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Deepti Kapoor on her new novel 'Age of Vice'


Deepti Kapoor's "Age Of Vice" begins with a crash, and it never lets up. A rich man's car in New Delhi, 3 a.m., 2004, kills five people who live and sleep on the street. The man at the wheel is Ajay. He is 22 and stinks of whiskey. He's sent to jail, where he's attacked. But then, Ajay attacks his attackers. You see, he's a Wadia man. And slowly, we begin to see the life that put him behind the wheel and which steers through so many forces of modern India. "Age Of Vice" is being acclaimed as hypnotic and has already been compared to "The Great Gatsby" and "The Godfather." Deepti Kapoor joins us now. Thank you so much for being with us.

DEEPTI KAPOOR: It's a real pleasure. Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Help us understand your central character and the course of life that brings Ajay to Delhi 'cause he grew up in the kind of poverty that, I think, even very poor Americans might find difficult to understand.

KAPOOR: Absolutely. I mean, Ajay is, I would say, an oppressed everyman. He's a young boy whose father dies tragically, and then, he gets sold in order to pay off this family debt. And he makes his way to the mountains. When he becomes slightly free at the age of 16 or 17, he starts to work in a cafe in the mountains where he meets Sunny, who is the only son and heir to a big criminal business fortune in New Delhi. And then, he makes his way to Delhi.

And I see Ajay as the heart of the story. He's inspired by a young boy I did actually meet in the mountains when I was traveling, in a guesthouse who had a story of loss, who had a story of being sent away to pay off the family - and some family debts. And then, I combined his story with the story of young men that I used to see in my 20s when I lived in Delhi. And I had a lot of very wealthy friends. And in these private mansions, you always had these invisible men who catered and served you and made sure that you were always well looked-after, but who didn't have any personal lives - or that's what you thought. They were meant to just be invisible.

SIMON: Ajay, in fact, muses at one point - I'm going to quote your word. He becomes a name to be called and used, to turn on like a tap. How so?

KAPOOR: Because he's just - he's invisible, but he's also the person who makes sure that every wish is fulfilled even before you know that you have that need. And I have seen people like that. He's, in the beginning anyway, really happy and eager to please.

SIMON: Yeah. Tell us about Sunny and the Wadias because Sunny seems like he wants to do something different or something better. He wants to use the riches the family has accumulated through a lot of nefarious enterprises and use them for something good.

KAPOOR: Yes, absolutely. Sunny is - he's really a tragic figure. He's the heir to this massive fortune, but he's not ruthless like his father. It was interesting because I also wanted to look at the excess that post-liberalization India started to experience, where you had these vast fortunes being made overnight especially by people who knew how to, say, maybe rig the system. And then, coming back to Sunny, he's just - he wants to please his father, but he also wants to launder his family reputation and heal - and he wants to do good. So he has all these competing ideas. He doesn't want to be that gangster's son anymore.

SIMON: He feels like he's been misunderstood - right? - by - just by being cast as a rich kid and a gangster son.

KAPOOR: Yeah. And also, Delhi at that point of time was still a place where people like Sunny were looked down upon. And that's why we go to Neda. She is the daughter of a very culturally powerful, elite family.

SIMON: Neda is the reporter, conveniently.

KAPOOR: Yeah. Well, yes. And Sunny wants to prove himself to people like her. They fall in love, but it's also because Sunny wants to say that I count, too. I matter. I matter in this new India, anyway.

SIMON: You were a reporter in New Delhi for a number of years. May I ask? When you were doing - no doubt a conscientious job as a reporter. Were you were also taking notes as a novelist?

KAPOOR: Oh, yeah. I was taking a lot of mental notes. A lot of times these notes were being taken while I was stoned or drunk. I was basically observing all the time. I think somewhere deep down I had a subconscious impulse that one day, all of this will go somewhere else. I never thought I would be a novelist at that point of time. That came later. But I'm not going to lie. I did always think that this is great material.

SIMON: Yeah.

KAPOOR: It has to be used somewhere.

SIMON: I can't let something pass - were you stoned or drunk a lot? Was this just in the ordinary course of being a young person? Or what was going on in your life, may we ask?

KAPOOR: Oh, I suppose I could say I had some tragedy. I had a father who died quite tragically when I was in university after a long illness. And then, my first boyfriend also died within a year, and I was about 22. So I think I became very reckless. I had a car, and that was the biggest present - my brother left the city and - to work, and he left me his car. So I used to drive around angry. And I just wanted to dive right into the heart of the city, take all its decadence in.

SIMON: Yeah. Well, I'm sorry for the pain that you went through.

KAPOOR: Well, thank you. And I was able to channel it into the writing, so...

SIMON: Yeah. Is that how you feel about the story you've done here? We learn lessons through loss after all. That - well, you didn't just let the lessons lie around. You put them into a novel.

KAPOOR: Yeah. And I think what it made me do is just become more sensitive to the pain of others. My mother had a driver at that time who was on Prozac. His brother was in jail for murder. You know, he had all these stories of the city, and I was also on Prozac. So, you know, we had that common feeling between us. And he used to tell me all his stories. And all of that also went into the novels.

SIMON: I've got to tell you, as someone who loved this novel, at some point, I rooted for all three of the major characters. And then, at other points, I would say to myself, oh, come on. Don't do that. But I guess that's life, isn't it? It's just - that's who we are.

KAPOOR: I mean, I think then that my job is done, that you ended up rooting for everyone. I went through my books to at least create that kind of radical empathy that you feel for the characters even when you know they're terribly flawed. So I'm very happy to hear that.

SIMON: Deepti Kapoor, her novel, "Age Of Vice." Thank you so much for being with us.

KAPOOR: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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