Prajwal Parajuly’s maiden book “The Gurkha’s Daughter” brings to the orb of Indian English writing stories with fresh shades, plucked out of the Nepalese society
“I try not to plan too much of my life because God laughs at plans,” says first-time author Prajwal Parajuly.
Call it his faith in the certainty of the uncertain, or say, a soft spot for the quest unknown — this line of thought has definitely delivered Prajwal. He scripted his first short story as a writer-in-residence at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, in the U.S. by drawing from his immediate world — the Nepalese community in his hometown Gangtok. At the time, Prajwal didn’t quite plan to write seven more stories and string them into a book. He surely didn’t fathom it would take him more than a year “to write, rewrite, rewrite, edit and finesse them.” Nor did he expect those “generous reviews”.
But here he is, as the author of “The Gurkha’s Daughter” (Quercus), a teller of tales who has certainly brought a whiff of freshness to the orb of Indian writing in English. Prajwal’s stories grow into an album, a rich, textured word picture, of Nepalese-speaking people, be they from Gangtok, Darjeeling and Kalimpong in India or from distant Manhattan. Their language, their concerns, their beliefs, disbeliefs, are distinct grains of the society perhaps caught only in the prism of Indian language writing till now. They well represent Prajwal’s desire “to tell stories of a world” he knew well.
So was it by accident then that he brought rarely heard stories into English writing? Responds Prajwal, in an e-mail interview, “I’d say, it’s a bit of both. There was this desire to write a book based in my part of the world, my community and my culture, which hasn’t been explored much in Indian English writing. I might have fallen into the familiar trap of wanting to showcase too much of my culture in the first draft of a story or two. That’s when I realised that writing about a largely esoteric world — showcasing the beautiful, wonderful culture Nepali-speaking people possesses — alone wouldn’t make a good story.”
The effort to tell a good story shows. If in “The Cleft”, he runs the parallel narratives — one unfolding in the mind, the other outside — he also traps the gradations, hope in a hopeless situation, the subtle nuances that are shifting with the times.
At a time when the topic of insider-outsider vis-a-vis migrant labour is hot in the country, he rolls out “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie”, the story of Munnu, a Nepali-speaking Bihari paan shop owner in Kalimpong, whose social position periodically oscillates between being an outsider and an insider.
“A Father’s Journey” reveals more slivers from that society, the young and the old, the meeting points and, the crevices. Then there are others which represent the vibrancy of a community scattered all over, which Prajwal tries to bring out by preceding every story with a map. “I presume it doesn’t’ happen often in fiction but I don’t care about rules. Who decides the rules fiction writing and non-fiction writing should adhere to? I thought the maps would be an easy way for readers to figure out where in the world the stories are based,” says the author.
He has also generously peppered the book with vernacular words and expressions without footnotes. “That would be too academic, almost pedantic. The reason for including Nepali words and the maps is the same — I wanted the book to have them. I think words such as jumraa and bokshee help make the book more ‘Nepali.’ What better way to get the Nepalese quiddities across? I also think leaving these words there doesn’t affect an intelligent reader’s understanding of the stories,” he says in defence.
Writing a novel
For someone who writes when he “feels like writing,” and is “very surprised that the book is out there already,” it is not at all bad that Prajwal is already penning a novel. “The novel will be out at the same time next year,” adds the new author who “oscillates between New York and Oxford and disappears to Gangtok twice a year.” Some day, he wants to write a children’s book, “or perhaps a screenplay.” He is also thinking of editing an anthology of short stories from the Northeast, “select one good writer from each State and put together an amazing book.”
But for now, he has book tours and signings planned for “The Gurkha’s Daughter” the next few months. Well, did he say “planned”?