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How many people living in India know where Darjeeling or Kalimpong is? asks Prajwal Parajuly
At 26, Prajwal Parajuly is the youngest Indian to sign a two-book deal with Quercus, London. In a candid interview with Shrabani Mukherjee, the Sikkim-born author speaks about his debut book The Gurkha's Daughter. Excerpts.

 

How did you become a writer?

After quitting an advertising job in New York, I returned to India and travelled around the country with a friend. Knowing that people back home would ask questions about work, I started writing, first in a Manali guesthouse and then at home in Gangtok, Sikkim.

Why do you think the publishers picked you up?

Sometimes it happens that an editor likes your work and I believe the same thing happened with me too. Since I wrote about an esoteric world about which not much has been written, I feel that could be the reason they liked my work.

Why did you start with short stories?

I had no idea short stories were given such step-daughterly treatment. The short stories just happened and it is a matter of chance that Jon Riley liked my work. I am glad everything happened in a certain way and I hope it would encourage other people to write short stories – a form, which I think is more suitable for today's busy world.

Tell us about the research that went into writing the book?

For some stories, I did not have to do any research. I just sat and all of it came to me at once but for some stories such as ‘Gurkha's Daughter’ I visited refugee camps in Nepal and stayed there for sometime.

You have used a number of Nepali words without explaining their meaning. Was it intentional?

Initially, I wanted to add a glossary, then I thought of adding parenthesis but at the end I left it like that. Many have applauded this.

Even the maps, which is something out of the ordinary.

Many have quoted it as the coming together of fiction and non-fiction, but for me it was a simple question: “how many people living in India know where Darjeeling or Kalimpong is?” I expressed my idea to the editor and he liked it so we went ahead.

There is a subtle message in your stories such as the flesh market message in 'the cleft,' the inequalities based on caste in ‘A father's Journey’. Was it intentional?

I am not a social activist. I am a writer and to be honest I did not de-construct the book so much. I just went with the flow and wrote. Those messages were not intentional and happened as they suited the stories.

Is any part of the book your own story?

Many people have asked me if the story, The Immigrants, is mine. I want to be clear that it is not. All the stories draw inspiration from various experiences of people’s lives. For example, the journey of one of my cousins from Kathmandu to Birtamod forms the backbone of the story ‘The Cleft’.

Will your next work feature more politics?

Yes, my next work, which is a novel, features the Gorkhaland issue. Although, I cannot speak much about the book right now but its background is political. My writings are character driven, not event driven. Primarily, I have written about the people involved and when you write about people you can't ignore the issue.

Who is in your family?

I come from a joint family. I have one older sister and two cousins. Both my parents have retired from active service. My father was a judge and mother a lawyer, although she did not practise much. Currently they are involved in the translation of The Gurkha's Daughter in Nepali.

They must be proud of your success?

Initially, when the book made quite a bit of noise in the West, they were amused. All of us were feeling that the adulation was kind of undeserved but now that critics, authors and poets are actually coming up and writing rave reviews about my work, they feel very proud.

Going through your Facebook page I noticed that in the 'About me' section, you have written Vicky, Christina, Barcelon...

(laughs) It is just that I love Woody Allen's films and feel that the randomness of his characters is just fabulous.

What is your message to people who want to write but are too intimidated?

Start writing. If people say there is nothing as a writer's block, they are lying. On numerous occasions, I have stared at the screen not knowing what to write. Don't care about the punctuation or the framing of the sentences; just go bam bam bam on keyboard.

Who is your favourite author?

Tom Wolfe, PG Wodehouse, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Arundhati Roy. I love Arundhati Roy. I think she is a fabulous writer, the best in India.

I loved the story, 'A Father's Journey. Which is your favourite story from The Gurkha's Daughter?

People, especially in India loved that story but I am not too fond of it. For me there was something really beautiful in 'The Missed Blessing' and the ending where he goes on repeating the Christian prayer.

Photo credit: Nancy Choden

 

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