Brijesh Singh, a Cop Turned Hot New Novelist
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this cop just wrote a best-seller, and we can’t wait to tear through it.
By Prashant Agrawal
Mumbai might be the next big literary city. In the 19th century, it was London. In the 1920s, it was Paris. In the 1960s, San Francisco.
Now? The erstwhile Bombay seems every year to be providing both the setting and the soul of a number of best-selling books across the globe. Take Vikas Swarup’s Q & A (from which the movie Slumdog Millionaire was adapted), Gregory David Roberts’ Shantaram, Suketu Mehta’s Pulitzer finalist Maximum City or Salman Rushdie’s classic Midnight’s Children.
Think of a younger — much younger — full-haired Bruce Willis, drop him in Mumbai and you get Brijesh Singh.
But whether we’re talking highfalutin Booker Prizes or mass-appeal Bollywood, there’s one consistency across all great tales of Mumbai: crime — and cops. Which makes it a naturally thrilling event that a new writer arriving on the scene knows it all intimately — because he’s lived it.
Brijesh Singh has patrolled the streets of Mumbai for the last decade as one of the city’s most important policemen — and he’s just published the latest in the city’s literary canon: a best-selling novel called Quantum Siege. It’s climbing Amazon’s top-50 list on the subcontinent. In Quantum Siege, an Indian supercop has 72 hours to save global metropolis Mumbai from Pakistani terrorists waiting to unleash a nuclear Armageddon on the Indian subcontinent. Midnight’s Children it’s not, but it is wildly readable. Think more Bollywood than Booker — but that ain’t a bad thing for a summer beach read.
Singh is still a cop and continues to live in Mumbai. Writing is his night job. By day, he’s a member of the elite Indian Police Service, the top tier of the Indian police force. The IPS is part of the Indian government’s central bureaucracy, and a mere 100 applicants are selected each year out of the million-plus who apply, making it even more pearly-gated than India’s notoriously selective engineering schools (the IIT campuses).
Newly appointed the Inspector General of Mumbai, Singh is one of the top four cops in the bustling metropolis — making him one of the most important people in the city. Muscular yet trim, in his mid-40s, with a full head of black hair and a heroic mustache favored by Indian men, Singh wouldn’t be out of a place in a Bollywood movie. Think of a younger — much younger — full-haired Bruce Willis, drop him in Mumbai and you get Brijesh Singh.
And yes, it is a little bit of autobiography. But who hasn’t wanted to cast their alter ego as the hero of a thriller?
How did you write the book while also working an intense day job?
I wrote late at night, from midnight to 3 a.m. I am a night owl and while the city slept, I wrote. It’s about the only time I get a break from work and home. I need a zone to write and a train of thought that cannot be interrupted — so I wrote deep into the night. Being an engineering student, I am used to late nights.
It took two months of intensive writing to finish the novel. … It’s a novel that’s close to my heart. Writing a thriller about Mumbai was a no-brainer. It deals with a very possible and real threat to Mumbai and the world. I drew upon my own work and knowledge, so the writing and story came naturally.
The Prime Minister has come to meet the President of India. Meanwhile, in the cabinet meeting that just concluded, when it was disclosed that the nuclear device had been planted in Mumbai, it was unanimously decided to declare war on Pakistan.
President Charanjeet Singh is waiting for the Prime Minister in the North Drawing room. Over the last few hours, he has had a fair idea of what is happening. He has been governor of two states; after holding many portfolios in the last several government terms, he had decided to retire when out of nowhere his name was proposed for the President of India. He remembered he had gone to request the senior leadership to excuse him from the responsibility as he had intended to lead a peaceful retired life. He had to finally give in to pressure and accept the post as they felt the nation needed him. They said his experience, sagacity, vision, and forthrightness were the need of the hour. What was most surprising was that the opposition too voted for him. Hence, when there was a change of the guard, he still enjoyed a rapport with the new Prime Minister. The tall Sikh had jet black hair and never looked his age, yet he was always taken seriously throughout his life. He knew the Cabinet Decision was a fait acompli, but he needed to have a word with the Prime Minister before the subcontinent was engulfed in war.
It’s a bit autobiographical, then?
Certainly. The novel deals with real life, and my writer friends say that in a first novel, one draws upon their experience more.
Who do you read? What types of books?
I read a lot of nonfiction: Kafka and Milan Kundera, Sartre. I normally read nonfiction.
As a policeman, one meets victims, perpetrators, terrorists — it does give you a lot of material. You also learn to be a concise writer.
— Brijesh Singh
How’d you get into writing?
I always knew I would write. But I kept away from fiction subconsciously. So in Quantum Siege’s case … my whole point was writing as it came. During the whole edit process, nothing much was changed. But the edit process teaches [you] more than the original writing.
What surprising connections are there between police work and writing? Not just that it provided material, but did it also teach you a certain kind of method, etc.?
What happens in the police is you do a lot of writing. You are looking at cases and getting glimpses of people’s lives, and facts are always more bizarre than fiction. One meets victims, perpetrators, terrorists, people you would not normally [encounter] in the general course of life — so it does give you a lot of material. But you also learn to be a concise writer. One word can be important to the law and change people’s lives, so you learn to be careful and concise.
And how close to real life does the novel come? How much melodrama did you have to add to reality?
As police, we face various types of threats on a daily basis; 99.9 percent don’t materialize. Some we stop, most aren’t real. This is a very plausible story — very, very plausible. South Asia remains a dangerous flash point.
[Even] non-Indian readers will know that South Asia has been home to a number of terrorist threats. In this situation, Inspector Singh has to foil a terrorist threat to the city. The Indian prime minister has been given an ultimatum to hold a referendum in Kashmir within three days or a nuclear holocaust will be unleashed.
I have worked hard to ensure that all aspects of the book are realistic. Part of the scene of operations is the Himalayas, which I have visited repeatedly and have described the terrain in great detail. Mumbai I know like the back of my hand. I have used my technical training to ensure that the weapons used are accurate. It’s a very real-life book.
…This is [also] a very insider perspective of the India-Pakistan relationship. The books give a glimpse at how things would unfold in a tense situation between the two countries.
- Prashant Agrawal, OZY Author Contact Prashant Agrawal