Q&A with Devapriya Roy, Author of The Weight Loss Club and a giveaway…

Here’s a bit about the wonderfully ebullient Devapriya.

“The author, Devapriya Roy has degrees in English literature and performance studies from Presidency College, Calcutta, and Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and adds a languishing PhD (on the Natya Shastra if you must know) to her list of mustfinishes. Once upon a time she was the Keo Karpin girl. At the moment she is working on ‘The Heat and Dust Project’, the story of an eccentric journey through India on an extreme budget, along with spouse Saurav Jha. After years of resisting, she has succumbed to the addictions of twitter and can be found @DevapriyaRoy.”

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I received The Weight Loss Club -The Curious Experiments of Nancy Housing Cooperative on a Friday afternoon, most fortuitously, and finished it over the weekend. You must realise, these weekends are now sorely taxed for time given it is Mom’s home visit time of the week, weekly cleaning up of the neglected house time of the week, coupled with sports mom demands on time and such like. Therefore, as you correctly deduce, dear reader, the book was most captivating. The max I will say before getting down to the brass tacks, err, the interview, is that I loved how Devapriya has developed each character with empathy and insight, bringing out little details that flesh out the characters, bringing them off the page as real, living, breathing people. The book focuses on the lives of the residents in a Kolkata housing complex and how their lives change when a sadhvi comes to live in their midst. For more, go read the book.

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1] How did the idea of the The Weight Loss Club come to you?

This is the one question that has me stumped, Kiran. I have no idea. I was struggling with two massive projects – my PhD on Bharata’s Natyashastra and the manuscript of The Heat and Dust Project, when all of a sudden, for no rhyme or reason, I began writing The Weight Loss Club. The first chapter where we meet all the characters of Nancy was written in one go, and that was that. Especially because The Vague Woman’s Handbook had lots of autobiographical elements and THADP is part memoir part-travel, so all familiar ground, this one surprised me. You know? It was as though the characters appeared, fully formed and opinionated, and demanded I write about them. Mrs Monalisa Das was the ring-leader. You cannot say no to Mrs Monalisa Das.

 

2] Your previous book and this one, both have a recurrent theme of ‘the sisterhood’ -women watching out for each other, friendships. Has this been coincidental?

Though in radical feminist theory the idea of the ‘sisterhood’ has taken a backseat, I am absolutely transfixed by it. The sisterhood has me in its grip as it were. In all its avatars. So definitely it’s there as a major strand in my writing, hundred kinds of feminisms at play because there is no one way or right way to be a feminist. The approach in The Vague Woman’s Handbook is more quirky while here it’s a little more direct.

    I think female friendship is a fine and inexhaustible subject! I return often to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and I think she has set it out eloquently for us: ‘All these relationships between women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious women, are too simple. So much has been left out, unattempted. And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends. … They are confidantes, of course, in Racine and the Greek tragedies. They are now and then mothers and daughters. But almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men. It was strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane Austen’s day, not only seen by the other sex but seen only in relation to the other sex. And how small a part of a woman’s life is that?’

    I think all evocations of female friendship – whether in popular or literary fiction – is extremely important in correcting this imbalance, though, of course, it comes with a price. One tends to lose male readers! In The Weight Loss Club of course the sisterhood envelops these men too, Abeer and AJ and Ananda Bose and John Matthew. I thought that was great fun.   

 

3] As a writer, I’m always fascinated by how writers work, therefore this question. Do you do the plot out chapter by chapter thing or do you write organically and let the story flow?

 

In this book, Kiran, I set out with only one thing to anchor me. That the book would have five parts. Later, it became six. Since there were so many characters I knew I needed a larger structure to go on. Roughly the six parts would correspond to the traditional format of a plot: exposition, development, complication, climax, crisis, resolution. Usually, it’s neater to have simply five parts but then that’s drama while this is a messy old novel! But other than that, I simply went with the flow. Probably in the middle of each part, I’d know where that section would end, and sometimes that upset all calculations, but I usually went with my gut and ended where I felt it ought to end.    

    I understand your curiosity about the process completely. I find myself unable to do that scrupulous chapter-by-chapter thing that so many writers are so good at. For me, the story takes its course only as I pound the words out, you know?

 

4] What are you working on next? When are we going to read The Heat and Dust Project?

