Frisson is what I think of when I think of Prajwal Parajuly. The first time we met was in Jaipur. A collision. We were both hurrying across a room, wine was spilled and apologies uttered as we backed away from each other cautiously. Recently, at the Dhaka Hay Festival, we shared a panel on South Asian Literature, and there were fireworks. We were rudderless without a moderator, and the audience hammered us with questions about “authenticity” and “authorial responsibility”. I couldn’t wait to get off stage, but Prajwal just laughed, neatly deflecting all hostility. When someone asked where he saw himself in five years, he said, “Well, I hope to be alive. Being on book tour is making me fat.” So, when he jocularly tells me his earliest memory in Gangtok involves getting his fingers caught in the fan of his father’s Ambassador, I don’t even pretend to be surprised. A mixture of blood and wit is what I’ve come to expect of him and his writing.
“Writing,” Prajwal says, “just happened.” Bored of the world of advertising sales that he stumbled into after university, he quit his job to travel, and when the enthusiasm for travel fizzled as well, he started writing. “It was an easy way to legitimise doing nothing.” Prajwal claims he is most undisciplined; that he does nothing for months until inspiration strikes, and only then does he sequester himself for sixteen-hour stretches and submit himself to runaway characters and meandering plots. Still, I don’t quite trust the aura of bumbling he has cultivated around himself, unless his moments of inspiration are truly supreme. No one publishes two internationally acclaimed books by the time they’re 29 in today’s razor-sharp literary turf without some amount of effort and direction.
Prajwal grew up in Gangtok, Sikkim, where life was slow-paced and rain was always falling. His first book, The Gurkha’s Daughter, a collection of stories, explored the Nepali-speaking communities of his hometown and beyond–Gorkhaland, Bhutan, Manhattan. The success of the book confounded Prajwal. He thought it would be apportioned the usual “step-daughterly treatment” reserved for short story writers. Instead, it was excellently reviewed and shortlisted for the prestigious Dylan Thomas Prize. His new book, a novel, Land Where I Flee, also concentrates on this small triangle on the map, highlighting issues of inclusion and exclusion within families, societies and countries. But Prajwal’s reasons for writing, he maintains, are not to engender world peace. “Of course I’m proud of where I come from,” he says. “I want the world to know about the Bhutanese refugee situation. I think the demand for the state of Gorkhaland is legitimate. But do I employ fiction to throw light on such issues? No. I write fiction to tell stories.”
For three years Prajwal has been moving between New York, Oxford and elsewhere, and while the idea of a no-frills Himalayan cottage is always calling to him, “home” is more frequently the inside of an airport. “It sounds like I lead a rock star’s life,” he says, “but in reality, has all the glamour of a mundane suburban commute.” At 6.30pm on December 10, his travels will bring him to Landmark Citi Centre in Chennai, where he and I will be talking about Land Where I Flee. All I can say is: Expect frisson.