On writing, South Asian taboos, beauty of the Nepali language

Prajwal ParajulyNepali-Indian author Prajwal Parajuly is a curious person. Laidback, he writes simply because he likes to. Yet, his stories are written with such forceful simplicity that people cannot help be moved by their sheer tenderness. Son of an Indian father and a Nepalese mother, Parajuly grew up in Gangtok in the Indian state of Sikkim— which forms the milieu for his characters and stories. He is the youngest Indian to sign a multinational book deal.  Touted as India’s next big literary talent, Parajuly has attempted to deal with the pressure with remarkable level-headedness.

In an e-mail interview with Slok Gyawali of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) Parajuly speaks about his latest book Land where I Flee, the writing process and advice for aspiring writers.

Prior to Land Where I Flee, Parajuly wrote a collection of short stories The Gurkha’s Daughter. He also writes for The New York Times.

(Excerpts from the interview)

Q) Given the success of your first book The Gurkha’s Daughter, did you feel the pressure while writing Land Where I Flee?

Thankfully, a big chunk of LWIF had been written before TGD was published. Otherwise, there’s no way I would have finished writing LWIF on time. To be honest, I felt more pressure right after I signed the two-book deal, than I did after TGD was published. Publications that hadn’t read a word of what I had written, declared that I was the next ‘literary Gandhi’. I would often stay awake wondering what would happen if the books failed to live up to the hype. I guess an author making his literary debut with a collection of short stories was a little bit of an anomaly in the West. The ensuing media hype taught me not to take anything written about me too seriously. By the time LWIF hit stands, there was no pressure at all.

Q) You bring up a number of South Asia’s taboos in the book: homosexuality, inter-caste marriage, unquestionable filial piety towards in-laws, eunuchs— do you enjoy ruffling feathers?

I don’t. I am dull that way. I steer away from controversy and have absolutely nothing to offer at debates during these literary festivals we see everywhere. I dislike arguing or ruffling feathers. God, I am a wuss! With LWIF, I thought it would be interesting to incorporate one taboo after another and have fun with it. There’s class, caste, sexuality, gender, writerly ethics, and so much more. It was a fun novel to write.

Land where I fleeQ) The novel Land Where I Flee touched upon the idea of a family trying to cope with memory, change and reality. What new insights did you gain about the traditional family notion in a rapidly changing South Asia?

New insights? Nothing that we don’t already know.  I come from a proper joint family, which is such an alien concept to most of the world, even to people in South Asia. I had two older sisters and two younger cousins— so although I was the youngest— it constantly felt like I was the middle of five children. So I have this skewed idea of a ‘traditional family’ because what was normal to me was totally bizarre to my best friend. It was so much fun observing the dynamics in other, more ‘normal’ families. That’s why I enjoy writing about families so much.

Q) At your book release in Delhi, which I attended, you said that the book is your tribute to the Nepali language. Could you explain?  What are your thoughts on the politics of language and literature in South Asia?

Nepali is such a beautiful language. It’s a shame that I can’t express its beauty very well in Nepali, so I use English to talk about it. I try to keep the ‘Nepaliness’ intact in my writing by peppering it with Nepali words or by directly translating from Nepali to English. Sometimes, I ramble about the language’s idiosyncrasies, using Ruthwa— a writer character in the novel— as a medium. I think we are entering an era that will not care much about the purity of English. We will learn to embrace that the English we speak in India, is also correct English. It’s fascinating. I love to watch language evolve.

Q) Why do you write? What advice would you give aspiring writers?

I started writing because I had nothing to do. It was not a childhood dream. I did not have a story inside me that was bursting to be told. I mostly like it now, but I may stop doing it after a book or two. All this traveling is annoying. My biggest advice to aspiring writers: first find out if you are actually talented. Do not go by the number of likes your friends bestow on your FB notes.

Q) Your debut book was a collection of short-stories and you followed that up with a novel. What can we expect next?  

Nothing— I am thinking. The entire idea of starting a book from scratch is so intimidating, right now, that I am almost comforted by the American tour for TGD ahead of me. Come November, I plan to isolate myself from the world, disappear to an undisclosed location, deprive myself of the internet and just write. What the book will be (or if it will even be a book), I don’t know now.




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India Writes Network
India Writes Network
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