It was only a few years ago that Tulika Mehrotra was experiencing ‘culture challenges,’ visiting India. Fast forward, and Tulika is the midst of penning an entire trilogy set in a desi backdrop. The Chicago-based journalist recalls, “I used to come to Delhi to visit my family here, and I always felt like “that dumb NRI” people talk about. Apparently her story is an English Vinglish in reverse. Over a chat during her Chennai visit at the Courtyard by Mariott recently, the author says, “My cousins would always make fun of me because I didn’t know any Hindi, and I hated it.”
Her pronounced American accent makes the story easy to believe. Eventually, she did take Hindi classes and speaks fluently now. Along the way, it turns out she also discovered fodder for her debut novel, Delhi Stopover, that was launched just last week in Mumbai.
The book revolves around its protagonist Lila – a failed LA actress, who is visiting her painter aunt and fashion designer cousin in Delhi after a bad breakup. A fresh face for the modeling circuit there, she suddenly finds herself drawn into the coveted world of fashion and its murky waters of compromise.
Given her Masters in Fashion Design from Milan, one of the fashion capitals in the world, one wonders: what made this author set her tale in India ? The Lucknow-born author is prepared with an elaborate response. She says, “I’ve seen Slumdog Millionaire and the Namesake, and those are the stories of poverty and NRI settlements abroad that are portrayed on film.” Tulika, a contributor for the likes of Elle, Vogue and Grazia, adds quickly, “No one ever talks about the fashion scene here or the kind of pressures that models succumb to.” While she has spent her time studying near the fashion capital of the world, the author lays emphasis on the fact that the richness of a story waiting to be told, was right here in India. “And nobody’s written about it yet,” she smiles.
Of course, with her journalistic instincts, the research for a fictitious story has been immensely based on fact. “I’ve spent months with designers and models to find out what goes on behind the scenes,” reveals Tulika. Getting down to who and where, she drops a few big names – Prakash Jha, Tarun Tahiliani and even the Fashion Design Council of India. Asked she would ever consider modeling herself, considering her evident passion for fashion and the author surprises us. “I have no interest in fashion,” she states flatly. “The only reason I decided to study it was because in high school I found out I was really good at sewing,” she laughs.
Currently, Tulika is working on her second novel and sequel, titled, Crashing B-Town. Although her lips are sealed about the plot, she can’t seem to stop smiling with the response for her first book. “It’s been tremendous,” she says, clearly overwhelmed. In fact, she reveals, “Recently, Penguin organised a Facebook chat with readers and at the scheduled time to do it, there were so many people on that stream that it just stopped working.” She adds with glee, “I was told, the only other author before me to have broken Facebook was Ruskin Bond!”
(Delhi Stopover, priced at Rs 250, is published by Penguin Books India and is available at Landmark, Crossword and Higginbotham’s)