Born in Lucknow, India, but raised in the Midwest, Tulika Mehrotra’s diverse personal experiences have inspired her varied careers. After graduating from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign with a degree in Finance, Mehrotra earned a graduate degree in Art from the prestigious Instituto Europeo di Design in Milan, Italy. After spending some time in Paris, France, Mehrotra returned the United States as a buyer in Manhattan’s Garment District. Soon needing a change, Mehrotra explored the ins-and-outs of the media industry in Los Angeles. A Chicagoan at heart, Mehrotra returned to her hometown, where she set out to write her first novel, Delhi Stopover. Now working on her third novel, the accomplished writer is thrilled about the upcoming international release of her current two novels.
Learn more about Tulika Mehrotra and what inspires her writing.
Tell us a little bit about your career and how you came to be where you are today.
My undergraduate degree is in Finance with a focus on entrepreneurship. I loved the arts more than numbers any day and was drawn to the creativity of entrepreneurship studies. I was a journalist in college for the local paper with my own bi-weekly column but never took writing more seriously than a hobby.
After returning from Milan and Paris, I started my career in Manhattan’s fashion district as an assistant buyer for a large brand. New York ultimately didn’t suit my personality and I returned to Chicago continuing my career as a buyer for another retailer while I started my own business in media distribution. I was very interested in the way entertainment dictated trends across society from retail to media to consumer taste.
The entrepreneurial endeavor was a rich experience in personal growth and ultimately, failure. The experience gave me confidence and taught me resilience, persistence, and finally learning when to let go.
At that time, my network had expanded to VCs and other investors. I jumped at the opportunity when one of them introduced me to a media startup in Los Angeles. I worked in business development using my finance background for four years while I observed everything about the LA entertainment industry.
When I grew bored with my professional career and couldn’t envision an attractive future trajectory, I vented through short stories that I wrote only for myself. Over months, those sentences threaded together and bloated into a fat manuscript, and then two novels. I fell in love with writing again. I had stopped writing for so many years, that I had forgotten the freedom and joy it always gave me.
On a research trip to Delhi and Bombay in 2011, I met my literary agent. Less than 2 months later, on July 4, 2011 the executive editor at Penguin offered me a 2 book deal with an exclusive option for a third – a rare feat for any anonymous writer.
I have since written for Vogue, Elle, Men’s Health, India Today, and many others. The books released consecutively in 2012 and 2013 across South Asia. Both became best sellers across India and were featured across every media platform in the country from the Hindustan Times, Business world, India Today, Radio 1, Radio City, NDTV, Economic Times, and numerous others.
I am presently working on my third book.
Your career first began in the fashion industry. How did you make the transition to writing novels? Did you have an “aha” moment where you realized being a novelist is your true calling?
Crashing B-TownI think consistent unhappiness in my career finally hit a tipping point in Los Angeles. By then, I had tried two different industries (fashion and then media) and I had studied finance and art. I felt like I had run out of stamina to try another career reinvention. The aha moment happened gradually as I kept writing, as my friends started to find out, as my parents started to inquire about the stories… the writing itself gained validity in my life. It turned into a purpose where I had total control.
I love the freedom that comes with writing. I can write in any avatar from a bird’s eye to a male soldier in another era. I also love that writing is never easy. I am always improving. I am always challenged.
The biggest surprise came when the books released in bookstores. The reader response blew me away! At book signings, I heard first hand how readers stayed up all night with the book and were eagerly awaiting my next. A magazine editor reached out to my editor to say she would like her teenage daughter to read this book. The media immediately embraced the novels while readers connected to me on social media. I knew then that I had hit on something important.
At this point, I knew for sure it was my calling when readers so generously embraced these books.
Contrary to the light-hearted, glitzy feel of the book covers, the themes explored in both Delhi Stopover and Crashing B-Town are quite dark and profound.
They are. I think good fiction is meant to start conversation. I don’t like the idea of preaching. But a great story can take heavy topics and bring them eye level with the reader. It can force them to look at themselves, to ask questions that maybe they wouldn’t otherwise. I like that the reader might get uncomfortable.
Right now, India is going through a dramatic change over the last decade. The pace of the cultural revolution is shocking – both good and bad. I want people to take a look at what’s happening and make their own interpretations, to be aware. And of course, with these novels, I want them to escape and enjoy the ride!
What do you hope readers will take away from the main character Lila Kapoor’s experiences?
On the surface, I want to pull back the curtain on the film and fashion industries. They are fascinating environments run by extraordinarily talented artists and business people. But I also want to reveal the dangers and some of the darker truths that are kept hidden from the public.
Using these industries as a backdrop, my genuine hope is to raise much larger questions. Drug abuse, domestic violence, body issues, discrimination, evolving relationships are all hot topics of modern India. I want people to talk about them.
Most of all, I want to show a candid picture of what India is today. I was tired of the 1 dimensional view that the west paints of India. There’s a misconception that India is either a third world country full of slums or else teeming with Bangalore’s call centers. No one is talking about modern India in all its extravagant reality.
That was my biggest goal with these books.
What can we expect from you in the future? Any novels in the works?
My third book crosses over to more literary fiction. It delves into deeper subject matter than these first two books. I am eager to release it and share it with the readers. As of now, I’m still pounding away at the keyboard to get to those exquisite, beautiful words; “THE END.”
Who has played a crucial role in influencing the events of your life? How so?
My parents and my brother. I come from a very academic family. They knew I was the colorful outlier with a hyper artistic streak. My parents always gave me the freedom to try new things, to reach farther in whatever nontraditional path I chose – as long as I did it with integrity. My brother, younger but far wiser than me, pushed me whenever I wanted to give up. My sister-in-law came along last year and has been one of my biggest supporters, the first to read the unpublished manuscript.
No artist can survive their own crushing self-doubt on their journey without some support. My family is the reason I have been able to get this far. I have said before, “my dreams exist not from hope or ambition, but because they believed in me more than I ever did in myself.”
Who do you consider to be a mentor and why?
I think mentorship can be extracted from everywhere. For me, it’s books, travel, friends, parents, pets, our experiences, our failings. No one person has had the responsibility for directing my life but everything in aggregate has granted me with all the strength and purpose to keep pushing harder. I just had to paid attention.
I will add that our pets are great teachers. My dogs have always shown unconditional love and simple happiness. Their deaths taught me life’s fragile impermanence. But mostly, I learned from them that nothing is ever that big of deal and life is fun!
Increasingly today, younger generations in the South Asian community are choosing “non-traditional” careers. What words of wisdom do you have for those who aspire to careers in fashion and/or literature?
I would warn them to develop a very thick skin. Non-traditional careers often come after persistent, crushing rejection. For those interested in Fashion, I would remind them to remember that it is a serious business with lots of opportunities beyond the runway. Modeling has a short shelf, life but if someone has the look du jour, nothing’s impossible.
For Literature – my advice is to learn how to write first. Everyone has a story. Telling it well is when the magic happens. The only way to do that is to write, write all the time. Take courses and above all, READ everything. You cannot be a writer if you are not a voracious reader.
The publishing industry is changing drastically and while it is becoming harder to be an author via traditional outlets, new options are opening up. My advice is to focus on the craft first and foremost. The agent, the publisher, the marketing … everything else comes second.
How would you characterize your own style?
Different. I don’t like to blend in!
About the Author
Rina Shah is the CEO and founder of The Arpan Group, a boutique ad agency and public relations firm that specializes in capturing untouched ethnic markets. From press releases and media kits to marketing materials and by-line articles, The Arpan Group customizes solutions based on the client’s needs. For more information, visit www.thearpangroup.com or call (703) 651-6670.