The Heat and Dust Project is what is next. There is much guilt and stress and joy and pain all mixed up in that basket. We really need to get the manuscript completed now. It’s a gestation that has gone too long. It’s killing us now!

    Hopefully it’ll be out next summer.

 

5] Who are the authors you enjoy reading? Any you would say have influenced you as an author?

 

I live to read. So my usual strategy is to mix it up. Typically, I’d alternate popular fiction with literary. I adore Marian Keyes and Alexander Mc Call Smith. They’ve done such incredible things within the larger domain of popular fiction. So they would definitely count as influences. In literary fiction, it’s impossible to choose. But I love reading African and Afro-American writers. I try to read non-fiction too, from time to time, though hard-core non-fiction is the spouse’s domain. I am more of a generalist. And then, there’s the occupational hazard. I am usually stuck with an academic list that is never-ending. I am currently reading lots of translations (Arabic writers have become my favourite) and because of the nature of my PhD, I read translations from Sanskrit into English too. Truth is, Kiran, I have no compunctions whatsoever about what I read, and I take my inspiration liberally from all corners, and without hesitation.

    Oh, oh, there are blogs. I love reading blogs. The truly radical, truly revolutionary thing in publishing – the blog. How it has changed our world!

And yes, the giveaway, the giveaway. I have three copies of The Weight Loss Club to give away. All you need to do is leave a comment on this post about your best memories of living in a housing complex. The good people at Rupa will pick the three entries that appeal to them the most and send across your copies. Go ahead, hit that comment button NOW. The winners will be announced on August 1, 2013 and the decision of the good people at Rupa will be final and binding and all that legal baloney I should add but don’t know how to. (For those living abroad who would like to participate, please have an India address handy for couriering purposes).

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About Kiran Manral

Author of The Face At The Window, ( 2016), Karmic Kids, All Aboard (2015) , Once Upon A Crush (2014) and The Reluctant Detective (2011).
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23 Responses to Q&A with Devapriya Roy, Author of The Weight Loss Club and a giveaway…

  1. march hare says:

    I lived in a rambling, dilapidated house on a bustling Kolkata street till I was 19, and so, had an inherent distrust of flats. Thus, when I shifted to Delhi for work and, along with an overwhelming new city and new job, had to deal with the prospect of moving to a flat in a housing complex, I was rather annoyed at the world. But, just as my initial distrust of Delhi gave way to grudging admiration, my initial doubts about living in a flat in a housing complex gave way to acceptance too. It all probably started during a power cut on a hot summer night, when, grumbling to myself about the blasted city, I stepped out of my apartment and discovered that my staid complex had completely transformed itself. Every one was out of his/her flat. Everyone was sweating profusely. And everyone was having a blast. There were little children shrieking and running in circles, oblivious to the oppressive heat. There were a group of teenagers strumming the guitar. There were harried young mothers gossiping in circles. One lady had even brought out a big bottle of Pepsi and was offering some to everyone. The almost full moon cast an ethereal glow on everyone as people gossiped and frolicked and ran around and ate. No one behaved that it was almost one in the morning, and we had been getting slowly roasted for at least two hours!

    Needless to say, I was won over. 😛

    Like

  2. Pushpee says:

    Living in housing complex is like having a large family..they leave you alone if private space is all you need but stretch a little n you can touch them. Recently had an operation n was recuperating at home. Employed a maid to look after my personal needs plus cooking meals. But maids will be maids as usual they will bunk. On days like these when maid did not turn up..my neighbors would be super active..some preparing fruit juice others cooking meals ..happily..no complains. Calling me via intercom to ask about my health. Just to see me comfortable gave them a sense of satisfaction that they could help me in times of need….

    Like

  3. R. Mahalakshmi says:

    What I have loved about living in a housing complex is the presence of so many liminal spaces – the doorway, the staircase, the balcony, the terrace, spaces where women often conversed for hours, where age was no barrier and gender and other distinctions blurred in the day-to-day narratives of shared lives. I’ve especially fond memories of the apparently seamless flow of conversations and animated discussions from one day to another; the prolonged goodbyes leaning against door-frames and poised on the stairs; the sharing of woes and triumphs; the secret meeting places in the public eye.

