April 8, 2016

Author Interview : Hariharan Iyer (Book : Surpanakha)

About the Book:

Educated, young, no-nonsense bearing, able administrator—these are the qualities that won Sesha the loyalties of the people after three years of rule as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. An allegation that he was the mastermind behind the murder of 73 Kannadigas threatens to bring him down but he is miraculously saved in the 11th hour.

Even before he can relish his victory, Sesha is slapped with the charge of sexually offending a young nurse. This time round, the case is strong and his supporters are uncertain. Worse, his teenage daughter calls him 'vile' and walks out of the house. While Mythili, his wife promises her full support, her secretive activities—undertaken with the help of a retired cop—is a cause of concern for Sesha.

Will Zarina, the human-rights activist, succeed in bringing him down? What about the insinuations of a celebrity lawyer that he is casteist and antiminorities? When the young nurse is found dead, the case becomes even more complex. Who is innocent? Who is guilty? And who is the mastermind?


Zarina sensed the opportunity and asked, “Do you mind if we help you?”

“How?” asked Ramanujam.

“I would like to buy an apartment and I can pay upfront.”

There was a momentary silence. It appeared Ramanujam had not expected


Perhaps a win-win situation for both, she thought. “Do I take it that you’re
fine with selling the apartment to me?”

“Hmm…I’m afraid not.”


“I’ve committed the remaining apartments to my friends.”

“If I may ask you…have you entered into an agreement with them?”

“No, but I would not like to go back on my commitment. They’re my

“What is the price you’ve agreed with them? We can pay a higher price.”

“We haven’t yet agreed on a price.”

“Then what is your expectation? Let us see if we can beat that.”
Ramanujam shook his head.

“Can I talk to your friends and see if anyone is willing to…” She clammed
up, as Ramanujam’s facial expression was not encouraging. Frustrating. He
was blocking all her efforts to find a solution. She decided to voice her
concern. “There’s no agreement. You haven’t agreed on the price. They’re not
ready with the funds. And you still want to sell the apartments to them?”

He was taken aback by her raised voice. “See Ms Zarina, it’s my house. I
can sell it to anyone I want. It’s not your business to suggest how and to
whom I should sell.”

There was absolute silence, as Zarina and her parents did not know how to

He must have realised that his response was too harsh and he tried to
control the damage.

“They’re all my friends. We can always agree on these things later. What’s
important is that it’s going to be a small community of family and close
friends. We don’t want outsiders.”

Then it struck her. Shit! It was all there before her eyes: The vadakalai
thiruman on his forehead, his wife drawing the curtain to stop them viewing
his lunch, the ‘Vishnu only’ photo frames that lined the wall, his reference to
them as ‘outsiders’. Why did it not strike her earlier? Now she understood

Ramanujam’s hesitation to sell the apartment to them: Orthodoxy.
Conservatism. Religious fundamentalism. He did not want to sell because
they were Muslims. Still, she wanted to confirm. “Who are these friends to
whom you want to sell the apartments?”

Ramanujam did not understand the relevance of the question. Still he
answered, “They were my colleagues in Southern Railway.”



She smirked. “I expected this. So, you don’t want to sell to us because we
are Muslims.”

Ramanujam remained silent.

His silence confirmed her suspicion. She closed her eyes to suppress tears.

Rejection based on her religion. She was facing it for the second time in six
months. Earlier, someone had rejected her love for the same reason. Now, this
old man was refusing to sell one of his apartments to her. Earning money and
earning respect were two different things, it appeared. Being a member of a
minority community was, after all, not easy.

She got up from the sofa, signalling the end of the discussions.

Author Interview:

Snehal: Hello Mr. Hariharan, Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little . about yourself and your background.
Hariharan: I am finance professional by default and a writer by choice. I head the finance function of a $150 mill group based in East and Central Africa. My wife and I live in Dar-es-Salaam while my sons pursue their ambitions in India. Filter coffee, Carnatic music, Arun Shourie’sbooks, spicy Indian food and smart casuals define a part of my personality. My inner personality? I am still exploring.

Snehal: Tell us more about what you’ve written in the past.

Hariharan: Not content with just a rewarding corporate job, I took to writing a couple of years ago. I blogged on media and current affairs for a year at valadyviews.blogspot.com and contributed articles to The Hoot, an online media watch portal before hitting on the idea for this novel.

Snehal: Give us an insight of your main character and how you thought about it.

