Deepak Chawla

Deepak Chawla, HR Head of Reliance Infrastructure, On How He Wrote His First Book

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Kiruba: Hello and welcome to the “First Book Podcast,” India’s first and only podcast dedicated to helping first-time authors. In this podcast series we have conversations with bestselling authors and business leaders to understand how they successfully crack their first book. The authors give a behind-the-scenes look in their authoring journey and provide valuable insights and tips to help you publish your first book. This podcast is done in association with Notion Press, one of India’s largest publishing ecosystems.  In this episode, we have an interesting conversation with Deepak Chawla, Head of HR at Reliance Infrastructure. He has nearly three decades of professional experience in diverse areas such as HR, Projects, Operations, Business Development and Sales and Marketing. He has authored his first book titled Business as Usual, which is a reflection of his tryst with the corporate world and its profound impact on relationships, aspirations and decisions in his life. Let’s now listen to the conversation with Deepak Chawla. Here is a great podcast for writers to begin their publishing journey.

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Kiruba: Deepak, thank you so much for coming on the First Book Podcast.

Deepak: Please Kiruba, happy to be with you.

Kiruba: Congratulations on the launch of your book, Business as Usual. How does it feel getting your first English book published?

Deepak: Oh it’s a wonderful feeling. I used to always wonder whether, if at all, my book would come on the bookshelf. I used to go to the bookshelves and see the authors and I would build an aspiration “if my book will be on the shelf someday,” and it has happened. I am really thankful to all the retailers and publishers who have helped me get there.

Kiruba: Ya. This is the same dream Deepak that many of us have. In fact there are listeners who are listening to this; that is their deep inner desire to see your work, your ideas, come out as a book so that others can benefit from it. So, since when did you have this desire to see yourself on the bookshelf?

Deepak: So I had been writing from my youth times, from my college days. I have been writing essays, I have been writing short stories, I have been writing plays and acting and directing them. So the idea of actually having a book came out much later. To begin with, even today my idea is to write: I want to write. A book is just one form of an expression; yes you reach that stage of self-actualization where you want your writing to be read by people. So, what started off with Business as Usual was essentially short stories, with some thoughts which had been in my mind for like some time and I thought of getting them into a story. It was never in my mind that I will end up having a collection of stories, which it eventually turned out to be. So I wrote the first story. While I was writing my first story, there was some more thoughts which started coming. So I thought, let me part those thoughts and put them into some other story another time. So after I finished my first story, which took quiet a long time, nearly about 3–4 months because I was never working towards the target and I was just writing as a pleasure writing. So it took me 3–4 months to write the first story and when I finished the first story, I had an idea for another story in my mind. Even till then the idea was never to publish a book; it was just like, ok let me write something. So then I wrote the second one. When I wrote the second one, the thought of actually writing more stories and getting it published into a book came, because I shared these two stories with some of my friends and they said it sounds good. I think there can be more that can be written.  That’s when, after writing two stories, the idea of actually writing a full-fledged book came into existence. And then, I did have some thoughts, I had some experiences, I had some situations that some of my friends have gone through. So I believed that I do have a lot of story ideas to write, so let me start clinging them. So then the third happened and the fourth happened and I said, “Ok, five is a good number too; lets stop and publish a book.” Because, by the time I finished each story, I realised how long these stories are. So they are not short in the traditional sense of it. They can be called long short stories. So if you ask me how long did it take, it took me four years to put five stories together. Mainly because of my work. There was a time where between two stories I wrote nothing or one story I got stuck on and for 3–4 months I could not write because of some work exigencies. So that’s how it happened.

Kiruba: And it is very understandable your work exigencies  because your work is already in a high-level position in a private company.      

Deepak: I am the HR for one of the big suits in the country so it’s very demanding.

Kiruba: That’s right. I see two important lessons coming up out of it. The first one is that you don’t necessarily need to write a big novel or a big non-fiction book. This can be a collection of short stories or, in the way how you put it, it should be long short stories. So it becomes easier for people attempting to publish their first book. That is the first lesson that I am getting out of your thoughts. The second one is, even though you could be the head of a department of a very large company, you, or an entrepreneur or holding a full-time position, you can still take the time out to pursue your passion.

Deepak: Absolutely. That is something that I very strongly believe in.

Kiruba: So now that you have more than a full-time job Deepak, how did you manage to make time?

