Pradeep Anand is the author of “An Indian in Cowboy Country” which tells us about how an Indian engineer discovers his personal and professional potential in the heart of Texas. “An Indian in Cowboy Country” is more than a fictional tale of an IIT Bombay engineer who overcomes cultural differences to succeed in America.
We had the honour to interview this author. Here is the interview....................
Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in Mumbai, in Dadar Hindu Colony. I attended Don Bosco High School (Matunga) and then, after a brief stint at SIES College (Sion), I migrated further north to Powai, to IIT Bombay.
My years at IIT Bombay were phenomenal. I made some incredible life-long friends and experienced amazing personal growth and self-discovery.
I did everything but focus on academics—I represented IIT Bombay in Table-Tennis in Inter-IIT meets at Madras and Kharagpur, and in Quiz at cultural festivals held in IIT Kanpur and Hindu College/Miranda House, Delhi University. I was General Secretary, Student Affairs, and an Editor of Pragati; I represented my hostel in at least four sports—TT, cricket, football, basketball—and in innumerable cultural activities—writing, music, quiz, drama, Mood Indigo.
One activity that I was particularly proud of was introducing the Inter-Hostel “Entertainment Program” which later morphed into the Performing Arts Festival or PAF. We can never predict the long-term impact of our actions.
After I graduated, I worked at a multinational firm in Mumbai and traveled all over India, before coming to the University of Houston in 1978. After receiving my MBA, I worked in the upstream oil & gas industry. I spent a dozen years commercializing some very significant technologies that have improved exploration and production success rates and productivity.
In 1994, I founded my consulting business, Seeta Resources (www.seeta.com). We help companies accelerate growth of their revenues and margins. We serve non-retail clients, who range from high-tech to no-tech, from Fortune 100 companies to startups. For more information about my professional life, please visit http://www.seeta.com/about_PA.htm
I live in Sugar Land, a suburb of Houston, Texas. I have now lived longer in Houston, Texas, than in Mumbai, India, “Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani!”
What is the book about?
An Indian in Cowboy Country is about an Asian Indian engineer’s sometime humorous, sometimes poignant struggle to fit and assimilate into the fabric of American life, while retaining and celebrating very different roots. It is about him discovering his personal and professional potential in the heart of Texas. You can see more information at www.pradeepanand.com.
What motivated you to write An Indian in Cowboy Country?
I wrote An Indian in Cowboy Country because I like to tell stories, I like to write fiction, and I had not written any for almost twenty-five years. When I was a student at IIT Bombay, my short stories and other creative writing received Maharashtra State awards. I was even featured on All India Radio on a Writers of Tomorrow program. My contemporaries remember me for my creative writing amongst other activities. Many expected me to become a writer after I graduated but I had other plans. I had to make a living.
However, when an urge is ignored for a long time, the pressure builds and builds, till something pops that balloon. That’s exactly what happened to me and it had a dramatic beginning—a violent thunderstorm.
In September 2003, I was driving to a reception at an art gallery in Houston. A sudden, fierce deluge disrupted road traffic, and an errant driver swerved towards my car. I yanked the steering wheel of my car to avoid being hit. My car skidded, jumped a curb, crossed a sidewalk, and landed in the parking lot of a bookstore. I was safe but shaken.
To calm down, I went into the bookstore. There I came across “An Editor’s Advice to Writers” by Betsy Lerner, and I bought the book. I read the compelling book, cover to cover, that night. Motivated, the next day I whispered a prayer and began writing a short story.
My original intent was to write just one short story about this Indian engineer who comes to Texas. But as I completed one story, another one crept into my mind. So I said, “Okay, let me write this one too.” But as soon as that one was done, another one weaseled its way into me. So I said, “Looks like this character wants me to tell his entire story.”
I am a short story writer, so my hero and I compromised, and we agreed that I would write short stories about episodes in his life. After I’d written a dozen stories, he and other characters disappeared from my consciousness, perhaps satisfied that we were done.
In the end, I had written more than 100,000 words, enough for a decent-sized book. The final version has about 75,000 words.
My wife, Sujata, and some very dear friends from around the world were terrific critics and motivators. These friends (in alphabetical order) were Amar Bhide (IIT Bombay), Indu Eerikal, Ram Gopalan, Kasim Mookhtiar (IIT Bombay), Ajit Paralkar, and Kirat Patel (my Pragati editor from IIT Bombay). Nandan Nilekani wrote the foreword to the book. They all helped me make it across the publishing finish line.
What was the inspiration for An Indian in Cowboy Country?
I was inspired by the strong and silent Indian/IIT professional who, within one generation, has created a solid reputation for excellence in the United States.
The book has five stories about the assimilation experience of a typical cultured, educated, professional, middle-class Indian immigrant. It also celebrates the ethnic diversity of Houston, Texas, and the oil & gas industry. The other five stories are set in Mumbai.
Which authors have most influenced you most?
Countless authors have inspired, influenced, and moved me by the way they capture and express the human experience and condition. I am always in awe of the power of human imagination in all art forms, especially those who paint with the written word.
Rabindranath Tagore was my first influence, followed by RK Narayan, Guy de Maupassant, GV Desani, and William Saroyan.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned while you were writing the book?
I did not realize that my hero had so many stories to tell.
What kind of feedback do you get from your readers?
IIT alumni and their spouses are my biggest fans. Spouses love the book because it helps them understand their IITian mates. Most people tell me that they finished reading An Indian in Cowboy Country in one sitting.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Writing was the easy part; publishing and marketing the book is substantially harder. A writer would like the book to be read.
To what extent do you think you carry an impact of being an IITian?
Being an IITian is the greatest thing that can happen to a young Indian mind. The experience sharpens you and prepares you to participate and to be successful in an incredibly competitive world. An Indian in Cowboy Country is a tribute to this IITian.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Develop your own voice. Practice writing like you would any other skill, to excel in it. Read books and learn about writing well, to communicate well, but speak with your own voice.
Do you have specific message to your readers?
No. Readers will find many in An Indian in Cowboy Country; discovering them on your own makes a bigger impact.
Where can readers learn more about your books and purchase them?
There are two versions of An Indian in Cowboy Country. The Indian one is published by Jaico (www.jaicobooks.com) and is available at most fine Indian bookstores, including those at major airports. The American version is available at www.amazon.com.
Do you think An Indian in Cowboy Country will be made into a Bollywood movie? Do you have any plans for spin-offs, such as a theatrical play, or a movie screenplay?
My book has three movies in it. Rites of Passage and Going Home/Bride Hunting in Bombay can be made into two Bollywood movies, but the entire book can be a Hollywood movie, anchored by The Hunt and Labor Day. I have had discussions and meetings with producers but with no measurable progress.
Are you open to delivering talks/lectures on the topic related to your book?
Yes. I have had book readings all over the world. I have spoken on radio, TV and at various forums including conferences, meetings, book clubs and universities—Harvard, IIT Bombay, Rice, U of Houston and others.
The most recent one was in June 2012, at the IIT Bombay Class of 1969 Mini-Reunion in Houston, Texas. My audience and I connected so well at so many levels and we had a wonderful time.
You can contact me at readings [at] seeta.com. The web site, www.pradeepanand.com, has Questions for Book Clubs.