    Like

  4. They say growing up is never easy. But what if you lived amongst beautiful people and a city-in-itself type of society? It just helps in the growing up business, and getting you your friends-forever.

    Sounds amazing and sorted, right? I know, don’t be jealous now. 😛
    Though I never got the chance to be born, raised and live in the same place/city/state or society for that matter (yes, if any of you guessed it, I am an Army kid, and we never get to stay in one place for more than 3 years), but I got to spend more than amazing quality time in a place which would always stay special to me. The society I lived and loved, in Jammu Cantt, JDC (Jai Durga Complex; yes, yes, don’t laugh, we have funny names of societies in the Army).

    I was thirteen when we shifted there, and hell bent on hating it. Instead I fell in love with it.
    That was the place which gave me my first love – my first ever boyfriend (with a typical Bollywood story to it), our family’s first ever pet who we cherished and adored and pampered till the worlds end (we lost him recently; it was one helluva heartbreaking incident), I gave my tenth boards there and came in the top three in that CBSE region (yes, I was a bit of a nerd, and to the ones staying in India, you can understand the 10th Board CBSE pressure). Oh, oh… and how can I forget…! I won my first ever beauty pageant there (in the Army club, called the May Queen, right after my boards).

    There is so much more to tell, so many memories of that beautiful place, but then I’ll spare you all of the boredom reading all of that would lead to. Though I’m glad to have shared a few of the best ones 🙂

    Thank you for having a place like this to revisit some of our fond memories, and share it with the rest of the world. 😀

    Like

  5. what I liked living most in housing complex is security it gives and yet people are so close by. met some amazing people, made some life time friends, that’s what housing complex brings back to my mind.

    Like

  6. aditi says:

    Like Miss Marple used to think of people she knew in the village of St. Mary Mead when she was trying to figure out someone who just seemed to have familiar traits and tendencies,I have found that living in a housing complex had given me the chance to get to know people very closely….the ways different couples lived their lives…their parenting….their values…their eccentricities and often the hidden strengths and sparkling bits of courage and tenacity.As a child it all must have been absorbed and processed……until now when faced with someone I am trying to understand and relate to….. some similarity…like some vague memory makes things a little easier…maybe it’s just the habit of being around and living your life along with so many different kinds of people…..it’s like having read many books full of interesting people and through the years seen their triumphs and failures..and learnt some pretty valuable things about life and the varied ways of living it.

    Like

  7. meeta says:

    Wow, Living in housing complex is super fun. Gossips, friendships, sharing caring, sleepovers, fights, everything happens at the same time. as kids we used to all get together and play , jump over walls, eat at some aunty’s house. during rains we played or helped each other around. When i wasnt’ around and mom was lugging too much weight /groceries, someone would turn up to help. When ur not well, neighbours pour their love, affection, well meaning advice and some really awesome food your way. During floods in mumbai , our complex which is build next to nalla was flooded really bad. our complex men huddled and helped stranded people to get in. our flat and another neighbours flats were offered to ladies and kids, while the men including my dad and uncle were sleeping and resting in someone elses house. Few neighbours took turns to cook up basic dishes to feed all. in our housing complex festivals were super fun too. Ganpati festival means 10 days of fun, housie, films, cricket and various other activities. all getting together and one big happy family.

    Like

  8. Sue says:

    Not entering the giveaway since I already have a copy but I just wanted to say that I’m a big fan of AJ and I totally hope he and Molly ended up together. (You listening, Dippy?)

    Like

  9. They say growing up is never easy. But what if you lived amongst beautiful people and a city-in-itself type of society? It just helps in the growing up business, and getting you your friends-forever.

    Sounds amazing and sorted, right? I know, don’t be jealous now.
    Though I never got the chance to be born, raised and live in the same place/city/state or society for that matter (yes, if any of you guessed it, I am an Army kid, and we never get to stay in one place for more than 3 years), but I got to spend more than amazing quality time in a place which would always stay special to me. The society I lived and loved, in Jammu Cantt, JDC (Jai Durga Complex; yes, yes, don’t laugh, we have funny names of societies in the Army).

