- Tell us a bit about you? what do you do for living?
I’m a travel & lifestyle writer. I write on food, (occasionally) fashion and all sorts of travel experiences from whistling at peacocks (they respond in shrill cat-like voices) in a village in a Maharashtra and plucking oysters in Kerala to tripping on the creamiest prawn curry, rice and sambal in Sri Lanka on a day hotter than hell and wandering the chic streets of Melbourne.
I’ve written a feature film screenplay – Dirty Little Secrets – that was selected for the Locarno NFDC Screenwriters’ Lab 2009. I also wrote and directed a short film – Fowl Men – which was screened at two film festivals, in Italy and Chicago.
- and about the gemologist part?
I’m an IGI-trained gemologist, jewellery designer and diamond graders (though I prefer coloured stones to diamonds, which form an altogether different branch of gemology and evaluating them requires tremendous expertise and experience) I’ve been sketching since childhood, so the inclination towards design was around for a long time; my maternal grandfather had a small pedhi near Kalyan (Mumbai) and my mother – who worked as a bank manager for 30 years, quit her job to start a jewellery studio in Pune. I’m been writing and working with gems and jewellery simultaneously.
- How did you get the idea for your book – Strike@36? (here you could talk about the story as well)
I think the germ of the book was wanting to write a light-hearted story about single people in their thirties; complicated characters with intertwined personal-professional lives and lots of emotional baggage. It’s a story with three main characters – Shobhna, Udayan and Sagar. I wrote Sho and Uday – who are ex lovers – as people with connections to the film industry because that was a space I was in at the time. After that, a dozen odd characters sprung out, very organically, an assorted, all of whom I fell madly in love with, especially Katya – my fierce Maharashtrian mafiaso lady and Sho’s Pathan boss, AK. Then there’s the surliest of them all, Sagar; a typical small town ‘vernie’ with massive talent and major attitude. I loved writing him! I hate sweet, happy, smiling characters. Sagar is anything but that. He’s also representative of talented, skilled and intelligent small-town youth who have to adapt themselves to big cities.
Just recently, someone asked if I’d modelled Sho on Kiran Rao (both from Bangalore, lived alone in Mumbai and worked in the film industry without any prior connections) That was unusual; I hadn’t ever thought of something like that! Some people also (rightfully) criticized that the book does not accurately depict Bollywood. That’s correct. It was never meant to. It was always meant to be exaggerated and absurd.
- How long did it take for you to finish the book?
Just over a year. I wrote regularly, at least for a couple of hours on an average of four days a week; sometimes more.
- Tell us what happened after you finish the manuscript and before you got a call from publisher?
The book was commissioned by Harper Collins. I’d pitched the concept to Publisher and Chief Editor, Karthika V.K, and she liked it. Must have been the effect of one of Mumbai’s best Gujrathi thali restaurants!
- Tell us what do you enjoy the most (and why) among travel, lifestyle and fiction writing?
Both travel and fiction writing. I’ve always wanted to romanticize travel writing; sitting on a dusty roadside café writing in first person in my artsy little notebook; experiences as fresh as dewdrops. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen! I sit in that café and I eat and I watch people and I’m blissfull. To write, I need a computer and a city in India.
- Any interesting travel incident?
Many! Most of them involve food or animals and people who speak in a language I don’t understand. I’m also directionally challenged, so I get lost everywhere. I’m stupid with maps and don’t get what the GPS is saying, so there’s no alternative but to ask people after every 1 km. That happened in Aqaba in Jordan. So a few kids invited me into their home and began yelling when I didn’t give them any ‘lipstick’ or ‘phone’.
- When do you write? How often do you write.
I’m a morning person, but I’ve stopped writing in the mornings. I reserve that for yoga. I also don’t write late through the night unless I have a deadline for a magazine story, or I’ve really gotten into the groove of it (very rarely, it goes on till 2 am without dinner or water) But my best output’s between 11 am to 6 pm. I write almost every day. No laptop on Sundays, no laptop during festivals, no laptop during travels (never!)
- You’ve written for a film? Tell us more about that.
Not really. I’ve written a feature film script, which hasn’t yet gotten made into a movie. I enjoyed writing it.
- Tell us how different screen writing is from the book writing?
Off the bat, screen writing is harder. You’re writing something that someone’s going to read with the intention of translating on screen. It’s a collaborative effort or – if you’re lucky – it’s soon going to turn out to be a collaborative effort. If your script gets made into a film, you write multiple drafts accommodating a producer’s, director’s and actors’ inputs. Writing fiction has no holy cows. Technically, again I enjoy the freedom a book brings. Having said that, I loved the long script discussions I had with my mentor – Philippa Campbell – at the NFDC Locarno lab. It’s lively, productive, teaches you how to incorporate other (smarter) ideas within the broad framework of your own story; it opens your mind (as opposed to writing a book where you’re queen of your own castle; a bit of a Marie Antoinette!)
- Are you planning to continue to do screen writing?
Not right now. Perhaps in the future,
- Tell us about your favourite authors and books?
I love animals, so one of my all-time favourite authors is that delightful British veterinary surgeon and writer James Herriot. A P. G. Wodehouse can always be relied upon to cheer one up. From Indian authors, I’m a huge fan of Munshi Premchand and Pu La Deshpande. Nobody writes as beautifully about India as Indian authors in Indian languages!
Of late, the books that have stunned me are Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending (which won him the Man Booker for 2011). The first is a fat tome, the other is very slim, but both are fascinating glimpses into the twisted human psyche.
- Are you writing your next book?
I am! Two actually. A travel book and literary fiction. The fiction is all dark and mean. Very depressing. Wish me luck!
- Any plans to cross over and become a full time fiction or screen writer?
I don’t think I have either the patience or talent to sustain that. Also, I have both Moon and Mercury in Gemini. Doing anything ‘full-time’ is not my cup of tea.
- Do people mistake you for a celebrity?
- Words of wisdom for our wanna-be authors?
Don’t do it unless it makes you really, really, truly, deeply madly happy. The thrill of creating akickass character or even a single sentence that’s perfectly written– that joy should be comparable to falling in love, or walking in the rain, eating potato chips, hugging a puppy or whatever. Writing is a very lonely job; you will eventually hate it, most of us don’t earn enough money doing it, people will hate what you write, nobody will buy your books. There’s no redemption; so you’ll do it only if there’s a paranormal pull to tell a story.
We already know that it’s very important for a writer to read a lot. It’s also important to go out there and live life; especially if you’re an introvert and tend to use writing as a shell to crawl into. Force yourself to get out of your comfort zone. Eventually that will help in your writing too. The world’s too interesting to spend it all crunched over a laptop. Physical exercise helps tremendously to focus on writing. It clears the cobwebs in your head.
I’ve also got into the habit of taking notes on my phone calendar (you can carry a notebook to jot down thoughts) At the unlikeliest of times, a genius word or sentence will strike you. Make a note, immediately and go home and write it somewhere, because you won’t remember it later and you’ll kick yourself. Make a separate file of these inspirations.