NEW DELHI Eight years after her acclaimed debut with ‘The Sari Shop', Rupa Bajwa is back with a novel about the daily lives of India's lower middle class.
Set partly in Amritsar and partly in New Delhi, Bajwa's ‘Tell Me a Story' focuses on Rani, a young woman who works in the local beauty parlour and is in love with Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan. Rani's dreams are shattered when her family is torn asunder in their struggle to make ends meet.
Bajwa, born in 1976, spoke to Reuters in an email interview about writing being manual labour and how Khan's movies reflect a changing India.
Q: Are the characters and events in ‘Tell Me a Story' based on real life?
A: "I write about what I know, about the world and people as I see them through my eyes. So, yes, it is very much real life but the characters or events are not based on actual ones."
Q: Which character in ‘Tell Me a Story' is closest to your own self?
A: "That is a difficult question to answer. There is a bit of me in all of them, yet they are all independent individuals who have nothing to do with me."
Q: In ‘Tell Me a Story', the protagonist is trapped in a world where the lack of money changes her life forever. In that sense, would you say your novel represents the invisible Indian underclass?
A: "Rani's family is poor but they are lower middle class. You couldn't call them poverty stricken. But yes, money remains a constant challenge for the Indian middle class."
Q: The novel also touches upon issues such as female foeticide and domestic abuse. Do you think depicting them in fiction can at some level help eradicate these social ills? Is there no respite for people like Rani?
A: "If writing about things in fiction could eradicate ills, there would be no ills left in this world. But yes, it does bring these issues to the attention of readers. So it does serve some purpose."
Q: What is your next book about? Is it also set in Amritsar?
A: "I have only planned the essence of the next novel, and a bit about the characters. I have some idea, but I haven't finalised it yet. But no, this time it is not going to be set in Amritsar."
Q: Like Rani, do you share a love for Shah Rukh Khan's movies?
A: "In a way, yes, because I always get the feeling he knows how ridiculous he is being. But more importantly, his films and their changing profiles reflect a lot about India."
Q: In an interview some years ago, you said playing FarmVille on Facebook was good for when you get writer's block. Is that still the case?
A: "No, I got tired of it."
Q: What is your typical writing work day like?
A: "I used to have a fairly regular working routine earlier, but after having a baby, I write whenever I can."
Q: Any advice for aspiring writers?
A: "I am not a very old writer myself, so I am hardly in a position to give advice. All I can say is -- just live, observe, read, write, write and write. Treat it like manual labour, like a craft to be learned."