    I was thirteen when we shifted there, and hell bent on hating it. Instead I fell in love with it.
    That was the place which gave me my first love – my first ever boyfriend (with a typical Bollywood story to it), our family’s first ever pet who we cherished and adored and pampered till the worlds end (we lost him recently; it was one helluva heartbreaking incident), I gave my tenth boards there and came in the top three in that CBSE region (yes, I was a bit of a nerd, and to the ones staying in India, you can understand the 10th Board CBSE pressure). Oh, oh… and how can I forget…! I won my first ever beauty pageant there (in the Army club, called the May Queen, right after my boards).

    There is so much more to tell, so many memories of that beautiful place, but then I’ll spare you all of the boredom reading all of that would lead to. Though I’m glad to have shared a few of the best ones

    Thank you for having a place like this to revisit some of our fond memories, and share it with the rest of the world.

    Like

  10. என். சொக்கன் says:

    10 Years back I was living @ a housing complex, where there was a common post box, you need to search among the letters to find out if there is anything for you.

    Problem was, the guy living next to that post box had a HUGE dog, and he kept that dog tied very near to the post box. So, everyone else were afraid to go near and some even avoided that post box altogether.

    I couldn’t avoid it. Because my entire writing career depended on letters (Emails were not that popular in those days), I used to send stories to magazines by post, and replies will come as letters only. If I don’t check my mail regularly, I may miss out some important information, or worst, I may miss a magazine copy where my story is published.

    So, I had to go near that post box almost every day. No other option.

    Naturally, the dog didn’t like me and gave me a very tough time. Fortunately, it didn’t bite me, but the fear was enough for me!

    When I moved away from that complex, I wrote a story about that dog and that got published in a big magazine. Tit for tat 🙂

    Like

  11. uncannybal santosh says:

    I live in Suguna complex. In Flat F4. I was a precocious kid. Very introverted and a total nerd.
    In S5 lived Payal and Mukund with their daughter Meghna.
    Payal was an extrovert with a large forehead and a big bindi, who dressed flamboyantly. She talked more to the men than to the women in the building.
    Hunsika and Mukesh lived in G3 with their son Chunky.
    Sandra lived in K7. She lived alone but the rumor was that a rich businessman called Sanjay came at night to see her.
    Chunky was a dumb jock who wanted to become a DJ & work in a call center.
    Most days when I came back from school I would see Meghna playing badminton.
    She was the prettiest girl I had ever seen. She had big luminous eyes that looked right into you. And she was an extrovert like her mother. She would pause her game of badminton to look straight at me.
    But I could never maintain eye contact. My envelope of shyness had cocooned me into a shell. So I would run home just to dream of her. Her eyes, her short skirts, her legs…..
    Meanwhile the asshole, Chunky, would go up to Meghna wearing his stupid dark glasses and walk off with her shuttle cock. “Chunky you asshole ! Give that back before I thrash you !” Meghna would scream. But Chunky would just walk away and throw the cock into the garbage bin. Meghna would hurl abuses at him but eventually end up dipping her delicate fingers into the stinking garbage to retrieve the shuttlecock.
    One day there was a big fight.
    Meghna’s mom, Payal and Chunky’s mom, Hunsika were at each others throats.
    The news slowly filtered in.
    Meghna and Chunky were caught kissing on the terrace.
    “Why cant you control your son, Hunsika ?!”
    “You bitch !’, Hunsika screamed. ‘We all know you are having an affair with Sanjay ! Like mother like daughter !”
    “You whore ! How can you lie like this?”, a tearful Payal shreiked and ran away.
    Everyone knows the one who cries is guilty.
    So Meghna and family left the building.
    I still dream of Meghna from S6. If only I had Chunky’s guts….

    Last I heard, Chunky is working in a call center. And Meghna was packed off to Canada. She apparently did something outrageous again in the next building she went to…
    There has never been another girl like Meghna in Suguna Complex ever since…
    I guess I missed my chance.

    Uncannybal

    Like

  12. uncannybal says:

    Why is my post deleted? To enable your friends to win?
    ucb

    Like

  13. dipali says:

    I already have a copy of the book, which I truly love.
    I’ve almost always lived in apartment complexes or housing colonies, and the second time we rented a big rambling house on two floors was a pain, because we happened to have no decent neighbours anywhere in sight:(
    The first time was fine, because it was in a row of identical houses and we had some really nice next door neighbours who are still good friends, nearly twenty years after leaving that house and that city.

