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Sarna: Finding his mediumSarna: Finding his medium Exclusive interview: The Angel’s Share – the debut novel written by NLSIU Bangalore 2008 graduate and former Amarchand Mangaldas associate Satyajit Sarna - hit bookstores on Friday.

“I know that for me exorcism, or cleaning yourself out, or coming to terms with things, is by writing about them”, says Sarna. “At some point it just built up and I thought to myself: There’s a story here and someone needs to tell it. And I thought, I should tell this story.”

But more than narrating a plot, Sarna says, he really attempted to “tell a philosophical story like a journey”.

Novel of ideas

He first started writing The Angel’s Share fresh out of law school as a first year associate in the capital markets team of S&R Associates.

The story is told from the perspective of Zorawar Chauhan, a junior associate at a top-tier law firm, mostly looking back at his days at NLSIU Bangalore, but occasionally drifting to the present to narrate his life at the law firm as a highly paid junior associate.

Without revealing too much, the book begins with and is framed by the death of Chauhan’s close law school friend, with some parallels to real world law school history.

After much prodding, he calls the book an “elegy” and a “novel of ideas” - a “fairly forgotten” genre he says. “Celebrity and fame – that’s actually at the heart of the book. That is the philosophical message. What if you were to die tomorrow? Do you like what you’re doing? Are you happy?” he explains.

Sarna explores ideas around the central theme that “life only begins when you realise it means something”. Each chapter ends with an epiphany, which emanates from episodes ranging from dope-smoking parties at law school, to delving into the intricacies of human relationships.

Ask him how many of these ideas are riffs off true stories, and he offers: “I have to say that all of this could’ve happened, not all of it did. I’m sure that if you were there at the time you’d see some kind of connection.”

Candid camera

There are also others who’d see a real-life parallel in the law firm partners, senior associates, law firms, and law school administration whom Sarna has turned into subjects of his wit.

Sarna examines the culture of cold competition and non-existent work-life balance stereotypical of India’s biggest corporate law firms. He also links this to a similar habitat in law school, which seemingly inures the flock of future graduates that join the milieu with unquestioning gratitude.

And as chapters unfold, law firm partners or senior associates, might well see the commentary as going from cavalier to contemptuous. Was that a considered risk for him?

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“I trust the fact that fiction, in a way, is a way of putting on a mask and being honest. I think I’ve been fairly honest and if law firms can look at themselves and say – no we’re not like this, it is very good for them.

“But I venture to say that a lot of law firms will look at this and say, wow, we think we may have that problem. And if even one law school can look at it and say that none of this ever happens, then that would be just untrue.”

“If it does hit hard, if it does say unpleasant things, I think the reason it does is, because it’s true!”

Music and lyrics

Sarna finds his own pleasant medium to couch the “unpleasant things” he speaks of. The 2009 album First Days of Spring, by English band Noah and the Whale, is the sub-title of chapter 16 which narrates arguably the most acidic realities of law firm existence. Each of the other 27 chapters has its own album-band-and-year subtitle.

“Music is something which I’ve always been deeply into, though horribly untalented at,” he confesses adding, “music influences writing hugely. For example, there’s a lot of writing that comes out of impressionistic work like jazz.”

Sarna also enjoys writing poetry, and while his columns and book reviews have been published before, he is sitting on a collection of unpublished poems by him which, he asserts, lie wasted thanks to the modest market for poetry.

Unpublished poetry has a way of manifesting itself in his prose though, as is evident from his love for long sentences. “What long sentences allow is a sort of musicality, lyricism. I think I have a bad habit of using very long sentences that I enjoy.”

“Sometimes I think when you have a sentence with little clauses, you get this rush; it tastes like a nice cocktail,” adds the lawyer, then laughs. “You can also make awful cocktails.”

Tequila Sunrise

A giant cocktail is what life looks like for Sarna currently. He is trekking the Himachal, partly researching for his next piece of, what he calls, “fantasy writing”, and partly to take a break from writing itself, gearing up to return to law practice.

After leaving behind his position at S&R Associates in October 2009 when he realised he was not suited to transactional work, Sarna joined senior advocate Neeraj Kaul in the Delhi High court in January 2010, and assisted him until April 2011.

