An interview by Pankaj Kumar (@PKumarInd)
Completing his education from La Martiniere College, Lucknow, Mukul served in the Indian Army for 15-plus years. Taking premature retirement as a Major, he founded MSD SECURITY PVT LTD, which is headquartered at Delhi, and operates in 70 Indian cities. Moving to Singapore he then established INFLUENCE SOLUTIONS PTE LTD, which provides customized Learning & Development solutions to MNCs and government organisations in 13 countries, in English, Mandarin, Japanese and Korean. He is also an Executive Coach and Mentor to C-level leaders, has served as a Mentor on the UNITAR Afghan Fellowship, and is a highly sought after keynote speaker. Mukul has published fourteen books in four different genres: fiction, business, self-help and historical.
Pankaj Kumar: Welcome to Global Asian Times, Mukul. From being in the army to writing about it, was this a natural progression?
Mukul Deva: Thank you Pankaj. I get this a lot, about my various career and life transitions. For me, it was a very natural move — From the army to setting up a security company, to writing books and then leveraging all these into coaching, mentoring and INFLUENCE SOLUTIONS, my Learning & Development company. In fact, I feel that each aspect of my life has strengthened the others. You see, what I learnt in the army (Focus, Flexibility and Discipline), has held me in good stead in every other area of my life. Likewise, my story telling enables me to help my coachees and mentorees, by allowing me to share relevant examples from others, which they can relate to and use to grow…. And so the cycle goes on.
Pankaj Kumar: What does the art of weaving words do for you on a personal level?
Mukul Deva: To my mind, writing is the ultimate catharsis — being able to paint a picture for the reader with words is like pure magic. It is also a form of expression that exercises the creative and the logical part of our mind; since we need to construct logically the story, and then tell it in the most creative and imaginative manner. This, separating the ‘what’ (the science) from the ‘how’ (the art) is also a lot like living life. Do you agree? I also love the fact that it reinforces my self-discipline. You will agree that writing requires tremendous self-discipline; something no writer can hope to succeed without.
Pankaj Kumar: You are a prolific writer delving into many genres. Does writing come easily when there isn’t the pressure of making a living out of it?
Mukul Deva: Here is the funny thing, Pankaj. I have seen myself as a ‘writer,’ but more as a storyteller. In my head, I am the wanderer who sits by the fire of whatever random gathering he chances upon, and merely shares a story. And no, I don’t think there is any pressure when it comes to storytelling, at least not for me. However, although I have not been in this situation, I do believe that fiscal pressure can be useful too – in ensuring one stays on target and writes regularly. It can also help us to do our very best, to ensure our books are better appreciated and sell more. I personally ensure that I always stay within the stipulated, often self-imposed deadline for each book.
Pankaj Kumar: Tell us about your latest book ASSASSINS in the Ravinder Gill Series.
Mukul Deva: ASSASSINS, the second book of the Ravinder Gill series, is about an assassin who has been tasked to assassinate two high-profile Pakistani leaders whilst they are visiting India. Though a different theme from the first book, WEAPON OF VENGEANCE, I believe it retains the pace and tautness. Also, ASSASSINS deals with the complex dynamics between human beings as they joust to satisfy their egos, and balance their relationships. It also casts a relevant spotlight on Pakistan’s internal situation, its turbulent politics and its tenuous relationship with India. And of course, being a thriller, ASSASSINS has all the requisite ingredients — high decibel killings, intricate assassinations, imaginative weapons, grey characters whom you hate to love and love to hate, high-speed chases and the ever escalating tension as supercop Ravinder Gill and his bete noir Leon Binder, the assassin, race towards their inevitable clash.
I will not talk more about the plot since that is adequately covered by the blurb, and advance chapters have been made available online by the publisher; TOR / Macmillan, USA. However, one interesting fact that I would like to share is that the section on Benazir Basheer’s assassination was written by me a few weeks before the assassination of Benazir Bhutto — not the location or the people allegedly responsible, but the manner in which her car was attacked. Back then, I did not use that section for that book since I thought it would be insensitive. However, I have done so here since it fitted in rather well with the theme of ASSASSINS.
Pankaj Kumar: You are also an entrepreneur. What made you start up your security company, MSD Security Pvt Ltd and Influence Solutions Pte Ltd?
Mukul Deva: When I left the army, I had made up my mind that I would hence only work for myself. My only formal training was in the field of security, so it was only natural that I set up a security agency. By God’s grace, and a really fantastic team of people that life brought me in touch with, MSD did well and is now a niche, but reputed player in the security market in India.
Once MSD SECURITY was professionally managed, I found that my own contribution was quite limited. Also, I felt that I had accumulated a wealth of diverse experiences and wanted to leverage them to help others grow. That is what led to my move to Singapore, and set up INFLUENCE SOLUTIONS. We have by now helped thousands of executives in 13 countries to become more productive, and their companies to become more profitable.
Pankaj Kumar: How much of your thrillers are autobiographical where characters and incidents reflect your personal experiences during your stint in the army?
Mukul Deva: In all my books, thrillers or otherwise, every single character is generally a blend of various people that I have had the pleasure of knowing. I have tried to stay away from any kind of autobiographical work, however whenever something interesting has happened, I have tried to weave elements of this in my books. And, I must confess, that I love people watching — each person is so uniquely fascinating—so I gather little bits from here and there and then use those to cobble together characters who are as ‘normal,’ ‘multi-faceted’ and ‘interesting’ as the real people we meet.