Deepak:  So it used to be late nights, it used to be on Sundays or holidays. That’s where I used to squeeze out time for myself. And that was at the cost of maybe not going to the malls, not going to the movies or not going for an outing so that I have time, I might as well write this. So somewhere, something you’ve got to compromise. So maybe I compromised on that side of it because that felt for me, this is more fulfilling rather than going out shopping or going for an outing.

Kiruba: So that element of sacrifice is definitely there.

Deepak: I wouldn’t say sacrifice. It is a compromise or maybe ascertaining your priorities – what gives you more fulfilment and joy?

Kiruba: Got it. I love it. “Its not sacrifice, its compromise.” Beautifully put, Deepak.  And if you were to attempt another book, I don’t know if you have another book in your mind?

Deepak: I have already begun working on it and I guess I am 40% there.

Kiruba: There you go! They say that once you’ve written your first book, as you are writing it, it’s so strenuous and time consuming that many people swear that they will never do that again. When the book gets published, it gives them such a big high that they have already started on their next book. I am sure that’s the same case with you.

Deepak: Yes, yes. Maybe I would like to share a couple of interesting anecdotes if you have few minutes.

Kiruba: Sure

Deepak: You know the idea of a short story versus a long story, you know a short story versus a novel, when I was four stories through, I was wondering that should I write the fifth story and make it a five-story book or should I write four full-fledged novels. Now that I have the story line with me, now that I have the characters with me, should I blow it up into four novels and I say “Oh look four novels coming one after the other.” Then I realised you know the kind of pace that had gone into it would probably not come that way. Second thing was, if you would have read the book, there is a certain common ethos that has gone into the five stories. In the sense that if you see all the characters are good characters. None of them is evil, none of them do anything wrong, none of them do anything bad, but yet they get into difficulties of life. So there is a common thread of ethos running through it. All the stories have very strong female characters in it. These were some of the boundary conditions which I had put to myself that none of my characters are going to be bad but is going to be in trouble. And all my women characters are going to be strong. So, I felt that if I write them as separate books then I will be very stereotyped as a writer, that every book is carrying a similar kind of a mould. So I said, “Let me part this kind of ethos in this book and next book will be different in terms of characterisation.” So my next book has got bad characters, dark characters.In this book, none of the characters even smoke or drank, they dint even hold hands. My next book everything will happen. So I wanted to have that departure just to give you a feel why I did not go on to make five big novels and put them into one story book because all of them carry one ethos.

Kiruba: Also another important point that I notice is, especially for first-time authors, it is important to get that quick wind into your bag. While you could have gone the other round of writing four big novels, what will happen is it will take that much longer time for you to write and sometimes it could be a case of biting way too much than you can chew.

Deepak: Very true.

Kiruba: So now that you are writing your second book Deepak, what have you learnt from your first experience that you will do differently, that you will improve your entire writing process?

Deepak: See now that it’s a full-fledged novel that I am attempting, I needed to jot down the outline very much in writing. So to saying that, it has got say thirty chapters, I have outlined all those thirty chapters as to what will happen in each one of them. Whereas when I was writing these stories, it was free-flowing, I had a very broad outline in my head and then I kept on writing. But then due to the restriction of 50–60 pages it all had to happen within those 50–60 pages. Now that it’s a long novel, there are long characters, there are situations telling you what’s happening. And to make it engaging to the reader, to make it holding on to the reader, I dint want it to be as free-flowing. So what I realized is I need to put down my thoughts. Each chapter I have defined what will happen; of course improvisations can happen, but the plot, the storyline, each chapter what will happen I have jotted down in advance and I am working around it now. And the second thing is having four years for a book is bad.

Kiruba: That was my next question.

Deepak: This will not be taking that long.

Kiruba: Good. Do you see that after having talked with many other authors as this podcast series, one important thing I am getting is that, it’s nice to put a kind of a deadline. Deadline is too harsh a word, but an end point, an end goal in mind, and then work towards it. So that gets them that discipline, that motivation to put in, so that’s a very helpful tip.

Deepak: So that’s important and I may not say that I will definitely put in such many number of hours, but yes, I have some timelines for me which I would not like to announce over this podcast. But then you can’t keep it hanging and let it happen when it has to.   

Kiruba: Correct. Because both expand with time and the book as well expands with time. Work always takes precedence, emergencies always take precedence.

