As you all know that The Way We Are – Dark Tales from the Himalayas is available for sale now in all Amazon channels, and today I thought that it would be interesting to share the story behind the stories; of how it came about and what they mean to me. I started writing The Way We Are in Sweden. The inception of the stories began in the winter ravaged walking/cycling route that meandered quietly past the backyard of the flat we used to live in, in quiet old Kalmar. I used to take long solitary walks until my face would go numb and my toes as well, even inside those well insulated boots. It was on one such walk a voice arose within that said, write it! get it out! At that point I had been missing my life back home in the hills quite desperately. I missed everything about my shabby little town and a certain kind of yearning to just drop everything and travel back home devoured me incessantly. I dreamed of going back home, of having lazy late mornings, of being pampered by familial hospitality and home food. I pined for the attention and care that I found lacking in the west. I used miss having bed tea served with a rack of biscuits while you were still in bed and for the opportunity to be able to just recline on the bed or lounge in your corner all day long reading a book, watching a film or the telly, just existing in a state of languid inertia, without feeling an ounce of guilt. Life in Europe is a bit more different than life back home. Everything you do comes with a consequence, and quite a dear one at that. There is no time for lazy contemplation or profound cogitation nor do the people around you have patience for it. The more you are on your toes, the more you run instead of walking, the better it is. It is a society driven by lack of time and the total sense of time. And there I was trying to make sense of where I came from, carrying all the essence of what made me and where I found myself. It was the kind of transition that did not hit me during the early years abroad, it was more of a gradual revelation that revealed itself atom by atom, moment by moment, minute by minute until, over the years it moulded itself into a huge question mark. The longer I live abroad, the bigger and stronger the question mark gets.
While living in Sweden I always struggled with the notion of being the outsider. I never felt at home and it enticed me to seek solitude. I began enjoying absolute solitary moments because it compelled me, filled me with a desire to sit and write. Today I owe my gratefulness to those very days in Sweden that drove the writer in me to create those stories that I have carried within me for so long but hadn’t had the courage to share with the world. So yes, out of that longing, out of that yearning to be a part of my past, and out of those hours and hours of solitary moments, these stories came forward one by one, offering comfort and reassurance as they took shape and form. Of course, I realise now that you are where you are. You are never really where you wish to be if you are here, and that it is the “here” and the “now” that matters most. I also realise now that I have put so much years and months between the place where I came from and place where I find myself now that, nothing will be the same even if I do go back and try to resurrect the life that I left behind so many years ago. It doesn’t work that way. Even though certain places may give one a feeling that it just hasn’t changed, it is a delusion after all, created by old memories. The truth is that it has definitely changed in ways you can’t even imagine while you were away. Everything changes, people, places, time, everything. Hence it is with my loving remembrance to a place that used to be but which it no longer is, I dedicate The Way We Are – Dark Tales from the Himalayas.
So many lovely people are involved in helping me shape the stories and in helping me write them and they all know who they are. I thought that naming a few of them particularly would probably not do justice to all of them because then the page would run out of space. I think I am not yet in a position to extend a full page of acknowledgement for the work I have produced so I am just going to express a heart full of thanks to every single one of you who have been a part of me through this journey. I thank you sincerely. From my heart to yours.
The characters of my stories are very closely based on people whom I have met sometime in my life or have interacted with, at some point in time, or have just brushed shoulders. But they have been strong enough to leave an indelible mark within that I just had to write their stories. I have lived with these characters in the making for three long years, so no matter how many more stories I may write in the future, these characters from this particular book will forever be dearest to me.
About the Stories
Monsters of Men
This is the second last story I wrote and hence is it self-edited which means it is one of the stories most susceptible to physical errors. It is also one of the two stories I wrote in Kurseong. The reason why I put this story first is because one of my dear friends, a writer as well, thought that it would make a wonderful opening story. There have been so many men like Gagan who have been trained to commit crimes by having been completely brainwashed. How do you awaken compassion and empathy in the heart of a cold-blooded killer? was the question that arose when I wrote this story. Rest is for you to read and for me not to tell
The Deal with the Horoscope
This story grew out of our hill people’s penchant for astrologers. I grew up making rounds at astrologers’ homes or having them visit us to foretell a seemingly bountiful and prosperous future. I think every single person from Darjeeling hills and Nepal can relate to this story.
