It’s no mistake I happened upon Bharat Krishnan’s Privilege, Book 1 of the WP Trilogy, during this time of social and political change (do I dare say upheval?) in our country and around the world. Power and politics go hand-in-hand, imbuing every aspect of society from the nabobs to the powerless masses. Privilege, an #ownvoices political thriller, takes a hard look at privilege and power in the U.S.— who holds it, how one can achieve it, and who is barred from it. Krishnan claims politics seep into every aspect of society and believes we can’t understand each other without a firm, constant knowledge of how politics affect us.
The story is told by several characters, foremost, Rakshan Baliga, an Indian-American working for a profitable hedge fund in New York City. His boss, Aditya Shetty, has risen into the ranks of the rich and powerful, including acquiring the sought after WP, a drug with magical-like properties, causing consumers to be stronger, smarter, and more prosperous than mere mortals.
WP by law is forbidden to non-whites. But Rakshan wants his share. He also wants to marry Sadiya and have a family. Rakshan has an engagement ring made containing WP and proposes. Once on her finger, she realizes he is not what she wants and breaks up with him. He is determined to win her back and comes up with a plan to steal Aditya’s WP and take over the hedge fund with the help of his best friends. With the WP he can spin a tale the world will believe and avoid arrest. His dreams will come true. That is, if he isn’t killed in the process.
Meanwhile, Sadiya has fallen for her best friend from childhood, Maadhini, and they travel back to India to tell her parents they are going to get married. Although Sadiya drags her feet on the revelation, the tension eases as the story’s themes shift to family and values.
Even though he’s got his WP, things have not gone well for Rakshan, who alienates his friends in his drugged quest. He becomes involved with a congressional hearing to consider legalization of WP for all Americans and aligns with the mother of a boy murdered by the police to give testimony. The current president opposes legalization. The country is in the balance—and the story tension and pacing ratchet up. This story might have been ripped from today’s headlines.
The peek behind closed congressional doors was realistic and chilling. Privilege makes me wonder how any real change can be made and equity for all citizens be achieved with the madness of “privilege” addling our brains. I don’t come from an immigrant experience and have had many advantages in my life. Seeing our country through the “other’s” eyes has given me new understanding and fresh resolve to help with the solution. It’s time to unify our society under an inclusive and equitable system where we all can live healthy, productive and secure lives. How many more massacres at schools can we live with? Privilege is telling us to choose.
An interview with Bharat Krishnan
am: What presidential campaigns did you work on and when?
BK: I started my career with the Obama campaign way back in June 2007. Over the next decade, I traveled the country not just on his campaign but also managing local campaigns across the country, from school board and city council to state legislature. I’ve worked in just about every geographic region of the country, from Los Angeles to Louisiana to Virginia to New Hampshire.
am: What kind of educational background prepares you for this work?
BK: I have my BA in political science, with a certificate in political campaign management which is something my alma matter, American University, specialized in. I later got my MBA at Louisiana State University. Going there and working in places like Wichita, Kansas, I found how much state schools like LSU and Wichita State relied on foreign students who also worked at the schools as grad assistants.
am: How has your education and experience influenced this trilogy?
BK: My knowledge of politics seeped into every aspect of the trilogy, from how presidential campaigns really work on a practical level (i.e., what staffers do) to some legal stuff (i.e., book three has a super PAC in it).
am: Did you have a foursome of friends from school and childhood like Rakshan?
BK: Rakshan and his buddies are based on me and my three childhood friends. I put aspects of me and my life into each one of the five characters: Rakshan, Abhinav, Krish, Ash, and Ravi.
am: When did your family come to the US? How are the characters’ experiences like yours or your family’s?
BK: I really wanted to highlight the first-generation Indian-American experience, and also call out the differences and similarities. Most of Rakshan’s friends grew up here, but you still have Krish who came to the US only later in life. There’s no homogenous experience and I wanted to show that. For myself, my family came to the U.S. when I was about two years old.
am: What are your views on immigration?
BK: We need to do more to encourage immigration. Especially since Trump’s election, people are now afraid to come here and it’s a damn shame we’ve nurtured that type of environment. There’s a long history of immigrants coming here for their education and staying, and to the extent we can encourage that with a more relaxed visa policy, the better.
am: Will we find out what happens to Rakshan, Sandiya and Maadhini?
BK: All three of these characters get an ending that makes sense for them! Everything will be clear by the end of the trilogy.
am: What do you hope readers will take away from Privilege?
BK: I use a story telling device I created myself called STOP. It stands for Story, Theme, Origin, and Plot. I try to sum up all my novels’ stories in one or two sentences, and for the trilogy I’d say it’s this: Power and Happiness are two separate things, and you have to choose which one you want.
am: Where are we going in the next two books? Will there be any happiness?
BK: Book one was just about New York, but in Book two we go to D.C. and India, and in Book three you’ll go to Belize and Guatemala as well! And yes! There is happiness, but it takes big, bold choices and it doesn’t always look the way we expect.
am: What else would you like to say to readers?
BK: I try to make the through-line in my novels radical emotional honesty, with politics always sprinkled in, because everything is political in my opinion. I’m very proud of Privilege for winning “Best Adult Fiction” in Ohio last year, and I hope you have a chance to check it out and my other stuff at www.bharatkrishnan.com.
Bharat calls himself a professional storyteller and amateur cook. After 10 years of working in politics, he’s tried to explain how the country went from Barack Obama to Donald Trump by writing Confessions of a Campaign Manager. Then he wrote Oasis, a desert-fantasy novel that examined what makes a family and how refugees should be treated. Now the WP Trilogy. Looks like he’s on a roll with themes of immigration, equity and power! If you enjoyed reading House of Cards, you’ll enjoy Privilege.
“Krishnan has created a genre-bending ride that reimagines how we tell stories about class in America. A must read. “
– Reeshi Ray, Author of One Nation Under Gods