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‘I live to write the novel’

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Devapriya Roy is the author of Indira: A Graphic Biography of Indira Gandhi, The Vague Woman’s Handbook, The Weight Loss Club and, The Heat and Dust Project: The Broke Couple’s Guide to Bharat, co-written with her husband, Saurav Jha. An alumnus of Presidency College, Kolkata, and Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, she has to her credit a PhD on Bharata’s Natyashastra. Currently a teacher of creative and academic writing at Ashoka University in Delhi, she undertook a very unusual project when an editor friend with a prominent Kolkata daily suggested that she do a serialised novel. Everything was soon in place and Roy’s serialised novel—The Romantics of College Street—started paying a weekly visit to Kolkata through the Sunday edition of the paper.

Hailing from Kolkata, Roy is no stranger to the serialised form. “In Bengal, serial novels are a part of literary culture. As a child I would follow many of those. Besides, being a student of English Literature opened up the study of the history of the novel, which in a sense met its success through its serialised form. So, serialised novels have a very long tradition and a very distinguished one,” she says.

Roy owes her love of books to her grandmother. Watching her read made the young girl pick up a book and read along too. Often both grandmother and granddaughter would be found sitting on a four-poster bed and simply reading for hours on end.

Calling her present project “a big challenge that I have given myself”, Roy says that she has only a vague idea of what the next chapter is going to be like. “My writing style is kind of open-ended,” she smiles, adding that some writers plot everything out well in advance before they even begin writing, but unlike them, she says “I begin with the characters and stay with them and then it takes its own course.” So, what about The Romantics of College Street? Where is it headed? “I really don’t know. The characters are now doing their own things. I just try and listen carefully and go along,” she adds.

All the same, reader feedback does find its way into the story, she says and reveals how one of the characters—Pixie, an eight-year-old, who incidentally happens to be Roy’s favourite—suddenly found herself a dog. “It was something definitely not planned. I have an intern who identifies with the character and she suggested that Pixie get a dog. I put my foot down initially, but one fine day there was a dog for Pixie. Just like that,” she rolls her eyes.

Talking about a favourite book that she would recommend to everyone, Roy says in an instant, “A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. There is something about it which is very magical, very extraordinary. I read it when I was in school.” In fact, she reveals it was this particular book that acted as an introduction of sorts between her and her husband when they were together in college. “Also, this book could easily have been serialised over a period of five-six years. It’s written with that kind of energy,” she adds.

The next thing on her mind is a ‘serious novel’. She confesses that her natural choice of subject is always the novel. “I live to write the novel”, is how she puts it, as it comes most naturally to her. In the meantime, she is looking forward to seeing The Romantics of College Street finally emerge in a book form from Amazon-Westland after completing its run in the serialised form.

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