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
America: Standing Strong
Right from the introduction to America: Standing Strong, I knew I‘d be powerfully moved by Robert J. Emery’s book. He says, “There is a worldwide upheaval coming if it’s not already here. This time, it feels different; this time, it feels dangerous. Where are the voices of common sense, reason, and compromise? There was a time when America’s two-party system, for example, worked to advance American society despite philosophical differences. Today there is endless in-fighting and political posturing between the parties that do little to advance the lives of citizens. Enough already.” Exactly—enough already!
I’m not a zealous fan of political essays or social histories, although I’ve read a few important books in my day, and this is one of them. The book is not anything I expected when my fellow Indies United Publishing House author asked me to review. Emery has offered readers a look at our divided society, politics, COVID pandemic, racial tension and eroding trust in our government, leaving it up to us, the reader, to form our own opinions. He punctuates his thoughts and illuminates the facts with quotations from famous authors, movies, politicians, songs,—even Forest Gump— all designed to make the reader think and to put things in perspective. Inspired by columnist David Brooks, “. . .when social trust collapses, nations fail. Can we get it back before it’s too late?” Emery counters with [Brook’s words are] “a call to arms, not with weapons or violence, but as a unified country to meet challenges head-on with honesty, truth, and facts and to roundly reject the voices of the wolves in sheep’s clothing who would lead us in the wrong direction.”
Written with humor and straightforward “plain talk,” America: Standing Strong explores where we are on many fronts and how we got here. Emery includes chapters on Dictators, terrorism, Anger and the Loss of Civility, Guns in America, the environment, Conspiracies Theories & Misinformation, Technology & Social Media, along with the expected chapters on January 6th, The 2020 Election and The Pandemic. He says, “Stay with me; it gets messier as we proceed.” He often opens a chapter with “What went wrong, and what went right.” and often ends a chapter with a call to action and a summary of the consequences of the chapter topic and a final word. In the chapter, Whatever Happened to Common Sense? it ends with this:
The final word goes to philosopher Voltaire
“What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We
are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally
each other’s folly – that is the first law of nature.”
—Voltaire (1694 -1778)—
Writer, historian, and philosopher
Another favorite line of Emery’s is “Make of that what you will.” He isn’t proselytizing or persuading. He’s presenting the facts of our current socio-political life and inspiring us to action by telling it like it is, how it’s been (there’s nothing new under the sun, is there?) and offering steps to right some of our wrongs. As an added bonus, Emery offers a host of books and articles to reference within the text. I read several of them and made a list of many more to catch up on later. That’s because Robert J. Emery has made me a convert.
Rather than sticking my nose into another thriller, now I’m paying attention to real life. How did this happen? Robert J. Emery has written a book that inspired me. The issues are complex but the intent and presentation are simple. America: Standing Strong is fact-filled, often entertaining, and left me feeling hopeful. I highly recommend it. “Make of that what you will.”
What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”
—T.S. Elliot (1888 -1965)—
An Interview with Robert J. Emery
am: What brought you to writing?
RJE: I have no idea why I began writing little stories in the 5th grade, like the two pages I wrote when my dog died. I attended Catholic school and my homeroom teacher, a nun, was kind enough to read my one- and two-page stories and she encouraged me to keep writing, which I did consistently all through school and my 4 years in the Air Force. It was a fun way to amuse myself. I never gave thought to where it might lead me one day.
am: You eventually broke in to the film industry. Tell us about that.
RJE: It began with a small ad agency I opened in Canton, Ohio. When the first TV station came to town in the mid-sixties we got into the writing and shooting of local TV commercials. I then created a daily morning talk show which I produced and directed for that station. We were fortunate to have a regular flow of Hollywood actors as guests when they were doing summer stock at the Warren Theater in nearby Warren, Ohio.
At some point, I began writing screenplays with no clue what I would do with them. As it turns out, some local businessmen had an interest in investing in an independent motion picture and that’s how I got my first film made. I then spent 4 decades writing, directing, and producing eight motion pictures and over 140 hours of cable network documentaries, and everything in between that had anything to do with film production.
am: Now you’re writing books. Have you come back to your story telling roots?
RJE: Yes. In 2006, I retired and set out to fulfill a life dream of writing books, which I never had time for during my production career. First came four non-fiction books. A NY publisher asked me if I would write on my experiences producing and directing the Starz/Encore 92-episode series, “The Director.” I followed that with my first novel, In the Realm of Eden, a science fiction story about human/alien first contact. Later, I extended the story to 562 pages, changed the name to The Autopsy of Planet Earth, and released it in two volumes via Indies United Publishing House. Next came the dystopian novel Midnight Black, also revised and expanded and released through Indies United.
am: Tell us about your writing process. You write in several genre.
RJE: I admit to being obsessive writing 6-7 hours a day every day when I can. And I’m fortunate to be able to write in any genre when a subject moves me, fiction or non-fiction, like my current book America: Standing Strong, a subject I’m passionate about. America: Standing Strong is a non-fiction examination of what Americans endured between 2015 and today, and how as a country we will come back strong.
When writing fiction, I believe one of my strengths is creating characters because of my background in writing and directing screenplays. I direct my book characters in my head the same way I did when directing actors. For me, it’s the same process. I try to give each character something that sets them apart from the others. It might be how a character looks or how they talk. In Autopsy, for example, I had one character drop the ing’s on all his spoken words. It’s something I work hard at to give readers a visual sense of who each character is. That, I believe, is the challenge each writer faces.
am: What was the inspiration behind America: Standing Strong?
America: Standing Strong came about because all the books that were coming out by investigative reporters, as good as they were, were about the previous American administration. But what about what Americans endured not only politically, but the pandemic, the racial uncertainty, the 2020 election, the Jan 6 insurrection, unemployment, healthcare, inflation? That’s what was missing from the narrative. That is why I became passionate enough about it to spend over a year writing.
am: So what’s next? Will you write more on the troubling times we live in?
RJE: Ahhhhh… the next one, The Diarrhea Diaries, Trump’s Tweets That Give us the Runs, began as a joke that I turned into a non-fiction book featuring 400 of Mr. Trump’s greatest insulting Tweets which gained me my share of blowback from his supporters.
I will never live long enough to write all the stories rolling around in my head, but, I’m going to give it one hell of a try, because I love what I do.
Robert J. Emery
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