Deepak: Absolutely

Kiruba: Any specific tools or any specific apps that have helped into your plotting?

Deepak: Nothing

Kiruba: So you are that very simple guy.       

Deepak: I use nothing. I just keep typing in my MS Word document and keep on typing.

Kiruba: Got it. Sometimes simplicity works better than any other tool. Have you taken any external help? Have you attended any workshop? Have you met with other authors? Any kind of external effort in order to make your writing process easier?

Deepak: No. I have not approached anybody. I have not taken any tips or lessons from anybody, because the objective was never to write a book, but it turned out to be a book. My idea was to express myself to write, because writing gives me joy.

Kiruba: That’s what I noticed. This is a wonderful way for you to let out steam. It’s a pleasurable distraction for you; it’s an ability for you to hone your other skill. It adds to your overall personality. I am just curious, now that you are the head of HR for a large group, how has the book helped you in your professional life or while meeting prospective clients or other prospectors?

Deepak: Helped in as in, it is recognition that people realize that he is also an author. You will be very surprised; I have not promoted the book at my workplace.

Kiruba: I see.

Deepak: Its only through, if I have a friend and we are working on a vision or if we are connected on Facebook or anything, but never ever on any platform anywhere have I promoted. That’s a personal ethic that I carry. Because I don’t want to use the official medium or official platform for making myself be seen as an author. Whatever people get to know from my social media or from the bookshops, or from the reviews is what circulates around the organisation. But on my own I would never do that. And most of all, being in a position as a HR, I want to oppose those heavily.

Kiruba: That is right. Because you are the one setting guidelines. They all make sure that you follow that.

Deepak: Just to give you an example, one day a certain department in one of the businesses, they put up on their internal boards that Deepak Chawla’s book has been released and it’s a good book. The moment I got to know I said please remove it, I don’t want it there. The company notice board was used to promote my book. No way, please remove it from there.

Kiruba: Interesting. I’m of my personal opinion Deepak, that it is actually being an employee of a company is able to bring out a book, in my opinion I think it adds to their aura and it has a rub off on the company as well. You know for example, your personality in my opinion has greatly improved because I not only see you as a Head of HR but I also see another dimension in you as an author. And because of that, you as a person, you as a personality is far more interesting to me.

Deepak: That’s right. No, I am not denying that. What I am saying is I would not proactively go around promoting myself. For example, I presented the book to my CEO and to 2–3 senior people in my organisation and they read it and they gave their feedback and said, “Deepak, it’s a very good book. We will also read it.” to that extent. But I would not go to promote myself. That is the differentiation I am trying to make.

Kiruba: Got it. One last question before we wrap up, Deepak. What would be your advice for senior management professionals who are interested in writing, but for some reason, something is holding them back? What would be your advice?

Deepak: My advice is, whether it is writing or any other interest, I would tell those people if there is something that you are perusing when you are in college or any other career and you still feel not to have any regrets later, do it now. Find time. Whether it is writing, whether it is photography, whether it’s music, whether it’s travelling. Something that truly makes you one with you and you know it, everyone knows it. So I think, you just got to do it. There is no other option in that.

Kiruba: That is very, very nice. In fact that is very similar to what I heard. I was watching a YouTube video today of Warren Buffet; he was saying exactly the same thing. Sometimes when you postpone passion, saying that I will do it after I retire, is a very odd thing because the living is in the now.

Deepak: For me, my writing or anything, I don’t want to postpone it to my post-retirement plan. It’s for when I am in my active life and when I am feeling it now I want to do it. That is very important for me.

Kiruba: That is correct. Excellent. It’s very inspiring, Deepak. Thank you so much for taking the time out. Also for sharing a lot. I absolutely enjoyed this conversation.

Deepak: Thank you so much. I also enjoyed.

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Kiruba: You were listening to the conversation with Deepak Chawla, Head of HR at Reliance Infrastructure and author of the book Business as Usual. I hope you learnt something useful from this podcast and here’s wishing you the very best in your journey in becoming a proud author. To listen to the rest of the episodes with other bestselling authors, please visit notionpress.com/podcast and look forward to seeing you in the next episode. Until then, take care and Buhbye.

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Aishwarya Mukundarajan

Aishwarya is an MBA graduate from Symbiosis International University, Pune. When asked what her hobbies are she points to an overflowing bookcase.

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