For a year until May 2012 he was part of the litigation practice at Amarchand Delhi, and now he plans to join a drafting counsel and continue the litigation path.

“What I like about litigation is having to think on your feet and being creative in court. And it is also a social thing. You meet a lot of your fellow professionals, a lot of your clients; it is not about sitting in office and the same five people come to your desk.”

Drowning: A hazard of the professionDrowning: A hazard of the profession Wanderlust and gold dust

The big-moneyed lifestyle of the corporate law firm, and the compelling fear not to let it slip away despite unhappiness, consumed a fair share of words in The Angel’s Share.

What battles did Sarna wage to make the jump from an S&R package to distributing his time between writing, travelling, and a brush with the art of court practice instead?

“Ever since my first year as an associate I have just been earning lesser and lesser, but I have never been happier. But there are things you love doing which require money. It cuts both ways, so severely.”

Eventually he offers an easy explanation. A racing bicycle he covets would have been an easy buy for him on an S&R salary, yet working six-and-a-half days a week he wouldn’t have found the time to jump on the seat and pedal.

“You have to find your medium. I’d be happy taking a lot less money and having the flexibility to cycle when I want to.”

The Angel’s Share is published by Harper Collins and is available on Flipkart here [affiliate link]

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1
 
Recommend! +45 Objection! -0 wise guy 2012-06-26 13:57  interesting  top rated
So that's Amarchand associate #765242324 that has got fed up of law and pursued an alternative career because of working too hard. Surely, the Shroffs deserve praise for bringing out the budding writer, dancer, singer, actor, politician, chef and sportsman in so many lawyers?
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Recommend! +3 Objection! -0 LOL 2012-06-26 16:04
Quoting wise guy:
So that's Amarchand associate #765242324 that has got fed up of law and pursued an alternative career because of working too hard. Surely, the Shroffs deserve praise for bringing out the budding writer, dancer, singer, actor, politician, chef and sportsman in so many lawyers?

hahahaha
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Recommend! +0 Objection! -0 Anon 2012-06-26 14:08
Having interacted with Mr. Sarna during my internship at Amarchand I can say that he is an intelligent, observant and practical person. I look forward to reading his work and wish him all the very best. He is an inspiration for people like me, who would love to be able to write a book one day.
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Recommend! +11 Objection! -0 Delhi lawyer 2012-06-26 14:21  interesting
Why can't the law firms have more people with less salary and good work life balance ? For example, a firm can hire 2 persons and pay them 40k each instead of paying 80k to one guy. In this way, none of them will be stressed and at the same time the can have good time for their loved ones. On the other hand, the firm incurs the same expenditure in terms of compensation.
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Recommend! +1 Objection! -0 Gandu 2012-06-26 15:55
Hello Anon. Emm you do realize that they probably wont get the kind of people theyre looking for if they offere a salary of 40k? thats what students of TP Memorial Engineering College make mate
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Recommend! +4 Objection! -0 qtiya 2012-06-26 16:50
Quoting Gandu:
Hello Anon. Emm you do realize that they probably wont get the kind of people theyre looking for if they offere a salary of 40k? thats what students of TP Memorial Engineering College make mate


You miss the point. Delhi lawyer is arguing for the system toi be joined. As for your comment about TP memorial college, FYI many people from top NLUs are working for 30 K these days because of the job crisis. LI is censoring this news and pretending that everything is ok.
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Recommend! +6 Objection! -0 chutestoonarrow 2012-06-26 17:24  interesting
Uhm because the profession doesn't have a good work life balance. In a service industry, especially like corporate law, you really have to justify your billing hours with your dedication and time.
So it would just be like a low salary and a bad work life balance. Kinda like Klaw.
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Recommend! +1 Objection! -0 Youmustbeafirstyear 2012-07-01 11:52
And what about 2X the hiring cost, 2X the training cost, 2X the computer equipment / personal stationery cost, 2X the office rental cost, 2X the parking required?

You, son, will never be a businessman.
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Recommend! +3 Objection! -0 A 2012-06-26 15:13
I doubt there is any corporate job (law firm or in-house) with work hours which appeal to Mr. Sarna's liking...lol
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Recommend! +0 Objection! -0 AA 2012-06-26 17:17
Quoting A:
I doubt there is any corporate job (law firm or in-house) with work hours which appeal to Mr. Sarna's liking...lol


In-house Counsel is good man, they work till 6 PM, 5 days a week.

