Tulika Mehrotra on the journey to her first novel, and the preparations for her next
The recently published Delhi Stopover is Chicago-based journalist Tulika Mehrotra’s debut novel. The book narrates the experiences of Lila, a B-list actress in U.S.A who comes to Delhi after breaking up with her boyfriend and gets accidentally swept into its murky fashion circuit.
Although a part of Penguin’s Metro Reads series, the book, running into almost 400 pages, isn’t exactly the kind of swift read that the series prides itself on. “I didn’t want this to be a light read. I have touched enough dark subjects like racism and drug abuse; but once you go there it becomes so heavy and you lose the story. I wanted to tell a story that was digestible but also covered a lot of these different subject areas. Chick lit or this term ‘light read’ is almost a substitute for quality reading. My hope was to offer something of substance,” says Tulika.
A contributor to Vogue, Elle and Grazia magazines, Tulika also wanted to bring a journalist’s accuracy into her fiction. She undertook several research trips for this purpose and found in Delhi the same professionalism, the same highs and lows that characterise the international fashion industry. “I think the leaps and bounds India’s fashion industry has taken are just incredible. What has taken Milan and France 100 years, it’s taken India 10. The international maturity will come soon.”
Born in Lucknow, Tulika studied internationally and went on to do her masters in fashion design. So the choice to write about fashion seems strangely oblique. “Creativity in general and artistic weirdness was my natural inclination so I didn’t know whether it’d be designing or writing. Writing is something I had been doing as a child but forgot about quite frankly. But I didn’t enjoy the design process; there are too many constraints on a designer even within all the creativity that you have. Whereas as a writer I can write as a man, or be a Mughal ruler if I want to. I can go anywhere as a writer and that total freedom is what attracted me.”
Tulika worked briefly in Manhattan in the Fashion District as a buyer, but was deeply unhappy in her job. That is when her father suggested writing a novel, and having initially dismissed the idea, Tulika caved by the end of 2008. But in 2009 Tulika stopped writing as she considered doing an MBA. In 2010 she “dived in head first” into the novel, hiring an editor and attending several writing conferences. “Instead of shopping I was spending money on writing books,” she remembers.
Interestingly, Delhi Stopover was much longer when it was being written. “The story started in Delhi and ended in the film industry in Bombay. At some point I had the epiphany that this is two books. The title Delhi Stopover came because it was the stopover before the final destination.” The sequel, titled Crashing B Town, will be published next year.