The Story about the Story (How Over the Hills and Far Away came to be)

 “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” - Maya Angelou

 

And here I have another book to share with the world. I am back writing a post again after an incredibly long hiatus and I wish I   hadn’t stopped updating my blog, but sometimes, due to personal reasons, we put a distance between what we actually do and what we want to do. And in turn, we end up not doing what we should be doing. However, I am glad that I have had a very good year, a   very busy year that involved moving between two countries, moving homes, getting the children settled down in a new school and then writing – at the end of which I have a book to share. Phew!

 Over the Hills and Far Away is a story that I have carried inside for a some time now. It has been through many changes and   ups and downs. Like all my stories, it holds a lot of significance to me. The germination of the plot took place sometime during   January 2017 and since then I started brainstorming and writing down bits and pieces. I had a strong desire to write about people who leave their roots in search of greener pastures and end up in a big relentless concrete jungle. While they try to make a life there, their hearts are continuously yearning to go back home. Yet they cannot go back because there is nothing back there to build a life on. Some venture abroad to foreign lands and cultures trying a make a home out of it, but the further they go, the more the root tugs. Even the glitter and magnificence of western civilization fail to soothe their wistful hearts. Out of that yearning, Maira was born.

I had to take a break in the middle as we were moving and it was very difficult to resume writing in a new environment. But then all went well and I got my writing groove back as my muse plucked the feather from her hair and tapped with it on my head facilitating the flow of the story.

Sometimes, I would find myself in pieces, all over the place but Calliope* the lady with the feather tucked in her head and a pen in her hand would bring me right back to where I belong – the writing table.

Towards the end of the book, I was under a lot of pressure to finish it and to send it on time for the PenToPublish2017 contest and I had to edit quite a bit out of it but I’m glad that on the whole, it turned out to be a heartwarming story. Professional edit has not met Over the Hills and Far Away but I have released a second version that I revised some days later after publishing it on Kindle Direct Publishing. To those who got to read only the first version, I apologise. For it may not have been easy to read with those errors.

 

Characters

Maira – From the very beginning, when the book was just in its early phases, I had already decided what Maira’s character was going to be like. I wanted to write about a female protagonist, who is not Miss-goody-two-shoes but is someone who has tremendous flaws and imperfections. Maira makes voluble mistakes and suffers immensely because of it. But it is through all the experiences of the various travails in her life, that she matures and comes of age. I have always admired strong female characters in both books and films (and in reality of course) and that is why I think I had this need to attach a superhuman quality to my female protagonist making her rise above the ordinary. I feel that I know Maira very well, although she has nothing of me in her. She could have sprung from my alter ego.

 

Kiran – Kiran’s character grew very slowly with the story. She didn’t emerge until I had finished writing half the story when I realised that I needed to create a tough challenge for Maira. Once I fleshed out Kiran’s character, I went back and rewrote the story. I am not too fond of Kiran and yet I feel that there is much of me in her than in Maira. Kiran is not vocal about her emotions, she is very private by nature and doesn’t forget or forgive easily. Her strength is her focus and motivation, which she dedicates solely to her work, and in time, her strength becomes her weakness. Kiran is a young mother and has all the flaws of an inexperienced parent and while one may dislike her for her cold disposition, she does possess a redeeming shade in her character. I have never liked cold and ambitious female characters and yet I wanted to dabble in the making of one, but not without granting her a hidden restorable quality of a forgiving mother.

 

Kunti

Kunti is the gentlest and softest person that every family has. She is a character born out of the older generation of people who still believe in the power of spiritual remedies. I borrowed my grandmother’s name on my father’s side, for this character although my grandmother was nothing like Kunti on the outside. She was a tough, hard-scaled woman who hardly had a gentle tone when she spoke. But she expressed her love through walking miles on foot on a day of strike carrying bags full of homegrown vegetables to bring it to us. She never missed a Sunday to come see us, come rain or shine. And that to me, meant that she cared and loved without condition. Underneath her hard shell, there was that gentle and compassionate woman and from there rose Kunti’s character.

 

Kham Magar Bajai

Although belonging to the old world, the one that is seeped in superstitions and old wives tales, she is a true matriarch. She is the key to the element of magic that we today, in our modern worlds no longer believe in. If we trace our roots, we will, without fail, find that each of our ancestors have had it running through their veins. We the people of hills can still trace it back to our grandparents, a fundamental rustic way of life where the witch doctors and shamans were an everyday thing. In the remote villages, such practices are still prevalent. And there is nothing to be ashamed of because what we are today, is because of who we were yesterday.

