Rupa Gulab, the author of Daddy Come Lately, is interviewed by Moushumi Ghosh, a book seeker, poetry lover, closet photographer and 9 to 5-er.
MG: Let me start at the beginning, did you find the story or did the story find you? Could you tell us a bit about that?
RG: It didn’t happen quite that way. I didn’t have an idea to begin with. I merely wanted to write a story for young adults, so I sat down at my computer and typed some sentences. It was only after a couple of paragraphs that the idea popped into my head and I deleted my earlier paragraphs and started fresh. So I guess you could say that while I was looking for the story it took me by surprise and found me.
MG: What I liked about the book was that you spoke about a normal single parent family. Was this a plot-driven device or a conscious choice?
RG: It was a conscious choice. I wanted to make it a single parent family for two very important reasons (well, important to me). The first is, I’m sick and tired of our Indian hypocritical society: a woman must have a man in her life (ew), and I hate the looks of pity mingled with scorn directed at divorced women. The second reason is, I know a few children from broken homes, and I wanted to tell them, it’s okay – my heroine was happy and centred with a single parent, so can you be. Also, while both your parents may be lovely individuals, sometimes they can be dreadful together, so a divorce is not necessarily a bad thing.
I must add this: a few months ago, I got a friendship request and a message on Facebook from a seventeen-year-old who said she’d just read the book and loved it, and that someone had given it to her a few years ago (Daddy Come Lately was published in 2006 as Chip of the Old Blockhead) but she didn’t read it then because it was on the subject of divorce and she thought she was too young for it! My jaw dropped to my knees when I read her message. But there you are – that’s Indian society for you!
MG: There are several reversals in the story–marriage and divorce and parents lost and found. The structure of the story is close to a fairy tale. In the sense of finding something or someone by the end of the story that the characters knew or didn’t know they missed. Did you have a particular structure in mind when you were plotting Daddy Come Lately?
RG: No, I’m not really a structured writer. For this story, I had the beginning in my head. The middle and the end just happened organically. Characters tend to burst out of the mould you carefully put them into, and because of that, situations can change drastically. I studied English Literature (BA) and I used to get very annoyed by allegedly erudite tomes like The Structure of the Novel and essays and critiques of books I particularly loved. Hello, now that I’m a writer too, I know why: critics tend to over-think the writing process and the words of wisdom they churn out are mainly based on conjecture. Sometimes I do very bad things to my characters only because I’m in a foul mood – it’s got absolutely nothing to do with the structure of the novel.
MG: Priya’s voice is so pitch perfect for a teenager. How difficult was it to find that voice?
RG: Very easy. I just went back to my teenage past and mentally put myself in the situation Priya was in. Her actions, reactions and her maths phobia came from there.
MG: I have had brave teachers like Ms Basu, people who inspire their students. Did you have inspiring English teachers while you were growing up as well?
RG: Yes. But just two. I once had a history teacher I adored. She had a great sense of humour and my god, if she’d taught me maths too, I may have actually excelled at it. In my senior years at school I finally got an English teacher, Mrs. Brown, who inspired me to become a writer and made me fall in love with Macbeth (Shakespeare) too! I love Macbeth – he’s still one of my favourite heroes.
MG: There is an obvious joy that Priya and her Dad take in words and language. Do you love playing with words? Is it this love of language that drives you to write?
RG: Oh yes! I love playing with words. I used to work in advertising as a copywriter once upon a time, and the joy of crafting headlines (once you’ve worked out the concept) is amazing. The balancing of words, the tightness of sentences, the tone of voice required for a particular brand and target audience – oooh, I still feel a thrill when I think about it.
MG: One of the highlights of the book is the presence of strong female characters. The book is peppered with them. Priya’s mother (a working mom), Pinkymasi (a sculptor), Aruna (who stands up to her brother’s bullying) and Priya herself (the Save Ms Basu campaign). What inspires you to write about strong female characters?
RG: Perhaps because I’m a strong character myself?
MG: One of the joys of interviewing an author lies in getting to know the writing process. Could you explain a bit about the writing and revising process?
RG: The first draft is the easiest: you have the idea in your head and you just go with the flow–no crossing things out at this stage. The problems begin after you’re done with the first draft. You realize that some of the characters have taken a life of their own – and the story has changed somewhat (to your amazement). So you get back to work yet again, fiddling around. That’s quite a headache and sometimes the second draft barely resembles the first draft. What I hate most about writing books is the final proof reading–it can make you go blind! And let me assure you that even if six people sit down to proof read a manuscript, they rarely come up with more than ten errors in common. That’s why I’ve decided that I will never write fat books!
MG: Where do you get most of your writing done? Is there a favourite corner or desk or room where you write?
RG: I have changed cities and houses so often, I have learnt to be flexible. All I require is a darkened room with the air-conditioner on full blast in a completely empty house–I cannot write when other people are around. Phones and doorbells ringing, snatches of conversation, strains of music, the clatter of pots and pans, the hissing of pressure cookers, et cetera, are some of the things that that throw me. I have a very strict rule: my part-time house elves have to depart by 9 am. And honestly, if my husband worked from home too, I’d probably never write another word in my life.