Prajwal’s debut, ‘The Gurkha’s Daughter’, a collection of short stories is being launched in India on Saturday. The Indian edition is being distributed by Penguin Books India. The book is being released by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, Vinod Rai and renowned author, Namita Gokhale at the India International Centre in New Delhi on 24 November.
Prajwal speaks to NOW! on the launch of his debut book:
How does it feel now that your book is finally being released?
The release wasn’t happening until January of next year, but things changed. The initial plan was to launch the book internationally first and then in India. I had plans of being in New York for Thanksgiving, which I had to abort, but I don’t mind because it’s an exciting time to be in India. Delhi is beautiful in November, people have been very kind and the media very generous. I am looking forward to the Delhi launch and launches after that. We shall have one at Rachna Books, my favorite place in Gangtok, soon, and I am pumped.
Even before its release, The Gurkha’s Daughter has generated quite a lot of interest among readers, especially online. How do you feel about that?
It’s been nice. Nice and undeserved. At times, all the coverage made me feel guilty. At others, I feigned embarrassment in public and felt smug in private. I claim that I don’t Google myself because I don’t want to see what’s being written about me or the book, but that’s a big, fat lie. I try not to take the sobriquets coming my way too seriously.
What should readers expect from this book? Tell us a little about the stories.
The Gurkha’s Daughter is a collection of simply written stories. I have two stories based in Gangtok, one in Kalimpong, one in Darjeeling, one based on the Bhutanese-refugee situation, one in Kathmandu and one that happens on a road journey between Kathmandu and Birtamod. Some stories entailed weeks of research and “field visits”. Others were all in my head, so it was simply a matter of getting them down.
In present times, short story writing has not been a very popular choice when it comes to publishers or writers. How did the choice of this particular genre for your debut book come about?
I think it came down to choosing the easy way. Writing a novel would have been intimidating. I think a lot of first-time writers dabble with short stories before moving on to novels. I hadn’t really written much fiction before I started my collection of short stories. When I wrote the book, I had absolutely no clue about the short-story market. A good thing because had I known how bad things were, I’d probably have never written the book. Everyone at Oxford told me to write a novel if I had any hope of selling my short-story collection. One would think that the busier people got, the more of short stories they’d read because novels are too long. Interestingly, I found writing the novel a lot easier than I did writing the collection.
And how easy or difficult was it to get a collection of short stories revolving around the Nepali speaking community published?
Writing the short story collection may not have been very easy, but getting it published wasn’t that hard. I got lucky. Once I put together eight stories, we circulated the manuscript among my agent Susan Yearwood’s contacts in London publishing circles. To be in a position to choose was wonderful. We eventually chose Quercus because Jon Riley, the editor in chief, and I immediately connected. He had been editor in chief at Faber before, and I love Faber. He talked about how he worked as an editor, and I talked about how I worked as a writer – it was the perfect fit.
Any particular reason for choosing ‘The Gurkha’s Daughter’ as the title?
Oh, god, there were many titles before that. And they were horrible. Let me make a list. HIMALAYAN SUNSET. Eww. SUNSET IN THE HIMALAYAS. Phew. Then there was WARPED IDENTITIES in the beginning – that one makes me laugh. Jon and I looked at all the stories and thought, “Why not THE GURKHA’S DAUGHTER?” The title was already there – sitting right in front of us. Hunting high and low for something as hackneyed as WARPED IDENTITIES was silly!
Can you tell us something about any future projects that you are working on?
We’ve been approached by an independent film company in the U.K. about adapting one of my stories into a movie. We’ll see how that goes. I have loosely adapated one of my stories into a pathetic screenplay and may work on it a little. I’ve been thinking about the idea of an anthology of stories from the northeast – select a brilliant writer or two from every state and show off our talents to the world! It’s interesting that the northeast has all these English-speaking people, all these English-reading people, all these English-language-loving people but not that many writers. Perhaps the anthology would give some brilliant, if unpublished writers, a national platform? A publishing house has been talking to me about doing a travelogue – a tongue-in-cheek compilation of Facebook notes I wrote while traveling around India with my college roommate. Let this craziness subside, and I shall choose a project.
Finally, how did you manage to get a blurb for your book from Hope Cooke?
This concept of getting blurbs for your debut book is absurd. You approach a writer and beg him or her to endorse your book. I wasn’t going to do that! Or your editor does it for you. I didn’t want my editor to do that. My professors are lovely people and reputed writers, but using them for blurbs felt slightly … exploitative? I’d be uncomfortable saying, ‘Oh, hey, you taught me, so endorse my book, please’. In April, I read Hope’s TIME CHANGE. It’s a fascinating book – so well written. It’s a shame it hasn’t been published in India. It’d be amazing if someone published the book here. Someone told me the book was banned in India – is that right? I thought it’d make sense for Hope to write the blurb – she was familiar with the region, she’s a writer for whom I have a lot of respect, and she was lovely things to say about my book. I am grateful. Please smuggle TIME CHANGE into the country if you can!
What do you think about the current reading and writing scene in Gangtok?
It has changed, grown so much. Could it have started with THE WEEKEND REVIEW? I think it was in some ways responsible for spawning a number of writers’ careers. I grew up on an overdose of that publication. It was started when I was 13 or 14. Gangtok has some excellent writers. I remember Serah Basnet’s HARES B’NET column. I read and re-read it. And then prank-called her to grill her with questions. Yes, guys my age prank-called girls their age. I called writers! There was Karchoong Diyali who once wrote a hilarious piece about the proposed pedestrianization of MG Marg – something about having to carry his bags and sick grandma to a building in the middle of town had cracked me up no end. Then there was Coco – so irreverent and delightful. Chetan Raj Shrestha’s story A VICTIMISED TRANSFER, which was published in NOW!, was brilliant. He will soon be published – readers should know they are in for a treat. Yishey D., too, had her start with THE WEEKEND REVIEW, didn’t she? She’s now a published writer. Amazing! There was Gakila Phemphu whose piece on new movies leaving little to the imagination was hilarious. TALK SIKKIM is thriving. And Tenzin C. Tashi needs to stop wasting that enviable talent of hers on books on the Raj Bhawan and concentrate on a proper book on Sikkim’s history. God, all that knowledge juxtaposed with all that lyrical dexterity – it’s criminal that she hasn’t seriously worked toward getting published. I recently chanced upon a blog called KALIMPONG CALLING, and there was some excellent writing there. See, we have the talent. And we are reading, thanks to Rachna Books. I read about a library for children that’s opened up at Mist Tree Mountain – excellent stuff. Takstse is doing some wonderful things to encourage reading.