Jai Arjun Singh interviews Amitabha Bagchi, ex IITian, currently an assistant professor at IIT Delhi about his debut novel - Above Average, set in IIT. This's the second novel in the "IIT genre" following Chetan Bhagat's Five Point Someone.
Was it frustrating to be “scooped” by Chetan Bhagat?
To an extent, but it doesn’t really matter as long as people are buying and appreciating my book. I had finished the first draft by early 2004 and was looking for a publisher when a friend called and told me that Chattu [Chetan Bhagat, who was a year senior to Bagchi in IIT] had a book out.
My heart sank, but in a way it’s good that it’s taken this long for me to get published because there’s been no head-to-head competition with Five Point Someone.
Was Above Average an IIT book from the outset?
No, it began as the story of a guitarist, set in Mayur Vihar. When I began writing it I realised I had to bring IIT into it to provide a concentrated setting for all my characters and their aspirations.
There’s a lot of reflection about the things you dream about when you are young and what eventually becomes of them.
Some of the disappointments and setbacks are my own. The writing process was therapeutic for me. When I was younger I had no model for dealing with failure, and I resolved some of that while writing this story.
Also, around the same time, I realised that the trajectories of many of my friends’ post-college lives were similar to mine — they were faced with the same questions, and I worked some of those issues in through the various characters.
My editor was looking to market it as an IIT book, which made me a bit uncomfortable, but at one point she told me, “Amitabha, there’s a deep sadness in this book.” And I said to her, “Yes! You’ve finally got it!” (guffaws).
The book’s website (https://aboveaveragebook.com/) has a page with “deleted scenes” from the book. Your idea?
Yes, it’s like the extras you get on a DVD. When my editor asked me to tighten up the book, I took a few passages out, and now I’m putting those up on the site.
The Internet is wonderful that way — it gives one the opportunity to share a lot of material around the book. I’ve also uploaded an audio clip of me reading from the book and [music director/guitarist] Pankaj Awasthi performing alongside.