Pankaj Kumar: How important is the commercial side of writing and promoting your book as opposed to the sheer joy of the creative art of expression?
Mukul Deva: Pankaj, this is something that I must admit I have never paid much heed to. I believe my job ends when I have submitted the manuscript to my literary agent and publishers. Yes, I will work with them to improve or change whatever needs to be done to bring the book up to par, and I will also do whatever book tours or interviews they tell me to, but beyond that I let my books fend for themselves. Firstly, because I genuinely believe that a book should sell itself on the strength of the story and the characters. Secondly, you must understand that as soon as I finish one book I move on to the next, so there is little time to do much else. For me the joy of writing, of getting my next book ready in time and to the best of my ability, is far more important.
Pankaj Kumar: Writing is a craft that requires extended periods of alone time to allow creative juices to flow and take shape. How do you find time for this self-imposed isolation from your demanding schedule?
Mukul Deva: Like I mentioned earlier, I pride myself on my self-discipline. No matter how busy I am, I ensure I take time out to write everyday. That is why I have trained myself to write everywhere — in airplanes, airport lounges, hotels, coffee shops, gardens, even bars! In short, I take my writing wherever life takes me. However, my favourite place is to write in the early morning by my swimming pool . . . everything is so perfect then.
Pankaj Kumar: You have also written business books. Do you think surviving in the corporate world is as treacherous as combatting enemies in the battlefield?
Mukul Deva: Ha! The corporate battlefield is far, far more treacherous than the real one. In the real one, my experience has been that men and women and tend to say what they mean, and mean what they say. That unfortunately, is not how things always work in the corporate jungle. I am not saying that everyone (in the corporate jungle) is bad or has ill-intentions, but the fact remains that when ‘profits’ and ‘bonuses’ are at stake, people do tend to behave rather strangely. No?
Pankaj Kumar: Do you feel satiated by your life journey so far, or are there more milestones to achieve in your personal context?
Mukul Deva: Like all human beings, Pankaj, I guess I too am a progressive animal — when one goal is attained, another emerges; when one milestone is achieved, the second one seems to come up just around the corner. Also, I don’t see myself as a success or anything like that, but merely as a person who is trying his very best, to walk down whichever road life has delivered me to, in the best possible way. And by that, I mean in the most kind and humane manner. I am a firm believer that all of us should do our very best to achieve the best possible karma — for then only does life become beautiful, not just for us, but for everyone who comes in touch with us. So, I guess I am satisfied, but not satiated.
Pankaj Kumar: What is your life philosophy?
Mukul Deva: To live my life like a Karma Yodha — a karmic warrior. And when I use the word Karma, I refer to my intentions behind every action I take, and not just the actions. I would like to ensure that my life has meaning and brings joy to those other than my immediate family too, and to do my best to ensure that people will remember me fondly when I am gone…
ASSASSINS, an excerpt:
A consummate politician, Benazir raised her hands above her head and began to clap. The crowd clapped with her, caught up in the hysteria of the moment.
“Nara- i- Takbeer, Allah O Akbar.”
“Nara- i- Haidri, Ya Ali.”
“Awam Hero Hero, Baqi Sab Zero Zero.” (The people are heroes. Everyone else is zero.)
The popular slogans, currently doing the rounds in Pakistan, erupted from her. Echoed sonorously by the cheerleader. And repeated thunderously by the crowd. The hysteria was sky high now. No one noticed Bombers 1 and 2 inch toward her, about eight feet apart. And they were still twenty feet from the dais.
Finally holding up her hands for silence, Benazir began to speak. “These are the slogans that greeted me when I arrived in Rawalpindi. I know this is the city of brave and sacrificing people.” An appreciative roar from the crowd.
Bombers 1 and 2 covered yet another couple of feet to the dais.
“Rawalpindi is my second home. When my father was a minister, I used to live here. I used to go to school here. It is here I lived many moments of joy and sorrow. And always the brave people of Rawalpindi stood by me, in moments of happiness and in my hours of sorrow. You have never let me down.”
The roar of the crowd was like a continual roll of thunder. The distance between the two assassins and the dais receded by another foot. But still not close enough. Not enough to penetrate the living bulletproof shield guarding the woman on the dais.
Blissfully unaware of her death creeping closer Benazir resumed her rhetoric. “This is the same city which thronged to the Liaquat Bagh when the dictator Yahya Khan refused to leave and forced him to step down.”
The crowd responded with another defiant roar.
“This is the same city where the government of the Pakistan People’s Party was established. Rawalpindi is the same city from where my father started his struggle against the dictatorship of General Ayub Khan and young Abdul Hameed sacrificed his life for democracy. This is the city, which has defeated all dictators and Inshallah will once again inflict a crushing defeat on another dictator and usher in an era of democracy.”
“Allah O Akbar.”
Five thousand lusty throats roared out their support.
“Awam Hero Hero, Baqi Sab Zero Zero.”
Bomber 2 was now within fifteen feet of the dais. However Bomber 1 was stuck a few feet further away. So dense was the crowd that now neither could move.
Pankaj Kumar is the Chairman and Managing Director of Global Asian Times. Based in Toronto, Kumar is a dynamic entrepreneur, publisher and media specialist. An alumnus of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, Kumar is fluent in French and has worked with the Consulate General of India in Canada where he organized international trade fairs, seminars and conferences.