I'm honored to have Karan Bajaj ihere to talk about his wonderful new novel, The Yoga of Max's Discontent. He's an Indian American author of three contemporary Indian novels, Keep Off the Grass (2008), Johnny Gone Down (2010) and The Seeker (2015). Bajaj's first novel, Keep Off the Grass, which became a bestseller with more than 70,000 copies sold in the year of release, was a semi-finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and was longlisted for the Indiaplaza Golden Quill Award. Together his novels have sold more than 200,000 copies in India.
I always think that a writer is sparked to write a particular novel. So what sparked you to write The Yoga of Max’s Discontent?
For me, two things have to come together to embark on a novel—entertainment and meaning. I’d been playing around with the idea of writing about a journey through secret India for years but it became a deeper, three-dimensional reality when my mother died from cancer.
My questions about the nature of human suffering became more urgent for me to answer. So in 2013, my wife and I set forth as monks with a metaphorical begging bowl, going from Europe to India by road with no possessions, then learning yoga and meditation in a remote ashram in the Himalayas.
Both the adventure through secret India—hidden yoga ashrams, surreal night markets, remote Himalayan caves—and my own transformation through the journey became the impetus for The Yoga of Max’s Discontent.
You call yourself a “striving yogi”, and you spent five years on that path—that’s so fascinating I have to ask you to elaborate. Are you still striving?
Indeed, very much striving! A yogi is on the journey to dissolve himself or herself completely, to become just a vessel for his work to express itself. I slip and fall often but I like to think I’m working everyday towards that ideal. Whether in my writing or my corporate career, I just try to act without attaching myself to the outcome. Like a tree that just grows and bears fruit because that it’s innate tendency, I try to work and write to express my innate tendency without thinking of whether my books will change the world or establish my platform or sell a lot.
I love the message of the novel, seen through the eyes of Max, who gives up Wall Street for a quest for enlightenment. Do you think America will ever prize the spiritual over the material? Or even consider it to be a worthy search? (I hope so.)
We have this idea in India that life’s journey is like the flight of an eagle. First, you flap your wings high, as high as you can flap them, growing with experiences in the world. Then, you gracefully bring the wings down, go within and complete your journey. So there’s a role for both and I think you’re seeing that a little in America now. You’re seeing folks who’ve realized that it’s monotonous to run after external experiences, be it houses, cars, travel etc. infinitely, and they’re choosing to become more silent through yoga, meditation, or their spiritual practices. So indeed, I think a societal shift is occurring.
What kind of writer are you? Do you map things out or have them channeled through you or a little bit of both?
Over the last decade, my writing style has been a little bit parallel to my life. I follow what I call a 4,1,4 model:
4 Years: Extreme goal-directed living—working at my corporate job, disciplined reading/writing/researching etc.
1 Year: Complete slack—take a sabbatical where I travel without a goal, write when I want to, meditate, work in an orphanage, basically allowing myself the space to just be and discover facets of myself without the constant hankering to become.
4 Years: Return to corporate/goal-directed life.
…and so on.
I’ve done three cycles of this and traveled, deepened my writing, and learned yoga and meditation in my sabbaticals. In that sense, I think writing is a reflection of my life. For four years, I’m very outline-driven, then I completely let go. I think this balance of tight and slack is helping me produce work consistently yet have a hint of transcendence in it.
What’s obsessing you now and why?
I’m thinking a lot right now about the Axial Age, that unique period of ten centuries between 10 B.C and 0 A.D. when Confucius, Buddha, Jesus, Plato, all sprouted in the world with the same mystical insight into the nature of reality without having any connection with each other at all. I think it had something to do with society reaching a point of relative prosperity when it had progressed enough to not have to compete for resources yet hadn’t progressed enough to create too many technological and entertainment distractions. That space for contemplation may have been crucial to get a direct insight into the nature of reality.
I’m reflecting on all this because I’m wondering how to construct a life that allows me that space for mystic contemplation and not get sucked into the cult of modern productivity.
What question didn’t I ask that I should have?
I guess a little about my writing history since I don’t have the usual credentials—MFA’s, New Yorker writing stints, or other creative writing pedigrees. I’m an engineer-MBA from India and wrote two novels in India on the side with HarperCollins, both of which became #1 bestsellers in India and were optioned into films. I resisted the impulse to publish them in the US despite publishing offers because I didn’t think I had anything new to add to the conversation with the books in the West—they were very specific to the Indian cultural context. This is the first time I feel I’ve written something which will give pause to readers in this part of the West and I’m eager for their feedback!
Karan Bajaj is the author of THE YOGA OF MAX’S DISCONTENT (Riverhead, May 3rd’ 2016). Get your free gifts worth $299 including your free meditation video course, yoga flow course, and Quit Sugar in 7 days guide, when you order the book at www.karanbajaj.com/yogamax (150 Spots Only!).