of India’s Agni III missile collides with a conservation campaign to save an endangered species of sea turtle”, according to the book’s dust jacket. Such unlikely plots arise easily from Podder’s self-confessed “childlike imagination”. He takes inspiration from his own experiences and from items of news, which he collects. “I write three kinds of novels: thrillers, murder mysteries and Bollywood crime fiction,” said Podder.

His latest novels, including Merchant of Dreams, are of the final category. He uses his seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge of Bollywood trivia, built up over years of watching Hindi cinema. “I am only a film fan, I’ve never been involved in a film shoot, and, obviously, I’ve never been party to a murder,” said Podder. “I do research about how films are shot, I always have a burning make-up van, a star with a supersized ego, somebody from the star’s past who wants to avenge past faults.”

Podder’s books also heavily feature his current home, Gurgaon, a burgeoning urban centre on the border with New Delhi. If Dubai’s Marina were somehow transplanted in Bur Dubai, it would closely resemble Gurgaon, a mess of hi-rises and tiny crowded streets, which Podder believes makes it well suited to be the setting of a murder mystery.

Eventually, Podder would like to be known for the quality of his writing rather than the quantity. To that end, he hopes to eventually write more Ramesh novels. “That writing is different. When I write thrillers, I write action scenes, go into descriptions, build up characters, but with Ramesh I had witticisms. I fancied myself a bit like P G Wodehouse when I was writing it.”

He acknowledges that the records are what is drawing attention to his writing. He embraces it as motivation to continue his writing. Eventually, he would like to break the Guinness World Record held by the Japanese spiritual leader, Ryuho Okawa, who published an astonishing 52 books in 52 weeks. “I can’t write one book a week – yet,” said Podder. He does, however, remain driven by his desire to have his work in bookstores and, more importantly, the new arrivals shelf. “I hate when they come off that rack. Five years from now you will see at least 10 or more of my books in every store.”