Let me confess at the outset that I have never met Rupa Gulab in the flesh. But she is one person I am absolutely, totally, toe curlingly, embarrassingly eager to meet. Pray, why, you might ask. For one, the obvious a to the above q is that we’ve never met, although I have been suitably intimidated by her being hot shot ad person and sister to ex-colleague back from the days when I was cutting my teeth on journalism (of course, that I decided mine dentition was not serrated enough for the profession is another topic altogether and I digress as is my wanton norm on this blog) and, for the second, the little that I’ve known of her and interacted with her on twitter, she comes across as this fabulously feisty lady, who calls a spade exactly the variety of gardening instrument it is, and has a delicious turn of phrase that makes one want to genuflect in reverence.
She’s written three books prior to this, her latest, I Kissed A Frog, which is collection of short stories, built around urban themes of singledom, romance, where her heroines are far from the syrupy sweet variety that populate the pages of most writing on single urban women, fairy tales with modern, feminist twists, and which are all, each and everyone of them, incisive comments on the lives of the urban woman. Unfortunately, I haven’t read any of them previous books, which are Girl Alone, Chip of the Old Blockhead and The Great Depression Of The 40s, something I plan to rectify immediately.
Here’s a short q &a with Rupa on this latest book and writing and other sundry things.
You’ve done novels before this book. What made you turn to the short story format?
To be honest, a mind block drove me to it. I’d been working on two novels simultaneously a couple of years ago. And then that dratted mind block hit me. Hard. I couldn’t move further on either of them – despite the fact that I loved the stories, knew how they would proceed and how they would end, I absolutely could not write another word. And so I wrote nothing in the interim, hoping that my mind block would vanish. Tragically, that didn’t happen. To break out of it, I decided to start work on something else. Something that wouldn’t take too long and would, at the very least, keep me from going batty.
I wrote I Kissed a Frog in 3 crazy months. I already had a few short stories that were published in Verve, Femina, Deccan Chronicle and unboxedwriters.com to begin with. I had a format in mind. And the other stories followed in a rush. It was like they poured out of me. Amazingly effortlessly. It was a mind-blowing experience. Writing on the sisterhood of singles is a breeze. I’ve been there, done that, had it done to me. Sometimes I don’t know why I bother exploring other themes.
But as for that mind block on my two novels-in-progress? It’s still there! Dammit.
Also any short story writers you are particularly inspired by?
The awful truth is, I’ve never been a huge fan of short stories. I gave up when I was in college. After I went through a phase of Maugham, O Henry, Saki, Maupassant and Dahl (oh, they were absolutely delightful to begin with), I’ve come to dread that predictable twist in the tail thingie. I know something unexpected is going to happen (macabre, tragic or just plain stupid) and ruin the whole story for me. I do enjoy some modern short stories, but not enough to place them on the bookshelf I reserve for favourite books.
What are the challenges in writing short stories-vis a vis a novel?
None (as far as I’m concerned) because I write them like I’m writing a novel. Only they’re a darn sight shorter. And the fantastic thing about writing a collection of short stories is that you have so many characters to play around, so many different situations, you can never get bored. Better still, it’s like offering a box of assorted chocolates to readers. Different flavours to appeal to different tastes.
In this collection, which are the stories you are exceptionally delighted by?
- Au Revoir: Because it’s an obit (in advance) for my best friend.
- The Ex-Files: I enjoyed writing it because I love exploring all kinds of relationships, and it was fabulous (though I say so myself) how the heroine’s prickly relationship with her mum changed after she was dumped.
- Rapper N. Zel: In this parody of Rapunzel, I gave the wicked witch a clean chit, hooray. And I spoke for all my female friends who’ve got nasty bumps on their heads after encounters with glass ceilings. I think I summed it up rather nicely with the moral: “Don’t blame hormones – it’s really glass ceilings that give women crazy feelings.”
The humour in your writing is deliciously wicked. Do you feel humour writers aren’t taken seriously–that, like Plum Wodehouse said, they’re considered the burbling pixies of the writing world?
Oh I absolutely agree with PG Wodehouse: humour writers aren’t taken seriously. We’re reserved for airplanes and loo breaks. And celebs never mention us in rapid fire ‘What’s on your bedside table’ interviews. They would much rather say Paulo Coelho/Rhonda Byrne/ Flavour of the Month Guru of Fake Profundity (without realising that it makes them sound foolish).
But frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. I don’t wish to be taken seriously or else that may go to my head and I’ll become one of those pompous asses I so enjoy laughing at. Shudder.
Your debut book was published in 2005. What changes have you seen since then on the Indian writing in English scene? The good, the bad and the ugly.
Oh plenty. In 2005 the Indian writing in English category was confined to small lonely bookshelves in book stores. Those lonely bookshelves have now expanded to take up considerable space in book shops, and they’re groaning under the weight of popular fiction, literary fiction, a staggering amount of non fiction that covers everything from searching looks at the nation to Bollywood, music and diets. Yes, fitness and diet books have become astonishingly popular. Am now waiting with bated breath for a chick lit novel about a fat unhappily married woman who falls in love with her dietician/fitness trainer.
But I’m not going to comment on the good, the bad and the ugly. Why bother? We all have different tastes.
What is your writing process like? Do you plot before hand or do you let the story develop organically? Do you have a fixed schedule to write or are you an impulsive writer?
I always know the beginning and the end in my head. In the middle, I let the story develop organically. But sometimes, there are characters that develop personalities of their own – and that could change the ending drastically. Mainly, I just go with the flow.
Standard format question-your favourite writers/books/ literary influences
My parents were voracious readers, and they enjoyed humour most. So I grew up on a diet of PG Wodehouse, Richmal Compton, Anthony Buckeridge, Lewis Carroll, Jean Webster, Jean Kerr, Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer to name a few. I really hurt my Dad when I refused to read his favourite boy books: the Billy Bunter series, but he recovered (mildly) when I read the Bessie Bunter series. When I grew older I added more humour writers to my personal bookshelf like R.K. Narayan, Woody Allen, Richard Armour, James Thurber, Dorothy Parker, George Mikes, Gerald Durrell, Erma Bombeck, et cetera.
You’ve been one of the rare authors who has stayed away from the promotional hoopla authors go through these days. Do you think word of mouth works in this age of new book overload and promotion overload?
Oh hell, I have to do a Rhett Butler once again. Here goes: Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn about book readings, promos et cetera even though I suspect that they may work better than word of mouth. Look, I’m a writer, not a performer – I tend to get feverish in a crowd. I write because I enjoy writing. Really enjoy it. What I do not enjoy is the process of selling my books personally and hitting people on the head with the latest sales figures or glowing book reviews. I do not want my friends to start avoiding me – hey, I like them!
What are you working on next?
Like I said before, I have two novels in waiting. And if my mind block doesn’t go away, maybe I’ll come up with something else. Or maybe I’ll never write again.