We are at writer Murzban F. Shroff’s residence in Gamdevi and given that he is a Parsi, it is no surprise that there is not a speck of dust on the furniture. His rocking chair, about which he seems to be quite possessive, is particularly spick and span as is the bookshelf in the living room crammed with all kinds of books which seem to have been read many times over.
In present times when commercial fiction dominates, Shroff leans more towards literary fiction and writes “character-based, issue-based fiction”. He says, “To me, plot is more a matter of the rhythms of life in which the protagonist and other characters are trapped unwittingly and from which they must extricate themselves.” According to Shroff, his job as a writer is capturing the realities of time and space.
Shroff was passionate about writing since childhood and had no inhibitions when he decided to pursue it as a full-time career. He credits authors Anton Chekhov, James Baldwin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Margaret Atwood, Saul Bellow and John Steinbeck as his writing inspirations. “There is no greater joy than living the life of a writer and journeying with your characters, making their challenges yours, till that crucial moment when the truth bursts upon you like a long awaited dawn. It’s important to tell stories relevant to our times, and to make them interesting and meaningful,” the author says.
His first literary work, Breathless in Bombay (2008), a collection of short stories was a success. At that time Shroff had no idea that he would have to face several litigation cases for using an oft-used Mumbai slang word for people who don’t fit in the urban crowd. It woke him to the reality that in a diverse country like ours people can easily take offence even if you didn’t mean to hurt them. “Diversity is not always interesting. It sometimes works against you.” Apparently, it’s not easy for a writer to make all the groups in our country happy. He had to encounter a lot of personal and professional setbacks for almost three years. However, every cloud has a silver lining and he managed to get support from a lot of people outside India and ultimately he won against all odds. During this phase, he learned a great deal about human nature. “Everyone is not equipped to handle a crisis. Sometimes people close to you move away and sometimes perfect strangers can become great friends.”
A short video Q&A with Murzban F. Shroff
The case left such an impact on Shroff that he confesses he has become more vigorous in his writings. While doing the rounds of the various courts, he penned down a character named Jonathan who would keep him inspired, entertained and amused. His latest book, Waiting for Jonathan Koshy, spawned from those jottings, is about a man “greatly appreciated for his wit, his wisdom, his effervescence, and his indignation.” The author has left no stone unturned in making his protagonist larger than life. He has used Bollywood as the backdrop for his story. Connecting the film industry to a larger Indian narrative, the novel touches upon a Bollywood family residing in Pali Hill. “Bollywood is an indication of where this country is. I thought it was very interesting to use that as a whole aspect of fantasy. I have kept a Hindi cinema family as the setting.”
With his new book garnering good reviews in the Mumbai circuit, Shroff has finally made peace with his past literary ordeal in the country and is keen to write several more. “India is a treasure trove of stories. You could write till the cows come home and still not be done with the store of inspiration.”
Given how he shaped a story out of his own travails, one couldn’t agree more.