Ashim Sunam: 'The Gurkha's Daughter,' your first collection of short stories has been a bestseller, both in India and abroad. Do you have similar expectations from your first novel?
Prajwal Parajuly: I think my publishers do. It’d be nice for the book to sell well. I don’t think about sales and reviews, which is why I still sleep well.
AS: Could you talk in brief about your first novel, Land Where I Flee?
PP: It is a family saga. Four siblings living in various parts of the world convene in Gangtok to celebrate their grandmother’s 84th birthday and things happen.
AS: Why did you exactly choose grandmother’s 84th birthday as a reunion year?
PP: The 84th birthday holds a special significance for many Nepali-speaking Hindu communities. I thought it would be an interesting idea to have a story around it.
AS: Why is Prasanti, the help, your favourite character in the novel?
PP: She's sassy, funny, strong and absolutely not a caricature - that's why.
AS: Why have you called this novel an 'uncomfortable' one?
PP: Good lord. There’s caste. There’s class. There’s sexuality. There’s gender. There are bad words. There’s talk about bad words – lots of it. The Gurkha’s Daughter was such a PG-13 book. This one just isn’t.
AS: You belong to a Brahmin family. Was there any discomfort on your part while writing about caste and class in your novel?
PP: See, you have to let out what's inside you, and that's what I did.
AS: Why do very few Indian writers write about this issue (caste , class)?
PP: I think a lot of writers explore these issues. If they don’t, it could be because of various reasons. Discomfort? Cowardice? Lack of interest?
AS: What was your biggest challenge while writing this novel?
PP: I was still a student when I was writing the novel, so concentrating on my thesis and final-year project was almost impossible because the novel took much of my time. I was having way too much fun with the novel for me to want to let go of it and work on my boring thesis. The biggest challenge was during the revision process, though – I let go of some 15,000 words – words I loved. They are still on my desktop in a folder titled “Killed Babies,” which is why writing a prequel to “Land Where I Flee” is very much in my thoughts.
AS: The novel also talks about the statehood demand of Gorkhaland. How have you brought out this statehood issue in a novel, which includes a family saga?
PP: This is a family that gets affected by the Gorkhaland movement in various ways. I can’t give too much away, I am afraid.
AS: What is your personal take on the issue of Gorkhaland?
PP: Gorkhaland is a valid cause, but shutting schools is no way to gain statehood.
AS: Your first book included a number of typical Nepali terms that went unexplained. Have you received any requests from readers to add a glossary in the end?
PP: Yes, some of my Indian readers asked me about it. Interestingly, people least familiar with Nepali were okay with the Nepali terms. My novel, too, has many Nepali words. There’s no glossary.
AS: Could you explain your voyage from Manali guest house, where you first started writing to 'Land Where I Flee'?
PP: It’s been insane and exhausting. I’ve been very fortunate. I know I shouldn't complain, but I’d love to build a cottage in some small hill town and do nothing but write for six months.
AS: Why are only a few books published in the Indian market being picked up by publishers abroad?
PP: See, I wouldn’t know this at all.
AS: How did it feel being the only writer from Asia to be shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize for Literature, 2013. Media reports say that you were the only Indian to do well internationally in 2013. Do you feel any pressure now?
PP: I haven’t thought of things that way. There was an American, too, who was the only American on the shortlist. I wonder if she gets asked the same question. Probably not. Am I the only Indian author who did well last year? I doubt it. Just because we weren’t shortlisted for the Booker doesn’t mean it was a poor year.