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Challenging to produce humour for a broad audience base

Life&More August 8, 2018
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Saurabh Tankha

This was the first time in over two decades of my journalistic career that someone you emailed questions about life, achievements, future plans and some more… had the courtesy to reply with the answers and stating he was thankful for our interest in his accomplishments.

That’s Rishi Piparaiya for you, dear readers. The founder of www.damned.com and the author of national bestseller, Aisle Be Damned, Rishi has released his latest work, Job Be Damned recently. Born to Mumbai-based stock broker, Rishi was with Aviva in C-suite roles but was tired of the corporate rat race and took a three-month sabbatical in 2014 to travel and write. He came back, convinced that he want to switch tracks and a year later, left Aviva to focus on his passion of writing and mentoring students and start-ups.

Over the past three years, Rishi has published his second book, Job Be Damned, travelled extensively around the world, and been associated with various start-ups and a few academic institutions.

A brief chat with the former strategy head of Citibank India…

The first time you felt the urge to express yourself through writing. What/ who has influenced you and what were the motivations behind writing? When did you think of writing humour and then moved on to penning satire?

Some of my most vivid, early childhood memories are of writing poetry and my parents getting emphatic compliments from my teachers for the same. Writing in verse came naturally to me, and this was something I pursued all the way through college. Some of my poetry was humorous, and somewhere along the way, I also transitioned to writing humor and satire.

Professionally, I used to write satirical emails at work sometimes to diffuse tension and that would viral out – it used to happen very often. My PowerPoint presentations invariably had an element of humour. So it was never really a conscious decision or choice to write humour – it just flowed. That said, I enjoy writing business articles, short stories and children’s work. So am just waiting for water to find its eventual level.

Writing is my preferred and most comfortable form of communication. I love the process of writing – words just magically fall into place, and when it is all over, you step back, look at what a blank page has been transformed into and ask yourself – how did this happen? That is the only motivation one needs really.

Who has been the most inspirational person in your life and why?

I get asked, and I struggle, with this question a lot. I admire so many qualities in so many people. My late father for his equanimity and hard work. My mother for her simplicity and sincerity. All my former bosses for some leadership aspect or another. But when it comes to inspiration, I think that it eventually falls back to me – I inspire myself, and I demotivate myself. I set my own benchmarks, and I judge my successes and failures against them. If I am successful, I will have a lot of people to thank but myself to praise. And if I fail, I will only have myself to blame. So it is a good question, and I particularly gave it a lot of thought when I had to dedicate my debut book, Aisle Be Damned. And I eventually wrote, “This is for you, Rishi”.

jobs

These days, the market is deluged with authors of all ages. How easy or difficult is it to achieve success amid so much competition?

More than authors, the market is deluged with content. That too in all formats – visual, audio, video and of course books. The competition that authors face is not really from other writers, but from other content formats – we are competing for the reader’s attention with the likes of YouTube videos, Facebook posts, and Instagram accounts. And that is indeed not easy! I would honestly be thrilled if the tribe of successful authors increases – at least we have managed to attract people to pick up a book and read – an activity that is rapidly declining.

Ever struggled with a writer’s block?

Yes, fairly often but different writers probably face it and deal with it differently. It can be a real challenge for writers who are under tight deadlines or follow a systematic approach to writing such as a minimum number of words a day. For procrastinators like me, it is less of a pressure. I try not to struggle through writer’s block and simply occupy myself in other pursuits. Equally, at the times when I do get into the flow of writing, I try not get distracted by anything else. So I may write nothing for a month and twenty thousand words in the following week, and on an average, I am fine.

How difficult is to write something that will bring a smile to someone’s face?

Humour is very subjective, and therefore, it is incredibly challenging to produce a work that would appeal to a broad audience. I don’t even have any cues when I write as to whether it is funny or not. Parts of my work which I find absolutely hilarious, bomb entirely with most people who read them and sections that I find half-smile worthy at best, sometimes draw the loudest guffaws. So I have stopped even trying to predict what works – I just do my job of faithfully documenting what is happening around me, and I leave it to people to chuckle at what they find funny.

Did your being in the corporate sector help bring to life some really interesting anecdotes? Was it a concentrated effort to remember these incidents while you were a part of the corporate set up so that you could write about it later?

Spending close to two decades with multinationals, across geographies and functions, and managing thousands of professionals certainly gave me a unique perspective on corporate life. As a flunky, mid-manager and then senior leader, I have probably been through every plausible situation that a professional would encounter in a typical career. And every line and paragraph in the book is inspired by something that I witnessed firsthand or heard about. I didn’t really have to keep notes or remember incidents to document in a book later – every topic invariably sparks off a dozen ideas and brings back memories of various situations, and it has just been a question of recording and organising them. I have obviously exaggerated and used creative liberties to make these situations more nonsensical then they might have been initially. But behind all that humor is a strong element of truth, which exists in organisations and workplaces the world over.

Why did you have to go all the way to Singapore to release this book?

As a former international banker, I have a strong network of friends, family, and readers in Singapore. They have been suggesting that I hold a book event for quite some time now and this summer was an excellent opportunity to do so. Job Be Damned had just released, I was contemplating a quick break anyway, and it all fell into place. While Job Be Damned cuts across organisations, it has been written primarily from a multinational perspective, and Singapore is one of the hubs of global business. It is also a regional centre for various organisations, and the book, therefore, is very relevant for the professionals there. Given the enthusiasm I witnessed in Singapore, I am contemplating a similar international launch in Dubai – another global centre with a large population of professionals frustrated in their mundane jobs!

Plans for future…

I am always brimming with ideas and let’s see what I will eventually execute. I am developing my humour and satire platform – www.damned.com which hosts some delightful content. I have many book ideas, across different genres, that are slowly but surely taking shape. And I am getting quite occupied with speaking engagements and sharing my experiences with students, young entrepreneurs, and corporate professionals.

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