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Updated: October 31, 2013 14:36 IST
Table for Two

Spice and substance

Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty
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On her own terms: Novelist Tulika Mehrotra at Jasmine, the Chinese restaurant at Royal Plaza, New Delhi. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt.
The Hindu On her own terms: Novelist Tulika Mehrotra at Jasmine, the Chinese restaurant at Royal Plaza, New Delhi. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt.

Life is about choices for Tulika Mehrotra — be it the decision to turn vegetarian or to pick up the pen

“Never underestimate the power of unhappiness,” says Tulika Mehrotra. Chicago-based two-book-old Tulika is responding to a query on the decision to alter her calling — from being a part of America’s entertainment industry to turn an author and contributing writer for lifestyle magazines like Vogue, Elle, Femina and others.

Lucknow-born Tulika is in New Delhi to launch her second novel, Crashing B-Town (Penguin Metro Reads). Over a lazy lunch at Jasmine, the spacious Chinese restaurant at Royal Plaza, New Delhi, Tulika throws light on the connect between her past and present careers, how one has drawn from the other.

“I spent four years in Los Angeles working on the business side of entertainment and saw many young actors struggling hard, doing all kinds of things to get the media attention. Those of Asiatic origin would never really get the White girl roles, had to wear funny clothes, it can be very humiliating. Though they are actually very American, on screen, they have to project a very ethnic persona. Since I had access to the inside world of entertainment, I wanted to bring to readers these stories in a digestible way,” says Tulika. Crashing B-Town places the protagonist in Bollywood, which Tulika says, “has the same strains in terms of struggle and frustration that actors go through…the world is very small that way.”

It becomes worse if a struggler doesn’t have family support. Her protagonist, Lila, has it. “Even then, she suffers because she has a blind faith in the system and a naïve ambition to prove to everyone that she is not useless. Through her story I want to tell readers that it is important to look at the warning signs, to ask yourself, do I need to stop, or which side I want to go,” says Tulika.

The young author has specked her plot with a collection of characters, egotistical agents, exploitative directors and co-artistes, gays, sexual violence, even paedophiles. Even as she brings to the conversation Delhi Stopover, the prequel to the latest novel which explores Delhi’s fashion industry, the waiter slips in the menu card. Tulika is a vegetarian, admits her weakness for Chinese food, specially Indo-Chinese, and settles for spring rolls, potato wafers, sautéed mushrooms and cauliflower Manchurian. And yes, “a spicy shikanji if possible.”

“The second book is a continuation of the first. Even though they deal with the world of glamour, I am against writing fluff. I want to raise a lot of questions,” she states when we return to the conversation. Tulika wants to be seen as a writer first. “You have to know your craft, understand word economy, that readers would spend their time and money on your book and don’t want to feel cheated.”

The staff at Jasmine is efficient and the dishes arrive fast. Over morsels of the offer on the table, Tulika says, “You know, I was a weird, artistic kid who won poetry, drawing, writing competitions, wanted to be a journalist.” She also wanted to make money. “It was not possible in journalism then. So I did my Bachelors in Finance from the University of Illinois, also my Masters in Fashion Design from Milan and did some print modelling too.” In the heart of hearts, she knew she would return to writing and so she did. “When the stories you think of begin to come out of your ears and eyeballs, you have to respond to them,” she says. Picking her food from the plate, saying though she has grown up in the West, she just can’t do without spices, Tulika suddenly demonstrates how actors and models usually act during business lunches. “They just move their food on the plate with the fork, don’t eat it.”

For her, if it is Thai food, she can have five meals a day. Taking a sip of shikanji with a bite of cauliflower Manchurian, she explains why she has become a vegetarian. “I have seen how meat industry operates, it is just not healthy.”

Food is also her antidote to stress. She gives an instance, “Once, after a very stressful day, I came home and began slicing tomatoes, may be a kilogram of it. It was such a calming experience.”

Before winding up, Tulika returns to talking writing, says she works “beautifully under the pressure of a deadline over cups of coffee and juice glasses.” She calls herself lucky to have not got many negative reviews so far, but adds, “I have the skin for it though because the process (of getting published and critiqued) kicks you around so much.”

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