Published: Verve Magazine, Features, July 2010
Irrepressible fiction writer Rupa Gulab is back with another tale to tell, the story of 40-something Mantra who quits her job and battles everything that can possibly go wrong at that time in her life, exploring the vicissitudes of midlife crises. Sitanshi Talati Parikh in a freewheeling chat with the author
What’s fun? Writing the book or planning the book?
Planning a book is great fun. You just scribble notes while you’re lazing in bed eating chocolates and feel like you’ve accomplished a big deal! Writing a book, however, is hard work. My characters rarely act according to my plans – they’re stubborn, annoying, and insist on doing their own thing. It’s a huge struggle making them toe the line – very often, I have this overpowering urge to get them brutally murdered. Maybe I should start writing crime novels instead!
As you grow older, do your characters age with you?
That’s not strictly true. My next book after Girl Alone was for a younger target audience (Chip of the Old Blockhead) – a thirteen-year-old coming to terms with the fact that her divorced parents are falling in love with each other again – and experiencing her first crush as well. I don’t necessarily write for my own age group – I like to believe that I write for women of all ages.
Situations are not really funny when they are happening are they? But in retrospect….
Oh, I absolutely agree – everything looks better in retrospect. I always make it a point to look back with laughter. When you continue to be bitter and resentful, you need to consume gallons of antacids – and I hate, hate, hate antacids – they taste like chalk!
Do you think it really helps an average woman to read about another and find solace?
Yes it does help – particularly if you identify with the character’s problems. Why do you think chick lit always sells? Most single women enjoy reading about the trials and tribulations of other single women. You don’t feel so alone then. It’s a great comfort read. A Girl Alone fan once told me that she re-reads my book on those date-less Friday nights.
So it’s the end of fantasy for women?
Books don’t end fantasies – real life does!
Is there a greater social comment about a woman like Mantra, who feels a loss of control over her life?
I wouldn’t say that it’s a social comment. It’s just something that happens to most of us when we hit the big four-oh. That’s when you realise that almost half your life is over and the other half is not remotely attractive or promising at all: wrinkles, failing eyesight, depression and the desperate, irrational feeling that this is your very last chance to achieve what you really, really want; whether it’s your love life, career, whatever.
Mantra is placed in a higher social bracket. But a woman doesn’t become secure without basic financial trouble does she?
Money can’t buy happiness. We all learn that – sometimes the hard way.
Do you ever find the man in your stories insecure, or is it just the woman?
In my first book, Girl Alone, only the female characters were insecure. That’s because they were in their late twenties/early thirties: single, psycho and looking for love. The male characters were, as men that age usually are, rabid commitment-phobes. In The Great Depression of the 40s, all the characters are insecure about different things – including the three male characters. Vir is worried about losing his job – his stress levels are extremely high. While Karan doesn’t dissuade his wife from meeting her ex-boyfriend, he’s not exactly comfortable with it – the wily fox needs to see them interact every now and then to get a feel of the situation. And the college-going Rohan is miserable and mopey when his cool girlfriend insists on a no strings attached relationship. In the real world, everyone is insecure!
It sounds like you pretty much put into words what you are thinking….
I write exactly as I think. And the reason why I mainly do satire is because I can see through most people and situations. I have to confess that I have the most horrible, terrible nicknames for people in my head – but you can’t blame me for it because I got this from my mum. What can I say – I have lousy genes!
What do you turn, to read?
I’m a fairly eclectic reader, but I stick to fiction. Mainly humour, with a little bit of intensity every now and then. I have way too many favourite authors to list, but I must say that P.G. Wodehouse continues to be a hot favourite. He’s a great pick-me-up when I’m down. He dries tears better than Kleenex tissues.
So you’ve knocked out the 30s, 40s and the teens. What’s next?
I have two strong plots in mind – one for young adults and the other for the chick lit brigade, but I have no idea right now which one I’ll go with eventually. I just want to flake out for a bit – the characters in The Great Depression of the 40s have left me emotionally drained. I really should have killed a few of them!
THE GREAT DEPRESSION OF THE 40s
Gulab’s sardonic wit hasn’t dissipated over time, in fact it has become more reined in with it’s well-crafted barbs. While you warm to the characters, and envision their lives in a midlife crisis, it helps you understand relationships and people as they change with time. The insecurities are all the same, the circumstances and decisions to deal with those insecurities vary. Gulab’s self-referencing – with her lead character attempting to write a novel and towards the end of the story reaching the idea of The Great Depression of the 40s – serves the purpose of reminding the readers that they are like one of the characters in some way, either pining for a bygone time, or harping for something out of their reach. If Gulab were to concentrate less on structured witticism, more on the depth of her characters, especially the male ones, the book would be eminently heart-warming, but would lack the punch that makes it inherently her own style. ‘Marriage ruthlessly strips away all pretences of common interests,’ is what Gulab has her protagonist thinking, and goes on to prove how fragile and yet how solid marriages can actually be. After all, as her characters prove, it is what we make of it.