Rupa Bhullar was born in India and spent her early childhood years in Jaipur before moving to Chandigarh, the place she still calls home. She relocated to the United States in 2000, and currently lives with her family in New Jersey.
She serves as the Director of Finance and Business Development at a leading software global corporation that provides digital and financial software solutions.
She holds a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) Charter and a Post Graduate Diploma in Business Administration.
Thank you, Rupa, for sparing time and agreeing to this interview. It is indeed a pleasure to interview you.
Please tell us something about yourself.
For me, I have a very basic life. I am married, have two sons and I live in the US. And workwise, my background is essentially all finance. I work with a software company in the capacity of director of finance. Writing however, is where my true passion lies.
From a finance person to a writer, how did this transformation happen?
What happens is that when you are younger, you really don’t know who are, you don’t sit and analyse or chart a path the compliments you as an individual. You go through a natural progression say after class twelfth, you take up commerce and then MBA and onto CFA, one thing leads to the other as a logical sequence to the preceding step. Then you refer to your friends, oh that’s what they are doing, OK might as well do it. You don’t think about choosing a career that early on in life. And then by the time you start to realize who you are, it’s mostly too late because you already have the experience under your belt, you have the qualification that you’ve been building on top of. Sometimes not having done much actually can leave a lot of things open to you. But I think, my struggle started to show up when I would be at work. I know I am good with what I do but I don’t think I am really the numbers person.
For me it was that conflict. I felt I was more creative and I was always the dreamer and I would often think. What am I doing? I felt trapped as though I was cheating on myself. But now the problem was how do you tell someone that after all the years of doing what I have done, I want to write a book. It was a constant debate which started to haunt me louder as I got to that point in life when people will tell you that you must be really happy, you have a good career, kids and all that. That’s where the disconnect makes you realize it is not like that, somewhere you feel inadequate because you want to express yourself, you feel like you are compromising on your truth. I think that to me that was kind of very hard. I am so glad this book happened as a reconciliation for me (laughs).
Can you tell us about your debut work of fiction, The Indigo Sun, what came first, the title or the story?
They came together. The book was somewhat underway when I discovered the title with my Jodhpur travel. By the time, two chapters were down. From the moment I arrived in Jodhpur, there was a connection. In the middle of this desert in the scorching month of June, we were greeted by a rain shower which to me indicated something good. I could sense parts of my story thriving around me, there was a sense of belonging. Jodhpur is known as the Indigo City and the Sun City, I decided to call my story The Indigo Sun. Now I had the title and I did not know how it would fit into the story. I was thinking, as the book is based in Rajasthan and Indigo Sun is very appropriate, but how would it link into the book was the question, but it all came together and it merged beautifully.
What is the premise behind this book?
The premise behind the book was the same fundamental question that I was struggling with. That a big part your happiness in life is being able to live who you authentically are. And I think it’s not what you have in life, it’s not even a certain amount of money or the lifestyle.
Like Maya, at heart, she didn’t really care about a lot of things. She even had a good relationship. All she wanted was an expression of who she’s forgotten within her. So, that to me is the premise of the book.
Finding yourself and discovering yourself is important in life and then expressing yourself is even more important. And third is giving back to the society. Because it is one thing to say that I can go out and do something for myself but the big message in the book is also that happiness becomes very shallow when it is limited to you.
The cover of the book is very nice, did you have a say in designing it?
A little bit, yes. But they did a fabulous job. The credit goes entirely goes to the team- I will not take any credit personally. The only thing I had was with the girl to be representative of Maya, we were debating but they just came up with it and I saw it and I loved the cover. I had a vision of Maya in my mind, but this is entirely subjective, each one of us will have a different Maya in mind so the cover leaves much to imagination and a little to thought. It is fantastic.
Even your Maya had blonde hair?
Actually, I did not think of her hair while I was writing about her and when I did see the image, I thought, isn’t this too blonde for my Maya (laughs). But as I said every person would have a different Maya in their mind. So I think, this worked well for most and it is a beautiful cover.