Before medicine and physicians came into being in the hills, it was the witch doctors and shamans that eased the people’s worries and even cured them without a medical intervention. Modernism has brought light into many civilizations paving way for growth and a broader sense of the world. And, we are ever so thankful for all the inventions that came from the west. But we also must value our history and our history, while being about political boundaries and oppression; it is also about our belief in magic and superstitions. The word superstition carries a negative connotation in the world today and yet writers can’t stop writing about it and books about magical fantasies and old-world superstitions still sell in millions. Kham Magar Bajai is a symbol of that old-world charm, who, in today’s world have manifested as alternative cures and herbal remedies.

Back in the days, families had strong matriarchs who sat at the head of the family and had a strong influence on the decisions made. They were like the Peepal tree spreading their branches far and wide while digging their roots the deepest and providing shade and rest to their families. They were revered and looked upon with great fear and respect but over time, they have been reduced to sitting quietly in the corner stumbling in an out of dementia, forgotten and fading. Kham Magar Bajai’s character came out of sheer respect and love for our old venerable women who have forgotten how it was to command great respect and sit at the head of the table.

Them name Kham Magar came from that area in the western highlands of Nepal where a mix of Kham and Magar people live. Kham is a historical region in Tibet that lies between present-day Tibet autonomous region and Sichuan province in China. The Magars are an ethnic group of Nepalese people who live in the foothills of the Dhaulagiri range in Nepal. The Kham Magars have a prolific shamanistic tradition even today and female shamans are popular in that region. That is where the character of Kham Magar Bajai surfaced from.

 

Tejas

I had a lot of fun writing Tejas’ character. Although he is not fully explored in the book, he has the makings of most of my male characters in the stories I have written. He has bits and pieces of Suraj from The Deal With the Horoscope, of Deboshish from For Eternity, of Samiran from Sacred Spaces and Aadesh from Unwished.

He is not afraid to express his fears and confusions and that draws him away from the image of a stereotypical hero. He is helpless without Maira and he openly admits to it without masking it with smugness. Tejas is someone who has no issues being led around by a woman. He has strong integrity and he is extremely secure as a person in a way that female power does little to threaten him. Unlike the quintessential male characters, he does not play the saviour. He admires Maira for who she is and all her misgivings and flaws does little to dissuade him from coming close to her. He is someone who every woman should fall in love with, take home, and never leave.

 

Rithwik and Jay

Rithwik and Jay are the darker shades of Tejas’ character. Rithwik and Jay provide a character foil to Tejas’, accentuating each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Rithwik represents men who come from strong conservative families but who want to break away from familial norms. He stands for the aspirations of any Indian man today, but one who doesn’t have enough gusto to follow his heart. He falls for his parents’ ambition and by following the path they have chosen for him, he loses the one person he has truly loved. Rithwik’s character also represents children of parents who are overzealous about their children’s future. Instead of letting them choose their own paths, they destroy their children’s lives by paving a path of their preference for them.
Jay is an absolute opportunist. Hardened by his personal trials, he only seeks comfort and fulfilment without making an effort. The way he disappears proves that some people are made that way – self-centred megalomaniacs, whose immediate concern is directed only to the self. Jay represents men who have very little conscience and they are pitiful characters in their incapacity to love another human being. These people have no self-redeeming qualities and they move from home to home, women to women trying to take as much as they can to fill the emptiness inside.

The setting

The story is set in and around Kurseong, my hometown. No tea gardens are featured in this story and it is because I have invested my sole attention in Dow Hill area and the hills of Gairi Gaon my father’s birthplace as the setting. There is an old crumbling bungalow called Ansal Ganj in the hills there and ever since a child, I have felt a strong connection to that place. Not a year went by when I didn’t visit it whilst I visited home. Ansal Ganj stands for McLeod villa and it always finds a way into my stories. Glendale stands where my grandparents lived but the British house that stood there, had apparently been replaced by a two-storeyed shabby looking house by the time my grandparents moved there. These areas are always dark, wet and dripping with monsoon rains and provide a perfect atmosphere for Gothic tales. The name Gairi Gaon literally means the village in the deep and what better place for the setting I thought. Glendale village actually is a mixture of the Chimney Village in Kurseong and Gairi Gaon. Kham Magar Bajai’s cottage was actually imagined in the woods above Dow Hill School around Deer Park.

 

Calliope* – Greek mythology goddess is the muse who presides over poetry and writing

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Yoshay Lama

I welcome you warmly to my blog. This is the resting place of most of my creative work. This blog consists of book reviews, articles, poems, mere reflections and excerpts from my stories.

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