This is one of the stories that has been born out of a ghost story I listened to, as a child. My mother narrated a ghost story one day and it stayed with me so long that I just had to write about it. There have been other ghost stories that I have built my story around. “Real happenings” was what they always said before narrating it and till today I can recall that growing sense of dread and curiosity filling me up listening to those stories, most because they were ”real happenings”. Deboshish is again based on a character I knew while I was growing up and I used to imagine that even behind such tough exteriors there must be a heart longing for romantic attachment and a desirable match.
This story was born out of a death of a loved person when we were living in Kathmandu. It was a sudden death of a loving mother and a wife and it came as a blow to the little community that lived under the Shivpuri hills in an enclosed housing facility. The story is about how we never really know what we have got until death or departure makes us realise what we had and what we have lost.
In Her Shadow
This story was particularly the most difficult story to write. I had the idea and emotions, but it was very difficult to put it into words. Once again I have seen and been a part of sibling rivalry and this story takes it a few steps further and a few levels higher. I have also been reading about and studying Tibetan Buddhism for some time now and I wanted to put the idea of compassion into play with a full-bodied story. What happens if extreme hate collides with love and forgiveness? Does compassion have the nature to change the self and the other?
Winter in the hills was on my mind when I conjured up this tale a part of which is a ghost story I heard many years ago on a wintry evening, sitting by the fire at home. It is also about the idea of story telling, of how it used to be a big part of our lives and how it has disappeared entirely now since the advent of the telly.
I wrote this story as a comic relief for the readers as a way to lift the sombre spell that the preceding stories perhaps cast in the readers’ mind. Yet this one is not entirely cut away from the dark theme that runs across all the stories, connecting them like the pearls in a string. Child labour was and is a serious issue but sometimes those families and houses that provided a nurturing shelter and a secure future to such a child who is taken away from her home to work, goes quite unnoticed and unacknowledged.
Night of the Storm
As I wrote this story, the incident regarding open firing in the town of Kurseong during the 80s was rife in my mind. I wanted to write about that day but in a dramatic sort of way and I introduced two dramatic characters who are based on two individuals one of whom is no longer among us but was by far one my fondest people in Kurseong town. I enjoyed writing this story and I can still recall writing it, sitting in front of my desk in Kalmar, the snow flakes a big as a cat’s paw floating outside in a quiet meditative dance.
Uncommon romance, not quite entirely unrequited, but something that is silent. A kind of love that is there and yet not. This has through years nudged my heart and mind and instilled within me an inspiration to write a story of love that was unique in every way, that transpired physical existence and presence in every way. I fell in love with my characters while writing this story and I wanted so much for the protagonist and the person she loved so much and for so long to find a way to be together. I hope I did justice to them.
The Thirteenth Hour
This story was very first one I wrote in the collection. Parents abusing children physically is not an uncommon sight or wasn’t an uncommon sight back when I was growing up. It was very common especially among the lower classes where there would be several mouths to feed and due to lack of illiteracy and general awareness, the convoy of children just grew every year in an impoverished family. This story has been written through a nine year old’s view of her world her desire for escape but it is not in first person because I wanted a detached narrator
for all of my stories for this collection.
Once again my fascination for our hill people’s proclivity for shamans and witch doctor’s have found a way through this story. When I was growing up there was certain tangible truth about our people been entertained, charmed and obssessed by the idea of spells that kept people together or drove them apart. It often used to be the highest grossing gossip in a village or a locality that used to travel word of mouth via taxi drivers and travellers. This is one such story the seed of which germinated in one such anecdotes.
This is the final story I wrote for the collection and I wrote it at home in Kurseong. The story actually changed after its inception and I what came out of a rewrite is this version. Monsoon rain slashes against the window of my room and the wind moaned outside as I wrote Atonement. I also wrote this through hours of power cuts using pen and paper. When I was in college there were many incidences that had it’s bone of contention in a racial/ethnic difference even within India. There were violent incidences where conflict resulted in murders. It was a dark time and in many ways Delhi is still a dark place for the students from the hilly regions of India simply because they carry ethnically different features. This story is not about focusing on the differences but about finding a way to integrate; it’s about finding a reason to accept our differences and in a way to forgive and forget.
I do hope that my readers enjoy reading this stories and live or relive them in a way they enjoy most.
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