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.”
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.
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).