Btw thanks to LI for covering this, looking forward to read this book.
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Recommend! +16 Objection! -0 A 2012-06-26 17:38  interesting  top rated
Ask AMSS Cap Marks' team how many hours they worked this year!
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Recommend! +2 Objection! -0 Tetragrammaton 2012-06-26 16:41
SS in a law firm was like squeezing a giant whale into a fish tank and then dropping it to the bottom of a deep, slimy green well. This man was cut out for the Big Time Stuff, a truly affable chap, a terrific writer with an uncontrollable penchant for dystopian stories. It is heartening to note that he managed to break out of the wormholes of depression in favour of a life in the sun under the great blue skies.

The long term side effects of S&R and AMSS on him can only be judged on the basis of how quickly he is able to pen that fantasy novel.
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Recommend! +3 Objection! -0 ABCD 2012-06-26 17:37
SS a big whale??? He is not even a small whale :P
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Recommend! +0 Objection! -0 Tetragrammaton 2012-06-26 18:19
Quoting ABCD:
SS a big whale??? He is not even a small whale :P


My excited little friend, why don't you READ what is written? If you think it says, or even implies, anywhere that he is a big whale, then you're a big Drongo, sorry, a big fat Drongo.
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Recommend! +3 Objection! -0 ABCD 2012-06-26 22:10
Strong and bitter words indicate a weak cause ;)
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Recommend! +3 Objection! -0 NUJS Student 2012-06-26 17:16
While I'm not paticularly fond of this genre of fiction where the author uses the 'fiction' as an excuse to impose on people his unappealing and uninteresting autobiography, in this case i will make an exception only because this book (if written nicely) could offer useful insights into a law firm life and also throw up amusing anecdotes that i could relate to. So at the risk of patronising another Chetan Bhagat, i'm buying this book
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Recommend! +23 Objection! -0 R 2012-06-26 17:57  interesting  top rated
wow. the world is sooo highly indebted to you for this
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Recommend! +7 Objection! -0 Trollbaiter 2012-06-26 18:26  interesting
Quoting NUJS Student:
While I'm not paticularly fond of this genre of fiction where the author uses the 'fiction' as an excuse to impose on people his unappealing and uninteresting autobiography, in this case i will make an exception only because this book (if written nicely) could offer useful insights into a law firm life and also throw up amusing anecdotes that i could relate to. So at the risk of patronising another Chetan Bhagat, i'm buying this book


This troll is surely not from NUJS. Trolls don't belong to law schools. They belong in the outer space, along with the cosmic trash.
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Recommend! +5 Objection! -0 Script 2012-06-26 17:37  interesting
Bola Noojie..

NUJS, look at NLSIU, they are producing actors (remember placements article) and writers. Will you guys keep producing only dumb lawyers? Write a short story on [law firms] and send it to David Dhawan, I am sure if it that made into a film, it will be a laught riot.
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Recommend! +10 Objection! -0 Go LI! 2012-06-26 17:50  interesting
Yes, LI has done it!! Let the trolling begin now!!! Any idiot can post under "Name" - "NUJS student" or "NLS King" and get an anti college sentiment started. And the next comment will attack individuals.... LI dream. and the main story of a talented guy having written a book will be forgotten. But LI, please dont regulate.
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Recommend! +5 Objection! -0 real noojie 2012-06-27 10:44  interesting
we also produce politicians and litigators, and start-ups, and media professionals. just like every other law school in the country! And we dont have to look at someone to do things, i mean NLSIU is obviously superb and all, but we just do what we do.
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Recommend! +2 Objection! -0 jack 2012-06-27 12:32
Satyajit Sarna's father is a senior diplomat and author. This can be a disadvantage. If the book is bad people will say he is useless and got a book contract because of his father's clout. If the book is good, people will say the same thing!
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Recommend! +1 Objection! -0 A friend 2012-06-27 14:06
One can't always stop people from assuming negative things about other people - especially when you write something/do something that gets your name in the limelight, people are bound to be cynical and assume that you used clout.

