I recall my interview with Josy Joseph as an interesting one. An investigative journalist, he may usually be on the other side of the pen, but this time, over a long walk around Connaught Place in Delhi, he talks in delicious detail about writing what is perhaps India’s biggest exposé in recent times, with a sweeping narrative that blows the cover off the corporate and the corrupt. A Feast of Vultures: The Hidden Business of Democracy in India is a self-explanatory title. Being an insider and a fearless editor doesn’t come easy, but for Josy, who wards off a troublemaker we meet along the way with unflinching authority, it’s a way of life.
Probably because I don’t have the skill set to write good fiction. On a more serious note, there are several works of fiction that have successfully captured the realities of contemporary India. The real life stories of India—the chilling treacheries, dissolution among the elite, dishonest politics and the overall helplessness of ordinary Indians compelled me to narrate the story as it is, without varnish or censorship, and definitely without taking refuge in the creative freedom offered by fiction. I wanted the book to be as raw and real as India. I hope it is as gripping as any work of fiction on modern India.
Tell me a bit about A Feast of Vultures: The Hidden Business of Democracy in India.
It is my effort at interpreting the modern India that we all experience, the way we deal with its institutions and how we overcome the deep cruelty, corruption and nepotism in them. There are no academic pretensions, but a sound understanding of democracy and the crying need for institutional reforms to bridge the cleavages hang in the backdrop. There are several stories--village-level fixers, hapless Dalits, dishonest politicians, billionaires who intimidate, a typist who can change your fortunes, the immoral elite, amoral discourses—all of them together, hopefully, telling the grand story of modern India.
My narrative is set in the city and the village, in the corridors and courtyards of wealth and power, capturing the frustrations of our poorest as they seek out the government and its welfare programmes. A significant portion of the book explores intermediaries, an issue that has really not been studied in detail until now but has a massive and adverse impact on Indian institutions and economy. The book takes the readers far into one specific sector of Indian industry to give a flavour of how business really gets done in modern India, from criminal underworld and murder to bribe and glamour. It zooms out to give a sweeping, unvarnished and intimate narrative of India’s elites, who are mostly both law makers and law breakers.
What inspired you to write it?
A host of factors—appalling levels of immorality prevalent among Indian elite, the helplessness of a majority of our countrymen and the reality of India that most of us are in a state of denial about. The reality is very complex, and you need to have an insider’s knowledge while maintaining a poker-faced detachment to write the reality of modern India without any compromises. There have been several fiction and academic works attempting to interpret modern India, but I couldn’t find a single book that captured the bewildering reality of India with an intimate knowledge that explains the collective experience of all its residents and every visitor.
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