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Tuesday, 20 November 2012

An Interview with Tamal Bandyopadhyay

Here's the interview we held with Tamal Bandyopadhyay, author of A Bank for the Buck, the story of HDFC Bank:

How long did you take to write this book?

I did the research and interviewed people for over six months last year along with my normal office work. At the next stage, I took two-month leave to write the book. Actually, I could use about five weeks of the two months as I had some prior commitments in terms of attending certain functions in India and overseas and three weeks were spent on that. For five weeks I confined myself into a room and worked sixteen hours a day. I Left Mumbai in search of privacy and worked on the book in a friend’s empty house at another city.

How difficult was working on the book along with your regular job?

It wasn’t very difficult as the subject is not entirely new to me. But, yes, writing a book is a different kind of discipline. I am used to write a 1000-word column a week. Naturally, writing a 13-chapter, 70,000-word book is a very different ball game. It’s like asking a T-20 player to play a test match. I wouldn’t call it difficult. It’s different and great fun.

Was it a smooth run or did you find difficulties in sourcing certain information or meeting people?

Whoever I had approached either met me or spoke to me on phone. So, access was never a problem. But after writing the book, cross-checking of certain facts was very tough. The book covers past two decades since India opened up economy and  there were instances where people could not recollect names or designations of others (and  sometime of their own) accurately. But I can’t afford to go wrong. So it was a painstaking exercise.

Could you give us a few instances?

Oh, there are many. For instance, there is a reference to Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s brother-in-law Francis Bruce Pike.  He set up Peregrine India.  His wife India Jane Birley was half-sister of Jemina Khan. It was not easy to get the exact details. Or, for that matter, what was Nandan Nilekani’s designation at Infosys Ltd in 1994?
Even identification of a tree at a textile mill compound under which the bankers used to hold classes was very difficult. Ultimately, photographs of the tree were taken and the Bombay Natural History Society was consulted for identifying the tree.
I had taken every care to present facts accurately and hope there’s no mistake.

Will you write another book?

It all depends on the subject – how exciting it is. I took up the project because I was excited about the subject.

Your journalistic experience must have come in handy in writing the book?

Yes, to some extent. Writing per se is not an issue with me but the canvas of a book is much larger than what we deal with on a daily basis in a business newspaper.  It’s different but definitely it helps if you’re a journalist.

What qualities does one need to become a good business  journalist?

An overview of the economy, a feel for numbers, loads of commons sense and, above all, respect for ethics.

Did you study economics?

No. I did my post-graduation in English literature from Calcutta University.

Isn’t that a handicap?

I see this as an advantage. This helps me to look at things from a different perspective. As I have said, journalism – whether business reporting or political reporting – is all about common sense. If you have that and you don’t compromise on ethics, everything else falls in place.  You can pick up the domain knowledge on the job.

Where did you start your career?

I started with Times of India as a Trainee Journalist.

So, a non-business journalist?

Yes. I mainly worked with the Sunday weekend section. It was called Sunday Review those days. I used to write book reviews and features.

Apart from Mint, where else have you worked?

I have worked with three other financial dailies – Business Standard, Financial Express and Economic Times before joining Mint in 2006.

Is it all work and no play? How do you relax?

I cook when I find time, play with my dog.  I also write poems in Bengali. I love travelling, meeting people.

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