Chirdeep Malhotra . Updated: 9/21/2021 12:33:03 PM Books and Authors

Author Interview: S. Venkatesh

S.Venkatesh is an author, speaker, business leader and investor. As a private equity investor, business leader and Board member, he has helped businesses grow, innovate, scale up and create value. He has been keenly interested in Eastern philosophy and mysticism right from his college days at IIT Delhi and IIM Calcutta. He is passionate about self-discovery and the power of stories to inspire and transform. He has recently come out with the book "AgniBaan: Guardians of the Fire Chamber". In a candid chat with Chirdeep Malhotra, he talks about his latest book, his writing journey, his favourite books and authors, and much more. Read on!

Please tell us more about S. Venkatesh as a person.

I wear many hats, though at my core, I am someone who is passionate about creativity, inspiration and growth. As an investor, business leader and Board member, I have spent the last twenty years helping businesses innovate and scale up. As an author, I give expression to my sense of wonder and curiosity about people, life and the universe.
My childhood years were spent in Tanzania, where I developed my love for nature and wildlife, and in Farakka in West Bengal, where we used to cross the majestic Ganga river by bridge every day to get to school. After completing my schooling in Delhi, I studied at IIT Delhi and IIM Calcutta. I have travelled extensively across the world on work; this has given me a reservoir of ideas and experiences that I can tap into for inspiration. I love travelling, and have been fascinated with Eastern philosophy and mysticism from my college days.

Has writing always been a part of your life? Or did you chance upon it later on and then instantly fell in love with it?

My urge to write dates back to my childhood years, when I used to immerse myself in books from my grandfather’s library. During my school and college years, my writing was largely confined to local forums. After I started working, I would often experience the urge to write. But my roles at firms like Credit Suisse, JP Morgan and Macquarie were quite demanding, and this urge got drowned out in a sea of meetings, corporate travel and deadlines. Around seven years ago, I used the time spent on flights to put pen to paper and write more regularly, and that is how "KaalKoot" practically wrote itself.

Please tell us more about your book “AgniBaan: Guardians of the Fire Chamber”.

"AgniBaan" brings together an ancient mystical connection between India and Egypt together with a modern conspiracy involving electronic warfare and climate change. The book has two parallel storylines – one involving some secret codes and strange events that took place fifteen centuries ago, and another a conspiracy set in the present day that can bring the world to its knees.

What inspired you to write this book? When did you start writing this book and how long did it take you to finish it?

A number of threads of inspiration came together for "AgniBaan".
One was history. During my reading and research, I realised that there have been significant connections between ancient India and the Western world – Rome, Greece and Egypt. These have ranged from Roman settlements and temples in India to trading routes and treatises on astronomy.
Geopolitical trends formed another strand of inspiration. The more I read about electronic warfare and climate change, the more I felt that these are trends that we will increasingly hear about in the years to come. I felt driven to tell a story that incorporated these, just as I felt driven to write about the threat from pandemics and biological weapons when I wrote "KaalKoot" four years ago.
Travel has also been a consistent source of inspiration. The journey in "KaalKoot" starts from the alleys of Mumbai, then to rave parties in Goa and culminates in a remote corner of the Himalayas, mirroring the inner journey of the protagonists. The story in "AgniBaan" begins in the Great Pyramid of Egypt, traverses through mysterious meteoric craters in India and culminates in the dense forests of the Sunderbans.
My first book "KaalKoot" was largely written when I was able to snatch time in the midst of corporate travel. I used the time spent on planes and in airline lounges to write the book. Since the writing was sporadic, it took me two years to write and another two years to refine it. "AgniBaan" was different. The end-to-end process took me around eighteen to twenty months, of which around half was spent ideating and developing the characters and the plot.

Can you tell us more about your writing process for this novel? How did you go about creating three-dimensional characters and mapping out an engaging plot for this novel?

The first ten months were spent reading, keeping my eyes and ears open for inspiration, and letting patterns form in my head. I was not wedded to a particular plot or set of characters. I read extensively, and did a lot of research on themes that interested me. But I did not try to force an outcome, and just let my subconscious mind connect the dots. This meant that the process was iterative. I would scribble or draw flow charts on large A3 sheets of paper, and would mostly just junk them later. While this could be frustrating at times, this was also a lot of fun. I would almost feel like an explorer going into uncharted territory, uncovering hidden treasures.
Over time, the dots began to connect, and a story and a strong set of characters began to take shape. I then put pen to paper and started writing out the story, which took another ten months or so.

What kind of research did writing this book entail?

Both "KaalKoot" and "Agnibaan" bring together elements of science and history, so the research was extensive. For "AgniBaan", this was a combination of reading non-fiction books and academic papers on areas ranging from superconductors to cryptography and climate change, and also talking to experts from the field. "KaalKoot" had dealt with pathogens and pandemics, so I had spoken to microbiologists then too.
A lot of academic research material is available on the internet, so that is a big shot in the arm. For instance, an entire dictionary for translating Egyptian Demotic references in available online, and that turned out very useful for making the Egyptian descriptions in "AgniBaan" authentic. There is extensive literature on cryptography and electronic warfare; it is almost like a treasure trove for the researcher.

Can you recommend five books from any genre, for our readers to add to their reading lists, that you particularly cherish?

The Tao Te Ching, an ancient Taoist text, is a simple yet profound guide to living in sync with the flow of the universe. It has a lot of similarities to works by the Indian masters dealing with Vedantic thought.
Other favourites include "Man’s Search for Meaning" by Victor Frankel, which lays out a hard-hitting yet uplifting philosophy of life, based on the author’s own experiences in a Nazi concentration camp. Also, "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran, "Animal Farm" by George Orwell and "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley. Of course, the list would be incomplete without a nod to the thrillers I grew up reading, by Frederick Forsyth, Robert Ludlum and John Le Carre.

What are you working on next? Any new literary projects that our readers should look out for?

I am working on two books in parallel. One is a thriller set against the backdrop of the adrenaline-soaked roller-coaster world of the Indian stock markets. The second book is a thriller that digs deeper into some very disturbing scientific advances and international geopolitical developments of our time.

Can you share with our readers a motivational quote that keeps you going?

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. This is a quote from the ancient Taoist text "Tao Te Ching". In any creative or entrepreneurial quest, there are always times when the obstacles seem too daunting, the setbacks too severe. During those times, this quote reminds us that we just need to soldier on, one step at a time.

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