His first book, "The Gurkha's Daughter" , will be launched in 2012, but Prajwal Parajuly has already signed two books with Stieg Larsson's trilogy publisher Quercus. The 27-year-old Nepali from Gangtok, who is a student of creative writing at Oxford, tells Anuradha Sharma that there's still a lot ignorance about Indian Nepalis in India
What is " The Gurkha's Daughter" about?
It's a collection of short stories about Nepali-speaking people the world over. My family is originally from Kalimpong. I grew up in Gangtok, and my mother is from Nepal; so bringing together stories from all these places into a collection seemed only natural. The book will be out in England in late 2012 and will be distributed in India by Penguin books.
How did the Quercus deal happen? Is it true that you have got a "really big" and "tempting" advance?
Quercus is an amazing publisher. Susan Yearwood, at The Susan Yearwood Literary Agency, started circulating my manuscript among publishing circles in London. Once we discovered that we were in a position to choose, we selected Quercus because I was very comfortable with Jon Riley, the editor in chief. The advance was decent. It doesn't mean I will be living in a Fifth Avenue apartment anytime soon, though.
In the Quercus pipeline is also a novel by you, right?
Yes, "The Land where I flee", is a family saga. Various members of a family convene in Gangtok for a celebration, and things happen. That's all you will get for now.
Why did you quit your advertising job?
I was born into a Hindu family of lawyers, grew up right next door to a Protestant church and went to a school whose history and leanings were very Buddhist. So, yes, I attended Sunday school as a child and feel most at peace in a monastery. Gangtok to me is the happiest place in the world. After high school, Imoved to Truman State University in the US for my undergraduate degree, after which I worked in New York as an advertising executive at The Village Voice. Three years of working there convinced me that the answer to my dreams didn't lie in frivolous Manhattan events. When the only thing remotely creative I was doing was writing the occasional copy, which, let's face it, can be pretty stifling, I knew I needed out. The decreasing level of confidence in Nepali, a language I prided myself in being very well versed with, was another big push to quit the job and write.
Are you the next big thing in South Asian writing, as some sections of the media say? Does the hype bother you?
Questions such as these make me nervous. Do I get to decide if I am the next big thing? Is it the critics? Or the press? Or is it the book sales? You have to learn not to take these labels seriously. In the beginning, I was nervous about whether or not I would be able to live up to the hype. Now, I don't particularly care. I am writing about things I want to write about, the way I want - it's wonderful.
How have the situation in Darjeeling and the Gorkhaland movement shaped your literary thought?
You can't grow up in Sikkim and Darjeeling and not be affected by the Gorkhaland movement. Some of that might have been translated into my stories subconsciously.
Do you seek to make any political statements through your work?
For now, I am simply a writer who writes about his world. I address caste, class and identity issues in a number of my stories. Aspects of the Gorkhaland movement or the Bhutanese refugee situation might have found themselves in various stories. To be honest, I get intimidated when I am asked questions about my wanting to give the Gorkhaland movement an international platform and whether writing the book is my way of getting into the movement. It's a cause I believe in and am passionate about, but I doubt if I am well equipped to be directly involved in the movement. I am a writer doing his job with no political aspirations or agenda.
Indian Nepalis are an insecure lot. If in 1979, the then PM Morarji Desai's comment labelling them as foreigners stirred the hornet's nest, present-day generalization and stereotyping of the community as watchmen and canteen boys have not helped either. Identity and acceptance are the main demands of the Gorkhaland agitation. How do you look at it?
It is a sad state of affairs. This country loves its stereotypes and generalizations. When a Prime Minister makes statements as silly as that, what can one expect from the rest of the country? With time, there's been some improvement in the rest of the country's perception of Nepali-speaking Indians, but we still have a long way to go. Education is one way out. The more educated we become, the more "visible" we become. Yes, there are insecurities about having to stress our nationality each time we mention our ethnicity, but we must also realize that the minor irritant could be converted into an opportunity to educate ignorant people about where we come from and our history here.
How would you identify yourself?
I identify myself as a Nepali-speaking Indian writer writing in English.