The experiences that Maya undergoes, does that have any relation to the events in your life?
A lot, actually, for me. I do feel that for me to write about something, there has to be a touch of reality. Does not have to be an entire description of what I went through, but something even very small like that Jaipur part of it. We lived in Jaipur for two years, so for me, it gave me a logical authority to say that this is how it was for me.
I think questions and dilemmas that she faces in her own life are similar to the ones I agonized over. So I think a lot of things are inspired from my own life and even from lives of people around me. So it is very close to reality.
So actually, you grew up in India?
Yes, I grew up in India and moved to the US in 2000, so it is eighteen years I have been there.
Now about the characters in the book, were they figments of your imagination or influenced by real people?
Characters were just a figment of my imagination. And it was also that the characters were slowly coming together as the story evolved. I didn’t really sketch it out that this would happen in the first chapter and this in the second chapter, I just wrote. And I think chapter by chapter, even when I would start to write, I would not know who’s going to come into the story today. So, I think, they came on their own and then I tried to determine a little bit of the character but as you progress, the character develops itself, you almost feel like that they are living there, that it is happening and this is what they are saying and sometimes, it would be like, now I do not want to write about this. But then the character insists that you make them do certain things in certain ways. So it becomes a very dynamic equation. Just living with those characters and seeing, you almost are a spectator at times and at times, you are the director. So, it’s a happy marriage (laughs). `
What were the challenges faced while writing the book?
Biggest challenge was time, the only challenge was time (laughs). Everything else was pretty smooth. I think I was really lucky to have gotten such a great publishing house, this was the first publishing house I approached, they took me on, the book came out and now it is on the bestseller list, Oh my God. I guess it was really meant to be.
But the only challenge was finding the time, how do I do it? It was extremely frustrating because I would only write on weekends because there is home, work and everything else. You have to drive your kids and you have to be at work. So I would write Friday afternoon to Sunday. But by the time you would start the next weekend, you forget what you had written. So then you have to go back, start reading and dissecting and then when you are in the flow of the moment, when the story is going somewhere interesting, it is just getting there, and suddenly you have to drop it and leave it all to come back to it. It was very frustrating.
I would often feel, why doesn’t everyone just leave me alone and not talk to me for two months (laughs). But it is all about balancing, for every woman it is a challenge to do the things you want to do. But you just have to make the best of it.
That was my next question, how do you strike a balance between your work and your home?
There is no balance. I feel I am always running behind (laughs). So you just manage. You don’t ever really feel like this has been done perfectly. You just do what you can do, when you can do and how you can do it.
But maybe the advantage of taking it up the next week would be that you would be editing the previous part and then you would proceed further.
Yes, so actually I would review my work. Better to look at the silver lining, what happens, happens for the best (laughs).
What was the hardest part of writing your book, other than time?
Other than time, I think editing. Writing was very easy but going back, changing things and reading it over and over and the review, I think that was the bigger part of the process that was challenging. Just revisiting, constantly questioning, deleting, editing, all of those minute repetitive things, those were tiresome. Writing on the other hand was very enjoyable.
Do you see writing as a career?
Absolutely, it is my career, it’s my retirement plan (laughs).
What are you writing now?
I am going to start my next book very soon and that is going to be not as philosophical as this one. It should be a lighter read, but it will also be about questions related to life, love and relationships. What I want to project in there is a little bit of flashback. I think, it is going to be the present moment characters sometimes going back into their past, maybe set somewhere in the 50s or 60s, in early India.
I do think it will be a romantic novel but not in the stereotypical sense. It will be a delicate interplay of human emotions, past and present and the unanswered questions that life poses.
The protagonist is looking at current day relationships in light of her past. As with all I love, there will be plenty of travel.
And when do you think, you would be done with this book?