Hariharan: The lead character is an amazing woman called Mythili. A loving wife.Affectionate yet a disciplinarian mom.Wife of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Mythili is an amazing mix of childish enthusiasm and sober maturity. Sounds like a paradox? Hear this. When the High Court acquits her husband Sesha in a hate crime case, she pulls him out of a lecture in Anna University, gives the security guys the slip and takes him out on a late-night romantic drive. But when a charge of sexual harassment surfaces against Sesha, when her daughter calls Sesha vile and walks out of the house, what does she do? Does it shake her unassailable faith in her husband? It is her response to this challenge that sets her apart from the heroines of contemporary novels.

Snehal: How much was your research during the writing process of the book?

Hariharan: The novel revolves around political controversies and human rights violations. So, I spent a good amount of time researching the legal and constitutional provisions, how media houses run the show in the wake of dwindling ad revenues…

Snehal: What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Hariharan: I would rather talk about the difficult phase I went through while writing the book. My first draft was 105,000 words. I gave the manuscript to a couple of beta readers and their near unanimous response was ‘The book is interesting, but cut down the size.’ And that was an unenviable job. Every word I had written appeared to be significant. Every word I deleted cried for its continuance. And indecisive period of 10 days. Finally I cut down around 15,000 words!
Snehal: How did you come up with that title?
Hariharan: You know what? The initial title was Human Rights Industry. A beta reader said it sounded more like the caption of a thesis. The example she gave struck me. Then I considered 7-8 options and finally chose Surpanakha. Even now the question I face is why title the novel after a negative character.
Snehal: What made you choose this particular theme for your book?
Hariharan: A couple of years ago, a law intern alleged that a retired judged behaved in a sexually inappropriate manner with her. Celebrity lawyers took up her case. Media hounded the judge. He was forced to resign from a strategic post retirement job. Thereafter when the police registered a case and wanted the victim to testify, she vanished. We don’t know what happened. Was there pressure on her not to testify? Or was it decided that the purpose had been achieved? Neither the celebrity lawyers nor media felt obliged to explain their position to the masses.
Secondly, a series of articles by an IIM professor on the mushrooming NGOs and their questionable sources of funds forced me to think. Around the same time there were reports that well-known personalities who were running foreign funded NGOs were using the funds for buying branded jewelry, clothing and shoes! It made me wonder what the underlying motivation could be for floating such NGOs.

Both the above gave rise to a lot of what ifs in me and pushed me into the realm of fiction. And the novel was born. I would, however, like to clarify that it is not a real life story.

Snehal: Did you ever get a writer’s block?

Hariharan: Yes, writing the denouement was difficult. Writing an action packed end would have been easier, but the story didn’t require one. A denouement should have drama and believable surprises. Arguments should be intelligent as to not just cover all the loose ends but also make the reader feel why he could not deduce what the main character was concluding.The initial 3-4 drafts did not bring out the drama I wanted. I went blank for a week.

Snehal: Do you remember the first story you read that had an impact on your life?
Hariharan: Panchatantra stories were one of the earliest books I read. They continue to be my favorites even today. They influence the way I see life and condition my responses to unexpected developments.

Snehal: Which writers inspire you?

Hariharan: Arun Shouries, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Rajiv  Malhotra and S L Byrappa to name a few.
Snehal: Is there a message in your novel that you want your readers to grasp?

Hariharan: Surpanakha is a thriller, which keeps the reader hooked to the story till the last page. Apart from that, I don’t think there is any message in the novel.

Snehal:  How can readers discover more about you?
Hariharan: They can connect with me through my Facebook page. My Twitter handle is @HariharanIyer. Readers can visit my blog Valady Views.
Snehal: Anything you want to add that I missed?

Hariharan: This is a fairly comprehensive interview. If at all I have to add something, it is about the publishing process a new author goes through. But that is a vast subject…could be the subject of a book. Thanks Ms.Snehal for this opportunity. 

Snehal: Your Welcome and Good luck with the book launch.

Buy Links:

Links for downloading e-books: Amazon India | Amazon US | Amazon UK
Links for ordering paperbacks: Amazon India | Flipkart

About the Author:

HariharanIyer is a finance professional based in Dar es Salaam. Not content with just a rewarding corporate job, he took to writing a couple of years back. He blogged on media and current affairs for a year at valadyviews.blogspot.com before hitting on the idea for this novel.An idea so powerful that it convinced the accountant in him that he could put together not just a balance sheet but an intriguing political thriller as well. He has definite views on politics, NGOs and media ethics and has tried to package them in the form of an interesting novel.

Hariharan lives with his wife in Dar es Salaam while his two sons are pursuing their ambitions in India.

Contact Hariharan:


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