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Different Worlds

For much of the 40-odd years that I have been devouring fiction, the imaginary worlds I journeyed to have been divorced from the real world I lived in. Be it the nineteenth century London of Conan Doyle and Edgar Wallace, or the mid-twentieth century England of Agatha Christie and Enid Blyton, or Perry Mason’s California, they were all a far cry from the Indian city life I was immersed in.

What were moors and mews that Christie and Doyle revelled in? What were these mouth-watering scones and tarts that peppered Enid Blyton’s pages? I had never seen a scone in my middle-class life of the seventies. Nothing I read seemed to have much in common with the real world around me. While they were not as alien as Tolkien’s Middle Earth or Asimov’s Trantor, they were nonetheless unfamiliar.

Why didn’t we have fiction from our own world, I wondered. Was that why RK Narayan appealed to so many of us? Apart from the undeniable craft he possessed, one could relate to his characters and locales. They seemed real; they felt as if they were from our world. Admittedly, what we read was limited by what local libraries stocked and Sunday second-hand book shops offered.

When I gave up studenthood to enter the corporate world, another question popped into my head. Why was so little fiction set where I spent the largest chunk of my waking hours? Why did so few authors write about the corporate world? Surely, there was no shortage of conflict and emotion in the workplace? And the stakes were high too; far higher than in private lives. Talk about motive for crime, and there was ambition, collusion, malfeasance, corruption, love, lust, frustration – you name it!

Yet, there was very little ‘corporate crime fiction’.

Wouldn’t it be great to have good crime fiction set in India? Well-crafted plots that we can relate to; familiar victims we can empathise with; recognisable antagonists we can heartily hate? With more Indians turning to writing, will we see a surge of crime fiction set in India? Above all, wouldn’t it be great to read gripping narratives written by Indian hands for Indian eyes?

Then, the penny dropped. While I waited for others to do it, why not take a shot at it myself?

I had already made a beginning with writing epic fantasy, and I had loads of material from my three decades in the corporate world. I had seen ambition and greed at close quarters, and had witnessed sharp minds cross the thin line that separated the two. Opportunities for crime were aplenty, with many readymade for crime fiction.

I did take a shot at it, and the attempt became Fraudster. I am happy that one of the Big Five global publishing houses decided to back the novel. Fraudster is about greed and temptation in banking, which is a very thin sliver of larger corporate India. There is space for a lot more stories; tons of them. I hope better writers than I turn to it too.

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Corporate India is great for crime fiction

This blog was originally published as a guest post at Printasia.

A question I frequently get asked is whether I had any specific purpose behind writing Fraudster. Was I irked by the atmosphere in corporate India, one newspaper journalist asked. Did I want to expose their wrongdoings, another interviewer wanted to know.

The answer is an unequivocal ‘No’.

I’ve had lots of fun during my three decades in the corporate world, and some of my best experiences have been there. Not to mention some of the brightest minds and the finest human beings I met, and the many friends I made there. Far from being irked, I am thankful to the corporate world for showing me an avenue in which to try my creativity.

Why then did I choose to write a novel about some murky realities of the banking world?

The fact of the matter is that the corporate world is a fertile ground for stories – inspirational or fictional. It is a melting pot of many types of people; men and women driven by different sets of values, priorities and motivations. Each one has a different worldview, and the environment has far more than fifty shades of grey.

It has a fascinating interplay of every emotion one can think of, and every kind of conflict. Fiction, after all, is about emotive conflict. Consequently, the corporate world lends itself wonderfully to crime fiction.

The stakes are high too. A person who is worth a million dollars in his private life may be running a 500 million dollar business. A banker who may be worth even less, could be handling a loan portfolio worth billions. A peculiarity of banking is that ordinary men and women handle vast amount of other people’s wealth. Billions upon billions of dollars of it.

If a banker falls to temptation and siphons off a small part of the money he oversees, he can gain a lot more than he can hope to gain by any deception in his private life. The potential payoffs for crime, especially white-collar crime, is huge.

That, in turn, provides one of the essential ingredients for crime – motive.

That’s not all. The corporate world also provides a virtually unlimited supply of the other two key ingredients as well – opportunity and means. With all three main elements covered, it becomes an ideal milieu for crime fiction.

But merely setting a murder in a corporate office, or robbing an ATM, does not make it a corporate crime. The nature of the deception and the modus operandi of the crime must have business processes at its heart. It must find or construct credible loopholes in the way businesses are run, and must take advantage of them.

To do that, a writer must have spent sufficient time in the corporate world and observed its failings. There must be millions of people who have done that, but yet, we have very little corporate crime fiction in bookstores. Apart from John Grisham, there are very few authors who write good fiction of this variety. I wonder why?

Sketch of a corporate fraudster

Here is an interesting infographic from Canadian Business that is based on KPMG’s profiling of the corporate fraudster.

Corporate Fraudster Profile

Source: canadianbusiness.com

 What I find interesting is that:

  • 96% of fraudsters are repeat offenders
  • All but 18% of fraudsters are in the management layers of organisations
  • Most fraudsters work/collude with others inside or outside their organisations to perpetrate the crimes

These confirm beliefs some of us in corporate India have long held.