I am hoping to start soon, but for now I owe a little more time to The Indigo Sun that is already out and being received well, so I think another two months, I should be ready to start. But I want to do two things before I write my next one– one is some research, specially related to the cities and times, to make it as real as I can for the reader and the other thing is, I want to travel to a couple of places even if for a day or two to get my fix of reality.
So, you’ll be coming back to India?
Yes, I’ll be coming back to India. If I can do it even for a few days, I would be happy.
What is your favourite genre, when you pick up books to read?
I really gravitate towards philosophy (laughs). I don’t read fiction a lot actually. I enjoy some of the works but typically I like poetry, I like philosophy, something that makes me think and of course I am a dreamer at heart (laughs).
Which book are you reading now?
Right now I have started reading some of the Indian authors because that’s one thing that I hadn’t done much of. So now when I spend time with my books, I can conveniently claim that I am investing in my industry (laughs). I read Preeti Shenoy’s A Hundred Little Flames just recently.
On the US side, I am going back to classics. I recently read Hemmingway’s The Old Man and The Sea which had been on my reading list for long. I am also halfway through Wuthering Heights. For me these are essential timeless reads so I want to get through these first.
Who is your favourite author?
Present day authors, definitely Paulo Coelho, I like him a lot. And in general, Kahlil Gibran was another one that I liked a lot. Rabindranath Tagore, Rumi. Among the fiction authors, I like Elizabeth Gilbert, I really enjoy her writing.
Any author who has influenced your writing?
All of the names I mentioned above. Especially, Tagore is a huge influence, Kahlil Gibran is another one. Paulo Coelho’s Alchemist was one of the first books I’d read. All these authors are very instrumental in shaping my thinking.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
New authors, well not exactly new but I would say Elizabeth Gilbert- I look forward to her books, I like her writing style, she’s funny, she is very understated. So I like her writing, I look forward to her books. I am also exploring the scene with the Indian writers. I’ve started to read a lot of them but the challenge is that my reading style is rather limited (laughs).
I feel I read only certain types of books, plus time is another thing I constantly strive to create. So I do a lot of audible actually, audio books, because I drive a lot. It is the most productive use of my driving hours. I look forward to my drives. I always supplement it with a physical book, so when I am home, I pick up from where I left off and then when I get in the car, I listen to it and the story continues.
Any advice for new authors?
My greatest advice for all aspiring authors is to just believe- in yourself and in the power of stories that want to be told. Do not overthink it, do not question and do not hesitate. Just be determined and don’t stop walking even when you can’t see the path. It may not happen in your time but if you want it enough, it will happen for sure. Excuses will always be plenty, and excuses will always be there but dreams …. They are special and worth holding onto … never give up on those.
Do you believe in Writer’s Block?
I have not experienced it so far, like I often joke that I did not have the luxury of thinking that I could afford the writer’s block. I was in such a rush to finish it that this time I escaped maybe next time it’ll come get me. I’ve heard of it so I’m sure it exists. But with me, I don’t know if it was time constraint or I was plain lucky that it didn’t happen.
You have the support of your family in your writing?
My family has been very supportive, but there are time bound demands I have to meet. Overall, they have been as supportive as they can be even with the travel, after-promotions. They are all helping out. But, initially, just to convince them that you are serious about it especially when you are going into something that’s so unrelated and random, people are skeptical. There is also a level of self-doubt and guilt on if you are taking time away from this and you are taking time away from that, is it worth it? So that skepticism is always there. I think it is really challenging. Initially nobody is going to say that leave everything, write your book, it is your dream. This does not happen in real life.
In real life, you have to make do with everything. You have to prove it to the point where people start believing in it.
Thank you so much for the interview, Rupa. All the best for the next book, looking forward to it.
Social Media links of Rupa Bhullar for people to find/follow/like
Goodreads: Rupa Bhullar
facebook: Rupa Bhullar @BhullarRupa (author page)
I am thankful to the publisher, Rupa publications for givingme an opportunity to interview the author.