CHAT Devapriya Roy and Saurav Jha on budget travel across India and their latest book The Heat and Dust Project

“I have poriyal, she has pasta,” says Saurav Jha, on what they spend their Black Budget on. Devapriya Roy agrees. The case in point is The Heat and Dust Project. “A book on travelling across the country on a very, very tight budget — Rs.500 a day, bed and board. For two.” So though the occasional indulgence is forgiven, it is accounted for only in black.

“Books are usually written in pompous writerly solitude,” says Devapriya. “But this one's been written over 12,000 km, through four months, in over 100 places.”

Travelling mostly by buses, the couple travels across the country taking tips from people all over the world who comment on their facebook page. “Trusting on the kindness of strangers,” she says. “Now, we have friends everywhere.”

This is the first time the two are combining forces to work on a book. They both have a book each to their credit already — Devapriya's The Vague Woman's Handbook, and Saurav's The Upside Down Book of Nuclear Power.

How has the writerly life been so far? “Completely maddening,” laughs Saurav. “We'd be sitting with our backs to each other, facing our laptops, papers strewn all over, in this quaint barsati in Delhi. The doorbell would ring, followed by a string of ‘You get it', ‘No, you get it.' Fights, confusion. But we wouldn't change a thing.”

It didn't begin that way. It began as a predictable story, safe, secure. Saurav Jha studied Economics at Presidency College, Calcutta, and Jawaharlal Nehru University, and worked as a consultant in the energy sector. Devapriya Roy did English Literature and Performance Studies from the same institutions, and worked in publishing.

But when the idea for their third book occurred to them, they quit their jobs, and took to the road. “At first, there was enormous anxiety in leaving our desk-jobs. But then we think of the world of EMIs, and insurance, and 5-to-10 jobs, and we think, there's no way we're going back!”

The Upside Down Book of Nuclear Power is a book that promises to simplify the jargon surrounding the subject. It was written when Saurav was about three years into his work in the energy sector. “There were a lot of opinions floating around, and even I was finding the whole situation difficult to understand. Hence, this book,” he says.

The book flagrantly supports the use of nuclear power, and setting up of more power plants to do so. “Chernobyl was a one-off incident,” he says. Even if its deadly repercussions are being felt now, almost a quarter-century after the incident? “But if you want to industrialise, you need to go nuclear,” he says. “It's a much lesser evil than the fossil fuels. Also, they're being very careful about the technology now. It's very safe now.” Saurav is also sure that the compensation promised to the villages where these plants would come up will reach them.

“But in the long run, we have to cut down on our energy use — otherwise, no matter what we do, there will be no hope,” he adds.

And then there's The Vague Woman's Handbook. The book, as Devapriya describes it, is a celebration of vagueness. “Modern Indian women are under a lot of pressure, they're expected to always be in control. But when you don't have the luxury of letting go, you lose the space to be yourself. Your creativity dies. This book is in defence of vagueness — we could lose out on a lot otherwise.”

“I've even found a patron deity for vague women —Vishrinkhala, one of the 1,000 names of the divine mother. It means ‘The Unfettered One.”

“I'm a vague woman,” declares Devapriya. “The book begins where most chick-lits end — Sharmila has married Abhimanyu. We rarely see women talking in usual chick-lit, unless they're gossiping, or discussing clothes or make-up. Well, now that's not true, is it? So it's about a younger woman's friendship with an older woman.” She also keeps getting asked if the hero is modelled after Saurav — “No! Abhimanyu is far nicer,” she laughs.


Stories of sojourns January 26, 2011