From the crammed lanes of Mumbai’s Bhendi Bazaar to the labyrinth of a female cop’s mind, Vish Dhamija’s crime fiction unfolds in a diverse array of settings. The British Indian writer is as much at ease with writing about the murky, volatile underworld as he is about the measured intensity of a court room drama.
Dhamija himself is one who wears many hats. He is only seven years old in the publishing world, and already has six novels to his credit. The seventh – The Mogul – is scheduled to be released in 2018. And he is not even a full-time writer. When not writing, Dhamija remains busy with digital marketing. He spent years in the corporate world before taking up writing.
Unlike many South Asian writers who begin by focusing on the migrant experience, Dhamija chose to write what he loves to read – crime fiction.
“I like legal fiction, and since no one had written in that genre in the market yet, I took the risk,” the London-based writer tells Little India during his visit to the country for the Bangalore Literature Festival. “Being the first is always a two-edged sword — it could have bombed. But my first legal fiction — Déjà Karma — was successful, and encouraged me to write my second, Unlawful Justice.”
The mass-followed genre, in fact, gave him an edge. Dhamija got an audience that is not restricted by the geographical base of the author or the characters of the book.
“My primary audience is in India, but there are a lot of readers who live in various parts of the world who download my books on Kindle,” he says. “Like anything creative, stories, too, aren’t limited to physical boundaries — their setting might be.”
Dhamija, who grew up at Ajmer in Rajasthan, before moving to the United Kingdom to pursue MBA at the Manchester Business School, is convinced that “every experience in life influences you”. And that includes his experiences as an Indian based in Britain.
“You see a different world, you not only realize that different people react/behave differently to similar situations and things, but you also appreciate why they do so,” he explains. “Living in London, which is one of the most diverse cities in the world, modifies your thinking, your language.”
His thoughts were also influenced by James Ellroy’s four novels (termed as LA Quartet), which inspired him to write Bhendi Bazaar and the book that he is working on — Lipstick. Dhamija is also candid about the impact on him of Scott Turow, John Grisham, Richard North Patterson and Michael Connelly, who prompted him to pen legal thrillers. His books, however, are being hailed in the world of Indian fiction for the innovative touch they carry. Often called “nuanced noir”, his work is occupying space that was largely lacking Indian writers in English, since many of them focus on the Young Adult genre.
The characters in his novels are complicated, layered and exist in a world where everything is grey. In his recent novel, Unlawful Justice, another legal fiction brought out by Harper Publications in July this year, the characters grapple with their worlds crashing down and becoming something they had never imagined. The court room drama was eagerly consumed by readers, earning him a 4-star rating on Goodreads.
Not that the accolades have brought about a storm in his life, even years after his first book, Nothing Lasts Forever, was long-listed for the Vodafone-Crossword Book Award 2011. Dhamija, in fact, even discounts that his life has been any different from his days in India. “My life was the same then, as it is now,” he says, “if you discount that I drove a different car, drank a different brand of cola.”
He strongly feels that we tend to give too much importance to countries, which are a human construct. “As someone put correctly put it: why limit yourself to a nation when you can belong to the whole world?,” he says. “I, honestly, believe in John Lennon’s Imagine.”
Well, considering Lennon’s song also has lyrics such as Nothing to kill or die for, that’s quite something coming from a crime fiction writer.