“Comedy , Drama and lots of Rasa” !
The curious experiments of Nancy housing co operative
The weight loss club – has a splash of quirkiness, that has been brewed over a cup of coffee just for you. Over to you PRB…
PRB: How would you describe this book to our readers?
Devapriya Roy : TWLC is conceived as a classic ensemble drama plot with a mysterious stranger waltzing in and getting involved in everybody’s lives. I also think that kindness is a very important theme in my books. And if you read carefully there are several serious political and social positions taken, but it’s all woven into the narrative with humour and compassion. I’d say the USP is that though I write popular fiction, I aim to disturb stereotypes than reinforce them.
So if we had to pick a label, I’d say that funnywisemight describe the books, but then, that’s just me. I am more interested in finding out how my readers would describe them!`
The book is set in a middle-class housing colony in one of the newer parts of Calcutta. So many of these colonies have come up in the last fifteen years, especially on the E.M. Bypass and Rajarhat, with their annual durga pujas and their own little competitive bubbles. It is said that real estate is the only business truly booming in Calcutta. We see evidence of that all around. The spirit of paras has been transposed into these edge-of-city gated communities. But the sweep of the book extends to Calcutta as a whole, from the buzzy steel-and-glass offices of New Town to the colonial-era charms of Park Street, via the haunting lanes of north Calcutta to the bustle of College Street. It is a love letter to the city in so many ways. Given that I have been writing about Delhi in The Vague Women series and of course hurtling through India in The Heat and Dust Project, perhaps there was some guilt in not writing about my own bewitching city, especially because Calcutta gets so much bad press all the time. This book exorcises that guilt a little.
While most of the other characters are all typical Calcuttans, Sandhya is an outsider, so through her we have that other perspective.
Where did you find all the characters before throwing them together in the super bowl of Nancy Housing Society?
Devapriya Roy: The true inspiration behind most of the characters in this book rises from a mix of two things: the city of Calcutta, and memory. It’s not drawn from my own life and experiences in the immediate way I am a Calcutta girl. One can instantly place Nancy Housing and its middle-class inmates in the city. As I always joke, I realized while writing this book, that I have been eavesdropping intently all these years!
You know, I am still a bit confounded as to where this book came from. But since it’s a really intense and involved book it was taking a long time to get just right. In the middle of some highly exhausting things, the protagonists of Nancy Housing appeared, fully formed and very opinionated. I cannot say wherefrom. But they were real and absolutely compelling. They clamoured for immediate attention. And I think it was strangely addictive. Thinking more about the lives of these people. You know? It ended up becoming a novel.
There is also a strong sub-conscious desire in me, I think, to be saved; to permanently turn over a new leaf. Actually, I think a lot of people have that, and from shrinks to self-help books to gurus and even, reality shows (god help us!), the quest for transformation is on. To happier versions of ourself. The Vague Woman’s Handbook was a very quirky way of addressing this obsession. The Weight Loss Club, however, is more direct, more helpful and much more fun. That’s where Brahmacharini Sandhya comes in I think. We are a people culturally taken with gurus. But Brahmacharini Sandhya is a rockstar guru. I mean, literally. She is a bit like a traditional pagan medicine woman, but she’s also a feminist. And she’s not shrill at all. She nudges the characters along just a bit on their individual quests, but she’s on a quest herself too.
Mil and Indira, Apu and Meera, Sandhya and Treeza – both your books have strong female bonding as the core of the plot. Do you consciously concentrate on women as the main protagonists while building your stories?
Devapriya Roy: Though in radical feminist theory the idea of the ‘sisterhood’ has taken a backseat, I am absolutely transfixed by it. The sisterhood has me in its grip as it were. I am not sure if I consciously work on women as the main protagonists, but I think it’s safe to say that I do read a lot of books by and about women, and definitely it’s there as a major strand in my writing, hundred kinds of feminisms at play because there is no one way or right way to be a feminist. The approach in The Vague Woman’s Handbook is more quirky while here it’s a little more direct.
In The Weight Loss Club of course the sisterhood envelops these men too: Abeer and AJ and Ananda Bose and John Matthew. I thought that was great fun.
Has the success of The Weight Loss Club helped you lose some?
Devapriya Roy:On the contrary, I am in a zone where I have two massive projects to complete. The Heat and Dust Project, the story of our travels through India on a very very tight budget, which I am co-writing with my husband Saurav Jha, and my PhD. So basically I am constantly ingesting comfort food. I just told my editor that I’ll probably end up putting on oodles of weight by the time these are done!
–Interviewed By “PRB”
The weight loss club By Devapriya Roy is the book “In Focus”.