His father's books have been published by penguin and other publishers, not Harper. And not everyone feels the need to use clout to achieve something. Give someone the benefit of the doubt and read the damn book instead of spending time making "if" sort of comments here.
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Recommend! +1 Objection! -0 Anon 2012-06-27 14:47
In India, daddy is definitely a huge advantage - whether getting a job or getting a book published. Just because it is a different publisher doesn't mean jack wasn't used!
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Recommend! +1 Objection! -0 A friend 2012-06-27 15:25
fair enough. i can tell you that it wasn't, because otherwise this book would have been published when he finished it, two years ago. but again, cant always prevent people from thinking in the negative
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Recommend! +0 Objection! -0 AS 2012-06-29 13:45
Penguin rejected his draft, FYI.
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Recommend! +2 Objection! -0 hungry jack 2012-06-27 14:33
what people say is what they say.

Just to add his poems have been published before in reputed anthologies, and he has enough prior legal and non-legal (including hindu editorial) published writing to his credit.

Publishing houses like harper don't usually dole out book contracts based on contacts.
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Recommend! +0 Objection! -0 ? 2012-06-27 17:12
So, he was with S&R first and then with AMSS. But LI headlines that he is an AMSS alum - no reference to him being an S&R alum. Why this bias towards AMSS Kian? Please explain.
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Recommend! +2 Objection! -0 - 2012-06-27 22:17
Its good that Mr. Sarna has been able to write a book and get it published too. May his writing career be successful. People like Mr. Sarna are living example that not everyone has a natural talent for law. Mr. Sarna is a vary talented and has a brilliant mind, but his aptitude towards legal work is nothing when compared with that towards other activities such a writing. He has excellent communication skills, but not that excellent knowledge of legal issues. Its good for both Amarchand, S&R and Mr. Sarna that he left and starting writing.

The point I am trying to make is that everyone should explore what they are good at. Just because someone made a decision to go to law school more than half a decade ago does not mean that the person would be a good lawyer (even though he may be brilliant in other fields). Drop the fear of losing big fat retainer and do what u want to do and are good at doing.
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Recommend! +1 Objection! -0 ick 2012-06-29 02:47
Quoting -:
Its good that Mr. Sarna has been able to write a book and get it published too. May his writing career be successful. People like Mr. Sarna are living example that not everyone has a natural talent for law. Mr. Sarna is a vary talented and has a brilliant mind, but his aptitude towards legal work is nothing when compared with that towards other activities such a writing. He has excellent communication skills, but not that excellent knowledge of legal issues. Its good for both Amarchand, S&R and Mr. Sarna that he left and starting writing.

The point I am trying to make is that everyone should explore what they are good at. Just because someone made a decision to go to law school more than half a decade ago does not mean that the person would be a good lawyer (even though he may be brilliant in other fields). Drop the fear of losing big fat retainer and do what u want to do and are good at doing.


though i get your larger point (made in the second para)- please note that- there is no natural TALENT required- you could me a monkey or a nls grad- doesnt matter- not in a law firm. you have a degree and can string a sentence in english and you are good to go- of course to bend over now and then will get you the silver bullet. what a joke. stop killing your intellect by coming to a law firm.
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Recommend! +0 Objection! -0 ANON 2012-06-29 14:38
@10.1 : Completely agree, tho our law firm partners wud have us believe otherwise. Huh....
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Recommend! +0 Objection! -0 Just Saying 2012-06-29 17:39
The reason people should get out of high-paying/high-billing law firms is because most of them are parasites that exist simply as a fraud on shareholders. If the shareholders of client companies knew that the management is hiring people to do work for which they over-charge several times over, they would never let it happen. Anyone who does not want to gorge on this parasitic system should chart their own path.
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12
 
Recommend! +15 Objection! -1 Stupid Angel 2012-06-30 00:51  interesting  top rated
After reading this book, all I can say is - tht was 250 bucks and 5 hours of my life I am never getting back!
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13
 
Recommend! +4 Objection! -0 dudediligence 2012-07-02 11:49
blah...i wish i didnt...
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Recommend! +2 Objection! -0 - 2012-07-02 14:14
Congratulations on a really impressive debut novel, Satyajit! I look forward to reading more of your work!
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Recommend! +4 Objection! -1 anonymous 2012-07-03 14:40
just read the book...it is trash.
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