Of the contemporary authors, I loved reading Vishwas Mudagal book Losing my Religion – for it is modern but not frivolous. So I decided to ask him some questions.
Vishwas Mudagal Interview
Tell us something about your background. Where did you grow up, what did you study and what do you do for a living?
Vishwas Mudagal: I am a serial entrepreneur and a CEO. I am currently the CEO of GoodWorkLabs, which helps global companies, startups and entrepreneurs build software products and succeed in the marketplace. Technology is an integral part of me and I have been passionate about it from childhood. I was 18 when I started my first company Infovision, to educate rural children in computers. Am fortunate that the entrepreneurial bug bit me very early in my life.
I was born in Dharwad, North Karnataka, and studied in Gadag, a small town, till 10th standard. Then went to Mysore to complete my 12th in 1999 at Ramakrishna Vidyashala (a school run by Swami Vivekananda’s Ramakrishna Math), and further went to Bangalore to pursue my engineering in Electronics & Communication at the prestigious RV College of Engineering. I have been in Bangalore since 1999.
What prompted you to write this book?
It all started five years ago, in 2009, when my Internet startup went through a rough phase. Although we had managed to get good user traction to our website, we couldn’t monetize it effectively. I was almost broke and we had to wind up. And I didn’t have the energy and the money to start a new venture.
One of those days, I happened to talk to an ex-colleague, who told me that he was taking a sabbatical and going on a year-long journey on his bike across India. I was left amazed listening to this, and instantly wanted to do that myself … go away, kill all the tension inside me, and look at everything else later on. But I couldn’t do that for a host of reasons. One reason was that I became the CEO of a Canadian MNC.
However, a bizarre idea struck me, that of writing a book on the situation I was in. I was so excited suddenly. And I decided to make the protagonist of my book go on a journey; I could live that life and that freedom through him, I reasoned. On May 22, 2009, I wrote the first chapter of ‘Losing My Religion’, and, I’d like to believe, my life changed that day.
How much of this story is autobiographical? How much of this story is what you want your life to be?
The start of the story is autobiographical because I made Rishi be in the same situation that I was. But it ends once he decides to quit everything and go with Alex on an uncharted journey across India. Rest of the story is pure imagination but influenced by people I have met, places I have visited, incidents in my life or my known ones, or stories I have heard growing up. Plus combined with years of research. LMR involved a lot of research, from Malana to Om Beach to Kumbh to reality shows, and so on.
And the next part of your question! Well, it’s a tough one. 🙂 But I would love to be in Rishi’s shoes and travel India with Alex. In some ways LMR is my liberation, and now it has become a ‘liberation’ for so many readers, who tell me they were taken on an uncharted journey along with the book; a journey that entertained and inspired them and a journey they can’t forget.
You mention multiple versions of the drafts of the manuscript. What took so many drafts? Were you polishing the story or the storytelling? Why was it important and at what point in time you decided that it was good to go to reader’s hands?
I had no formal training in writing or storytelling. I had to figure out my own method of writing a story. And I knew the beginning of the story, the protagonists, and the end somewhat, but everything else just came with the flow. Initially, I tried to write on the laptop, but I didn’t get the flow. I decided to try using pen and paper, and I was amazed that the story just flowed. This put an additional burden on me, I had to type it back on my laptop and my first draft had 120k words. So, you can imagine the time I spent.
Next, my pattern of writing involved months and months of continuous writing and then a break of months together. When I used to come back and read the manuscript, I used to be to be horrified with lots of stuff and I used to rewrite again. For example, the romance between Kyra and Rishi troubled me a lot. I rewrote that angle eight times. The story remained the same until the end; that was one thing that remained constant. So, my iterations involved changing sub plots, adding new layers to the characters, polishing the dialogues, and so on.
I took five long years to get the book to the market and it was important to get everything perfect, that’s how I am as a person. And today, when my readers thank me for writing such a book, all that effort is paid off.
Explain the title…what do you call it’s Losing my Religion?
Losing My Religion is not about religion. It’s about losing faith in your faith, losing belief in your beliefs. Everyone has a ‘Losing My Religion’ moment in their life and when you are pushed to the brink of a disaster, when you fall, when you question your values, when you lose faith in everything you ever believed in – you are reborn and you are reborn as a person who is stronger and wiser. That is called Losing My Religion.
Here’s a line from the book – “At times you have to lose your faith in something, be absolutely stone-cold broke in your belief in belief so that you can take the jump. Leap out of the existence you have wrapped around yourself and take the plunge without thinking of the consequences. You’ll fall, no doubt. But sometime during that, you’ll witness a miracle taking shape around you. That’s called losing my religion.”
Of all the places mentioned in the book, which one is your favorite and why? Vishwas Mudagal What are the places on your wish list?
It’s tough to point to a single favorite place. I love them all – The Himalayas, Om beach, Haridwar, and New York.
I am in awe of the Himalayas. And I forget the world when I look at the lofty snow-capped mountains, they inspire me to stand up against all elements of nature. It’s hard for me not to write about the Himalayas again in my next book.
Also, if you have noticed, I have written a lot of scenes around water bodies. That’s because I love rivers, seas, and oceans. I find a sense of peace when I look at flowing water.
Wish to travel the world and I hope I do that sooner than later. I want to use my travel experiences in writing stories.
What do you think is the highlight of your story? What is the key message(if any) that you wanted to give to the reader?
There are too many highlights of my story – the story in itself, the climax, the twists, the characters that really live and breathe inside those pages, the dialogues, the fresh narrative and so on. But many readers have told me that the main reason why they loved the book is because they connected with the protagonists. There is Rishi in each one of us, we have all fallen once, twice or several times during our lifetime and we aspire to rise again. That’s why LMR has clicked.
But frankly speaking, I think my book is entertaining to the core. And it’s meaningful. Hence a powerful combination.
One key message that I wanted to give to my readers was to follow their passion without fear of failure. The youth of India has been told to follow a defined path of going to college, taking up a job, marrying as soon as possible, starting a family, buying a home, and never taking risks. We have to change this, we have to create an India that thinks big, that innovates, that defines a glorious future, and this is possible only when we take risks, experiment, and follow our passion. This is the hidden message of the book.
What do you think about the entrepreneurial acumen of your generation or the next generation? Do you think they are trying enough or do you think there is scope for more?
There has never been a dearth of acumen, and there will never be. It’s the mindset of the people around us, and ecosystem that we provide that creates great entrepreneurs and enterprises. The kids in the US start companies when they are in colleges, but in India kids have no exposure or support. This has to change. Entrepreneurship has to become a career option, like becoming a software engineer or a doctor. The day when parents in India consent to marrying their daughters to entrepreneurs proudly, we have changed as a nation and great things will happen. More women have to become entrepreneurs, that’s another thing.
We are slowly creating a good startup ecosystem in India, but it’s not enough. I’m not happy with the progress. There is too much scope. If we have to become a superpower, we have to create jobs in tens of millions and for that, we have to create entrepreneurs in millions.
Vishwas Mudagal are you working on your next book? If yes, please share some details with us.
I haven’t started working on my next book yet. But there is so much anticipation of my next book already and I get emails/messages every day asking what my next book will be about and when will it be out in the market, etc. I really thank my readers for their love and encouragement. I hope to start soon.
Since 2011, I have been stuck with an idea of a man in the future. I can’t get it out of my head and I hope that will be my next. But I might end up writing a sequel to ‘Losing My Religion’ as well. I don’t decide these things, my heart does. So let’s see what comes next.