Saturday, July 21, 2012

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Indian ex-journalist debuts with road trip tale

(Reuters) - A television reporter walks out of the newsroom after a spat with her boss, setting out on an impulsive road trip that eventually puts her life back on track.



Urvashi Gulia's debut novel "My Way Is the Highway" is in many ways a memoir, with traits for her characters drawn from the author's real-life observations of India's ratings-hungry television industry.

Manki, the book's main character, leaves Delhi for the Himalayan mountains hundreds of miles away with only her trusty jeep Iqbal Mastani for company, learning to fish, unwind and even fall in love along the way.

Gulia, a former journalist who now works in the non-profit sector, was inspired by the sudden death of Soumya Vishwanathan, a Delhi-based TV journalist murdered in 2008. Writing a book was one of the dreams Gulia had shared with her friend and Soumya's death made her realize she couldn't put it off.

Gulia spoke to Reuters about how her book isn't really chick lit and how life isn't easy for young, single people in India.

Q: You were a journalist yourself. How did this book come about?

A: "Way back in 2004, after a series of crazy nights at work, I couldn't sleep. I wrote a start and an end and announced to my friends that I am going to write a book. I wrote that bit on an office notepad and forgot all about it. The notepad came back to me when I was moving houses in 2007. I took a sabbatical then and practically changed my career.

"In all honesty, I would have probably sat on it longer but I Iost a very dear friend with whom I used to talk about writing a book, maybe make a movie one day and many other things that we would plan to do at some point in life. I realized that I didn't have all the time in the world to do everything that we dream about. Two weeks after she died, I was at Pune airport, I opened the notepad and put it away. I picked it up a month later and wrote non-stop for two days. That's how it came about."

Q: Did you really take that trip alone?

A: "I didn't do it alone. I travelled the route. Every place mentioned in the book is a real place. I picked up the elements of those experiences during camping trips with my friends. I deliberately travelled twice over to get the distances right."

Q: Did you have the plot and characters from the outset?

A: "The only things I have changed since the first draft are adding shades of grey to my characters. Initial draft had everything sugary sweet. I had to give Manki that touch -- almost every urban woman goes through a phase when she likes more than one guy at a time, then she has to choose, and that is not easy. I was initially very careful with the language too, but then I thought why not use the real words that are used in a television newsroom. My editor's brief was to be real rather than being nice.

"Most of the journalistic instances in the book are drawn from real life, some from mine and some from my friends. Also, there is such a charm in the youngsters about the media world, every young girl and guy wants to be a television journalist, so I thought I should let them get a glimpse of this side as well."

Q: Can this book be described as chick lit?

A: "No. I have a big contention with branding of books chick lit and lad lit. If every piece of contemporary fiction by a woman writer with a female protagonist will be branded as a chick lit then aren't you creating a glass ceiling under a sexist glass ceiling that already exists? I'd like to say it is an urban contemporary fiction ... I have a moral issue with the chick lit tag. I just feel it is unfair. If ten years later, people say this was one book which talked about how women in the Indian cities lived, it is spot on."

Q: How much of Manki is you?

A: "I don't have the guts that she does. The only similarity is that we are both journalists, and an army man's daughters. Placing the story in a time span of 2005 - 09 was easy too, because I was working in the media, and even later I still had friends. So the research was not very difficult. Manki and I talk and think at the same pace. She thinks so much, does too much in a day. I don't have Iqbal, the jeep. Also, I wish I could take a lone trip into the hills. All the traits I have built in are the amplified traits of journalists in this country."

Q: How tough or easy is life for a single woman in Indian cities?

A: "The cities don't make it easy for you. It is a personality issue. I mean you can live as bold a life as you want in Delhi or Bombay, Bangalore or Kolkata ... Apart from that it is your decision, you decide this is what I want, and these are the precautions I will take to stay safe. There are tiny peripheries in all these towns where you may be safe. You need your allies. I feel that it is a huge celestial conspiracy against single women in India: From absolute strangers, neighbours, friends to eventually your own distant and near family members start asking questions. Why are you single? And if you are seeing someone, then why is that person coming over to your house? Who is this guy with you in your pictures? Same goes for men too. No one wants to give a house to a bachelor."





Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Irving explores bisexuality in latest best seller

(Reuters) - Author John Irving's latest book, "In One Person," is his most politically charged novel since his 1980s best sellers, "The Cider House Rules" and "A Prayer for Owen Meany."

Irving's 13th book is about a bisexual boy from rural Vermont named Billy Abbott who has crushes on the wrong people, including his town's transgender librarian. He learns to navigate his relationships in a world that consistently views him as suspect.

After its release last month, "In One Person" quickly became a best seller and earned praise from Vanity Fair and The New Yorker.

Irving, 70, spoke with Reuters about the politics of his latest novel, bisexuality and recurring themes in his work.

Q: LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) issues are a hot political topic right now, but the discourse doesn't touch much on the "B" or "T" as frequently. Why choose to write Billy as bisexual and include several transgendered characters?

A: "For many gay men of my generation, the bisexual man was disbelieved. He was perceived for the most part as a gay guy who lacked the courage to come all the way out of the closet. I think young gay men today are far more accepting or tolerant of the bisexual man than many gay men of my generation were. It was purposeful on my part to make Billy a bisexual so that he would feel the sting of that solitariness and be aware of the distrust of his gay and straight friends alike.

"That was a deliberate choice, just as it seemed only logical to me for a character like Billy that he would find these two transgender women at either end of his life - of different ages and from different eras - very sympathetic if only because he recognizes that they are as marginalized and distrusted by society as he is. They are as you say the "BT" part the "LGBT" abbreviation, but they get a little less attention - that's all. I was very conscious of making that choice for exactly those reasons. If you're going to test the waters of our tolerance for sexual differences, well let's really test it."

Q: "In One Person" takes place over Billy's lifetime, so he is about your age when he is looking back and retelling things. From that perspective, how do think the plight of sexual minorities has changed over that time?

A: "I guess you could say that our tolerance for sexual differences is better or different than it was in the late 1970s when ‘The World According to Garp' was published. But if I felt our tolerance of sexual differences was perfect, I don't think I would have had this novel on my mind for 10, now almost 12 years, or I wouldn't have written it at all. So I wouldn't say that our tolerance of sexual differences is what it should be.

"Witness the Republican Party, witness the lineup of clowns who are indulging in righteous gay-bashing, right up to (Mitt) Romney's ascendance to the throne, and Romney has subscribed in kind. His position on gay rights issues is lamentable, to be kind."

Q: In the book you draw a lot on plays and novels - "Madame Bovary," Norwegian playwright Ibsen, Shakespeare. Why?

A: "It seemed that the childhood of this character was fortunately imaginative. He had some preparation from the world of theater and the world of books for the sexual difficulties he would face. I think literature is a support system for many people who find themselves in a sexual minority. It isn't just that he has the support or encouragement of a good, albeit unusual librarian, and that he has the love of an unusually good stepfather. In Shakespeare, in Ibsen, he finds some pretty powerful testimonies for sexual differences."

Q: Certain themes surface repeatedly in your novels - some politically-tinged issues, unusual sexual relationships, absent parents, wrestling, New England, etc. Why these common threads, and what motivates you to return to them?

A: "Many of the so-called common things you mention to me are kind of superficial landmarks, like the landscape of northern New England.

"I would say a more common thread that doesn't often get mentioned to each of my novels is an element of predetermination, an element of fate. Where they are going is something the reader can see from very early on, this novel being no exception - a story that begins in the 1950s and '60s and you're already listening to the voice of an older man as you have in 'In One Person.'

"It's the story of a bisexual boy, and you're meeting various gay friends and lovers. I'm not giving anything away, but the reader knows an AIDS epidemic is coming, and many of these characters you're meeting are not going to get through it. There's always an element of that kind.

"Everyone from Sophocles to Shakespeare to Thomas Hardy to Nathaniel Hawthorne - their most interesting work was about challenging sexual relationships. I don't think there's anything new about it. Hamlet is a sex story. Othello is a sex story. Macbeth is a dysfunctional marriage story. I didn't invent these things, I read about them in so-called classical literature. People have found sexual relationships the most trying and important parts of their lives since before Shakespeare."