Hitting the highway!

Urvashi Gulia is the latest addition to the list of talented Indian authors. Her debut novel My Way is the Highway has been appreciated for its fresh style of writing. Its a book for every dreamer and believer. Here’s a chat with a very dear friend and fellow capoeirista – the talented Urvashi Gulia.

Psst! For those of you in Mumbai, head to Crossword Kemps Corner this friday (11/05/2012). A book launch and a book reading session awaits you!

Tell our readers a little bit about the book.

Urvashi : The book is essentially the story of a well-educated, urban, independent, professionally successful girl. Rather, it’s a snapshot of two weeks out of her life. And it’s pretty much a roller coaster since the protagonist is on a road trip. But at a deeper level it’s about dreams, hope, friendships, love, loss and triumph. On the face of it the book is a light fun read. But if you pay attention as you read, there are a lot of cultural and social issues in there; her disdain for the “bhaiyas”, newsroom conflicts, regional, social and sexist bias therein, the situations journalists face and their relationships with their teams in the field, the fact that she clearly is someone brought up in a very privileged, open and supportive environment. She has the life that most women want. And the book is about what each one of us would like to do despite the odds we face. And the way her story unfolds while she is on the trip is almost like a fairytale and don’t we all love that?

Varkha: Tell us a little bit about Manki. 

Urvashi : Manki, the protagonist, is the typical girl next door but she has an edge. She is smart, has an opinion on things and is not afraid to speak her mind. Neither is she someone who will get lost in a crowd. She is out to live the life she wants and that does not include the word compromise. Like I said, she is clearly someone who has been brought in a very privileged environment and she’s never had to struggle for the everyday things like paying rent or fighting her way within the family to be able to do what she likes or pursuing a career. She has it all in a way and she’s a sweet, honest and straightforward person. That’s what makes her more likable.

Varkha : How difficult was it to sketch Manki? 

Urvashi : Initially, it was a battle to put it all together. She was all over the place and not quiet there. When I finally sat down to figuring out how she would behave, what her personality would be like, how she would react to things, what she wears, what she would look like etc I really had to draw inspiration from all the women I’ve met who made me go “what a rockstar” in my head. If you’ve read the book you’ll notice that at no point have I given a proper description of what Manki looks like. I’ve painted a broad picture of an attractive girl but that’s it. I did this because I wanted the reader to put a face to her by themselves. Mould her the way they liked. In fact I gave her the name Manki only after I had her character sketch down to the last quirk on my notepad. Coming up with a name that fit the character was the hardest part actually!

Varkha : Is Manki’s story, Urvashi’s story? 🙂

Urvashi : Well, if you merely look at it from the perspective of she and I both coming from an Army background and the fact that I too have been a journalist then there is a similarity. But that’s pretty much where it ends too. In all honesty, I chose these two things to root her character in because I felt I could pull out an honest character from it. I used my experiences as background research material. I know what the life of an Army kid is and what the life of a journalist is. And to add to that, I have so many friends who are from an Army background and so many who are journalists that it was easy to discuss a situation with them if I hit a mental block. Manki has a lot from women I know and women I have met. Hence she is so relatable and so real.

Varkha: A lot has been spoken about Manki, but another very interesting character in the book is Parakram. Tell us a little about him.

Urvashi : (laughs) It’s funny that you asked me that. The only other person to have asked me about Parakram is my friend’s mother who asked, “if there was a Parakram in my life!”

Well Parakram is everything women dream of in a man. Everything they want a man to be. I took every romantic and cute quotient liberty with this character. Parakram, as described in the book, is Manki’s version of him. How she sees him. He’s not without his faults and quirks either: like the way he describes his past relationship and how he is all protective and impulsive. It was fun writing him and his parts out. I created a man that every girl wants including me. This is why he is so drool worthy.

Varkha: About the title of the book – what made you zero in on this particular title? I believe the book was earlier called Sanctity of the Omelettes.

Urvashi: Yes, the working title of the book was “Sanctity of the Omelettes” but we had to do away with it. My editor and the team at Penguin felt that we needed a more relatable and easy title. So we toyed with a few ideas and then settled on “My Way is the Highway”. It’s easy and has simple words. We did not want to put off readers with a title that is quirky but does not give them a sense of the book instantly. I still love that working title by the way.

Varkha: Are you planning to write another book on Manki’s adventures? 

Urvashi: Well, that depends on what my editor feels and how the market responds to the book. It’s too new to think in that direction in a concrete way. But if it comes to that then I already have some ideas in my head about what she might do next. Lets see.

Varkha: Tell our readers a little bit about Urvashi Gulia. 

Urvashi: There isn’t much to tell. I am the typical girl next door who likes her job, loves her family and friends and likes to go out and get what she wants. I move a lot and I love to travel too. I love to read. I love to shop and I love a good argument. I’d love to own a jeep and a Maruti Gypsy. I’d love to lose some weight. I’d love to be able to be a potter. I’d love to be able to live in Goa for a year. I want to do many many things but I mostly end up just doing the typical work-related grind that we all do. By no means am I the kind of rockstar that Manki is. But I’d like to be.

Varkha : Any advice for upcoming authors.

Urvashi : The one thing that any writer need is nerves of steel. Writing is one thing but being able to take feedback and criticism is another. We all feel our work is kickass. But others may not feel that way. And getting that latter part right is critical especially if you want to be published. The way you use language is important and so is attention to detail and structure. Being published is not easy either. There are a ton of options now with so many small publishing houses but when I was trying to find a publisher I steered away from those. I wasn’t going to pay someone to bring out my book. I had more faith in my work than that. As a writer you have to be prepared for rejections. I was lucky. I was rejected just 6 or 7 times before I signed on with Penguin. Some of the most loved books and most well-known writers have been rejected for years before they found an agent or publisher to back them. It’s part of the process. Moreover, you have to be prepared to pursue writing as something you do over and above your day job, unless of course you have a fantastic support system that takes care of your bills and your whims.

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Storyteller. Ambivert. Feminist. Bibliophile. Solo Traveller. Dreamer. Capoeirista. Photographer. Postcrosser. Samosa glutton. Cartwheel queen. Potterhead. Bombay girl.

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