Good morning! I have been getting a lot of questions about my novel, Where Angels Prey, and I felt it important to write a blog to address these:
The first and most frequent question is: Is the book, Where Angels Prey, a work of fiction? Come on guys! Please give me a break my dear friends! Where Angels Prey, is indeed a work of FICTION loosely inspired by events that took place in the microfinance sector in India and also other parts of the world. Honestly, I have been so bored by my own previous TECHNICAL books on microfinance that I thought I would write something interesting and entertaining. And from the endorsements that have started to come in, I am beginning to believe that Where Angels Prey is indeed an interesting read. Please try it and hopefully, you should enjoy it!
A second frequent question is: Are any of the characters in the book’s plot real? The answer is simple NO! The names, characters, businesses, many places (other than big cities) and institutions are primarily the product of my own imagination. And I do not see any resemblances what-so-ever, to actual persons, living or dead, or actual institutions, in India or elsewhere in the world!
Let me give you an example. Prasad Kamenini is the founder and chairperson of SAMMAAN microfinance. His background, as stated in the novel, is as follows:
“Prasad thinks back to his younger years, spent on his paternal grandfather’s estate in their ancestral village. Thathaiyya had still been the overlord of several thousands of acres of agricultural land. They had lived regally in what was nothing short of a palace. They wore nothing but silk, used silver cutlery and had innumerable servants at their beck and call. His princely life had, however, been cut short in his early teens when he had to move to Delhi to live with his parents. Unlike his landlord grandfather, Prasad’s father was an academician. An Oxford graduate in History and Economics, he had taught in UK for many years before moving back to India and joining the Economics department at St Stephen’s College. It was because of this that Prasad had spent many of his formative years with his grandfather.
His life underwent a sea change after the move. No longer the spoilt prince, he had to get used to attending to his own chores, although they did have some household help. His father had turned socialist in UK and lived the life that he preached. He actively participated in protest marches to highlight social causes and was associated with an NGO that worked in rural development. In an effort to shape Prasad’s outlook, his father would take him along to several rural camps organized by the NGO. Although initially resentful about having to subsist on basics or less for even a few days, Prasad had slowly awakened to the reality that this was the life of the majority in this country. He often fancied himself akin to Prince Siddhartha, whose exposure to the harsh realities of life had made him renounce life and evolve into Gautama Buddha. His mindset went through even more of a change when he returned to his grandfather’s home for the holidays. The poverty, oppression and lack of access to opportunities and resources that the villagers suffered from moved him to a point where he started experiencing a deep guilt for the excesses that he and his family enjoyed. He started feeling that the only way to assuage that guilt, even to a small degree, was to give back to the people who had been denied so much by his family over generations.
After graduating with a master’s degree from Oxford University, Prasad briefly worked with an American investment firm. He had then surprised friends and family by giving it all up and moving back to India to work with an NGO called Madhya Bharath Vikas Sanstha. The SAMMAAN Microfinance programme assumed a new strategic direction in 1999, in the wake of the submission of his PhD dissertation on bottom of the pyramid strategies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.” (pages, 131-133, Where Angels Prey)
To be true, while I don’t hail from that affluent a background as Prasad Kamenini, I can relate to a lot of the above, except for the aspects that I did not complete my Ph. D (for personal reasons) and also that I did not go on to start an MFI – although I worked very much in the microfinance industry as a technical support person for many years. In fact, my own father chose to walk away from his reasonably well-to-do parental home as a humble freedom activist, much to the anguish of my paternal grand-father in the late 1930s. My mother, likewise, joined the Quit India Movement in early 1940s and later, became a social worker. With both of them, I have visited the grass-roots in every nook and corner of the country as a young boy/adult and participated in the activism that they (my parents) were involved with – in fact, that led to desire a socially oriented career. And for the record, I too gave up a decent life in the United States and came back to India as I wanted to work for people at the grass-roots. So, in many ways, Prasad Kamenini is someone whom I relate to very well and he is my very own little ‘creation’. That is the great thing about being an author – you can create a world that you desire and I have gone about just doing that in “Where Angels Prey”.
Likewise, a thorough and careful reading of Where Angels Prey will REVEAL that the names, characters, businesses and institutions mentioned therein are my own creation and have NO resemblances what-so-ever, to actual persons, living or dead, or actual institutions or businesses, in India or elsewhere in the world! And all of you will understand this as I continue to blog on the uniqueness and idiosyncrasies of the characters that I have created.
A third question is whether Where Angels Prey be construed as the direct representation and/or depiction of any particular individual/institution? As CLEARLY and EXPLICITLY noted above, as noted in the book (all versions), website disclaimer, Where Angels Prey is a work of FICTION loosely inspired by events that took place in the microfinance sector in India and also other parts of the world. It is NOT a direct representation and/or depiction of any particular individual/MFI/institution in India or elsewhere, existing or past.
That said, a very important point needs to be made here. My previous non-fiction books, The Journey of Indian Microfinance and An Idea Which Went Wrong: Commercial Microfinance in India – both of which, have received critical acclaim, are the ones which have any direct references to individuals, MFIs and institutions. These books served to provide an accurate account of the AP crisis. In fact, the major criticisms/exposés (with regard to related party lending and other aspects from the AP 2010 crisis including insurance frauds, corporate governance failures, material misstatement frauds on financial statements, documentation frauds etc) made in the above two books are NOT even a part of the novel, Where Angels Prey, which is plain simple fiction.
So, I would request everyone to sit back, relax and read the book and give me feedback on whether indeed I have been a half way decent story teller! Thank you very much in advance for the support and it is much appreciated!
Ramesh S Arunachalam