In his Nobel lecture, winner of this year’s prize for literature, Yo Man, said, ‘I feel one should be humble in daily life, but when it comes to literary creation, then one should follow one’s instinct and take control.’
This is precisely the logic that one finds at work in the short stories of Israeli writer Etgar Keret, for instance, whose stories often follow no real rational course, and is part-dream, part-fantasy, yet reflecting the innermost workings of ordinary minds.
Prajwal Parajuly too tells the stories of ordinary folk, but he leashes his imagination too tight. So close are his tales to reality that each of his stories in The Gurkha’s Daughter begins with a map, showing you exactly where on the India-Nepal border or where within either country a particular short story is set.
The 28-year-old author is the son of an Indian father and a Nepali mother.
The stories read like little anecdotes. There is little metaphor or simile in the telling, and the language is bare, devoid of music, ‘Sorry, Memsaab, if I offended you,’ Munnu said, ‘It’s just that you talk so nicely to us small people.’
There is little of the colour of the native tongue in the English of these characters, almost nothing to mark them as distinct. So despite the often rustic setting, the characters are rendered quite colourless by their language.
There are stories though – plots, more precisely – that appear promising. The Cleft, a tale of the servant-girl born with a cleft lip, dreaming of a life elsewhere; A Father’s Journey, the tale of a daughter-father relationship and the changes that occur with the daughter’s puberty.
Somehow, even these fall a little flat in the telling, for the only spur for the reader is the unravelling of the plot, and there is little that makes one want to put the book down to savour a scene or a turn of phrase.
There is nothing here to linger over, and little that compels you to return, no matter what the blurb, quoting a former queen of Sikkim, might say.
This is especially disappointing because the book is otherwise so beautifully produced. Quercus, the UK-based publisher, should be commended for the choice of the cover picture, and the quality of production.