    Like

  14. Sue says:

    We lived in one of those in Hyderabad. It was great fun being a kid there. Each block had its own gangs and we had turf wars which took up up and down buildings. I have especially fond memories of Holi there one year. Not only did we play it across the entire extended compound, but even people who refused to come down poured water and threw water bombs at us. Such excitement!

    Like

  15. R's Mom says:

    Sigh! I never lived in a housing complex, but I did live in a society with 10 other houses. We were a gang of 10 ranging from 8 years to 15 years, all having fun together.

    1. Summer vacations – Mornings spent trying to wake each other up to go for a morning *rolls eyes* walk, which would finally end up beginning at 9 in the morning and ending at 11. Then rush home, and have a bath, yaada yaada, and gather at someone’s place to play monopoly or cards or ludo 🙂 and cheat to the fullest and cry loudly about it. Meantime, the mother concerned would feed us with the yummiest of stuff..and then in the evenings it was playing outside – cricket, football,khokho..what fun 🙂

    2. Holi – Gather, colour, have bath, gather again, colour, rush in to catch the reluctant friend, drench the reluctant friend, have bath, rush out again because A had not yet coloured C so every one else had to join in..continue the cycle till evening 🙂

    3. Ganesh Chaturthi – Since the society was maharashtrian dominated, there were 3 ganpatis. so it was decorate, pray, eat prasad, repeat for 5 days 🙂 and on last day, go to the nearby pond to put in the ganpati and wait for the yummy prasad 🙂

    4. Navratri – 10 kids dancing around a broken tape recorder, loudly singing along the Garbas and realising the tape recorder doesnt work at all. This happened three years in a row!!!

    and so much more. Thanks for this, relived a lot of lovely memories 🙂

    Like

  16. AA_Mom says:

    I have not lived in a housing complex. But have lived in a neighbourhood with lots of friends. Used to have loads of fun playing gillidanda, Lingocha, cricket, hopscotch and so many other games that it used to be so much fun. We could walk in and out of other parents house as if they were all ours.

    Like

  17. sureshika says:

    Society provides so much humour! So proud of you Devapriya! Can’t wait to read the book and maybe teach it in class one day! 🙂

    Like

  18. என். சொக்கன் says:

    Results Announced? (Aug 2)

    Like

  19. Kiran Manral says:

    Sorry folks, still waiting for Devapriya and the folks at Rupa to announce the winners. Have sent in reminders, bear with me.

    Like

  20. Great interview Kiran. I’m inspired to read the book. It’s just as well I didn’t see the blogpost before the 1st of August as I’d surely want to participate in the lucky draw. BUT I’ve lived in a housing colony for only a month,when I was a child, so I cannot legitimately comment on what it’s like.
    Other than that, I was interested in the writing process as I’m working on my novel right now. Or I would be if I weren’t blogging furiously and commenting on other blogs in an attempt to get out of writing what I actually want to be writing.
    Maybe I need therapy…

    Like

  21. Dear people, utterly sorry about the delay. Lots and lots of mini-problems collecting into dust storm of sorts.
    Settling of dust, however, has been achieved to some extent. Do accept my apologies.
    Now here’s the thing. I cannot possibly choose the ‘best’ answer. Oral history has its complex beauty; and it radiates out of so many nuances. I certainly cannot judge it that way. So here’s what I am doing. I am writing out all the names in little chits and doing a lucky draw sort of thing. It sounds a bit lame, does it? Sorry! But all the comments are lovely and I cannot bear to choose. (Am excluding Sue and Dipali since they already have the book and have been utter darlings about it. Am including Divorced Doodling. Since I got late, why not include that comment too? And since I got late, am throwing in a bonus copy from my side!)

    Like

  22. Check out details of lucky draw at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.620427324655289.1073741826.100000640808915&type=1

    Picked out by the spouse. Honour bestowed on Saurav Jha as is his birthday (and his wife is obviously more interested in lucky draws than organizing party!)

    Contest winners: Pushpee, Aditi and Indian Thought.

    Bonus winner: Tejasvini Naik 27

    Please send your addresses to theweightlossclub.nancy@gmail.com. Books will be sent to you. In case you’re abroad, do send an Indian address if that’s alright. You can also, naturally, write to me at roydevapriya@gmail.com.

    Thank you for participating! So honoured 🙂

    Like

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