“Tick-tock, we’re 30” by Milan Vohra

In yet another book club meet at Urban Solace, I met India’s first Mills ‘n Boon author who has also written  the novel,“Tick-tock, we’re 30”.

The book is about a group of friends who are turning thirty. It’s a book about love, friendship, growing up, and dealing with the demons within. So the author is quick to point out that she is not comfortable labeling it chick lit. The term ‘chick lit’ immediately brings to mind a story around two or three women characters and slots the book as a beach read. Milan says she wanted to fight the stereotypical pink cover that goes along with chick lit books and asserts that it’s more than just a light read.

The book deals with twelve characters, each of whom has a definite vocabulary, so you know who is talking without having to check the name. Difficult situations do occur in some of the characters’ lives—while one character is grappling with her sexual identity, another is facing a troubled marriage. It also explores the tenuous relationship between six women.

When asked which character she was most like, the author revealed that she was probably a mix of Nanhi and Lara. Nanhi was who she would have liked to be, while Lara is like a younger Milan, although the author is quick to add that she is more hyper and not as chilled out as Lara. Milan says that although the characters are Indian, the theme of turning thirty is a universal one that everybody the world over can relate to.

One of the working titles for the book was “O teri, we’re thirty” with the Hindi-ism in it. The author says that since the story is set in Delhi, there are Hindi words sprinkled throughout, and some people may not get it, but she’s okay with that. In fact, several international reviewers gave the book a 5-star rating, which is the highest rating one can get on Goodreads or Amazon. One reviewer from New Zealand commented that Milan really “got” the characters; if there was one teeny suggestion she had, it was that Milan include a glossary of Hindi terms in the book’s international edition.

Milan says that in real life, she and her friends had planned a reunion, but it never took place. So she joked that her book was her revenge for the reunion that never happened. Talking about the writing process, Milan says she “thought she knew where the story was going” as she was writing it, but halfway through the book, she started hating one of the characters who the girl was supposed to end up with and fell in love with another character instead. Milan says “you have to be the boss of your characters”.  Her favourite character in the book is one of the minor ones named Sita who gets “serially infatuated”.  As for the character Kalyani, Milan threw in everything that irritated her about all the women she has ever met and infused those qualities in Kalyani. Kalyani has a small role in the book, but she is one character who is truly over the top, says Milan.

One of Milan’s favourite scenes in the book is where the gang goes to see a movie, and it is set in a women’s loo. One of the characters pretends to be Vidya Balan when she overhears two women talking in the loo.

When asked whether she faced any specific challenges while writing about this popular theme of turning thirty, Milan said she was clear the book wasn’t going to be about one’s biological clock ticking. The subject of needing to get married ‘coz one was of a certain age wouldn’t be an issue in the book.

When asked whether the line between fact and fiction ever blurred in her book, Milan said “As a writer, one lives twice—once in real life and the second time, through your character.” She also points out that if you make your writing autobiographical, you can write only one book. You can’t have ten books that tell the story of your life, she quips.

Talking about how she re-energized herself while writing the book, Milan says she once took a break for two months during the writing process. She says writing makes you draw on your emotions until you feel “naked”.

She says her next book will probably not have so many characters since she found it “agonizing” to do justice to so many characters.  She took about a year to write this book and a good two-three months of it involved the “plotting stage”. 

Talking about the editing process, she said her editors removed two scenes that they found “politically incorrect”, but the rest of what she wrote has found its way into the book.  She said her advertising background helped her stay deadline driven.  Talking about the different approaches she had to adopt while writing the Mills ‘n Boon vis-a vis this novel, she points out that in an M ‘n B, there is one hero and one heroine and the ending always has to be a “happy” one. In a Mills ‘n Boon, the emotional graph of the characters is very deep. They go through intense emotions —“high highs” and “low lows”.

Some of Milan’s favourite authors include Jill Mansell and Marian Keyes.  Some of the classics she likes include Shakespeare’s King Lear, Kafka and Ayn Rand (that she read in college), and Spike Milligan.

Who is Akira Yamashita?

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Meeting Vasudev Murthy, the author of ‘Sherlock Holmes in Japan’, at the Urban Solace book club meet was an interesting experience simply because Vasudev has so many interests of his own: violin, teaching, consulting, animal rights, yoga, and travelling (to quote from his twitter handle – @dracula99.) He’s called his blog (http://vmurthy.blogspot.in/), ‘Music Literature Weird Stuff’. Again – interestingJ

So what prompted Vasudev Murthy from Bangalore to assume the Japanese identity of Akira Yamashita to write ‘Sherlock Holmes in Japan’? Vasudev explains that eight years ago he assumed the persona of Akira, which to him is clearly more than a pseudonym. He says the concept of writing as “someone he was not” interested him deeply. He began thinking like Akira, rather than as Vasudev. The blurb in his novel says “Akira Yamashita is an elderly Japanese expatriate from Osaka living in Bangalore. He runs the elite Nippon Star Academy…..his book “sambhar for the Indian soul” was on the bestseller list for years. He hopes to marry an Indian woman who excels in the preparation of that exotic Indian dish and invites applications”.

Quite a creative avatar for Vasudev, who by the way, is very much married. How do I know? I’ve met his lovely wife, who I heard is a tarot card reader.

Vasudev says he enjoyed writing the book, and it made sense for him to envision Sherlock Holmes in Japan rather than in any other place due to his own fascination with Japanese culture. His deep interest in Japanese literature, the fact that the first company he worked with was Japanese, his knowledge of spoken Japanese, and a visit to Japan made Japan the ideal place to set his story. Vasudev says he arrived at the title of the story before he came up with the plot.

The book came about when he wrote the first three chapters and sent it to Harper Collins and hallelujah! they accepted it. To quote Vasudev “I wrote the rest of the book in six weeks in a state of panic”. He says he had three or four key points or milestones in the story and spun the rest around it. For example, he says he simply had to bring in Angkor Wat in the book when he visited the place.

When asked how many of the different avatars in this book had an essence of the author, Vasudev admitted that writers, essentially, talk about themselves. He asserts that every book is a reflection of the author and it’s true with him, too. He adds that he has structured the story in such a way that several of the characters got to tell their version of the story in first person. 

When told that he has been able to retain the style and language of Arthur Conan Doyle, he says he is happy if that has been achieved, and it was probably due to his avid reading of the author’s works, which helped him imbibe the style. However, he is happy to have “smuggled in” his pet themes of vegetarianism, music, and animal rights into the book.

He heaps praise on his editors and says there were some sections of the manuscript that did not come into the book and he was happy to accept the editorial input because he feels it helped create a better book.  When asked about the numerous themes in his book, he says he was “lucky in that the Yakuza is a ready-made theme” and that “it was just a matter of connecting the dots”.  He sure makes it sound easy, but anyone who reads this book will see that a lot of themes have gone into it.

He says he has a lot of different projects cooking with different publishers and he might write a book on “mindless humor” inspired by “the complete chaos and anarchy” that he witnessed at a lit fest recently. Vasudev comes across as a multi-faceted, grounded, and versatile individual with a great sense of humor and all you Sherlock Holmes fans can order his book here: http://www.flipkart.com/sherlock-holmes-japan/p/itmdkv85gnu4zzdd?pid=9789350296691

Happy Reading!

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