21-27 March 2014 #699

Of family and reunions

Prajwal Parajuly has had quite the literary debut. Even before the release of his first book, The Gurkha’s daughter, this native of Gangtok was already known in the writers’ circle for being the youngest Indian to sign a two-book deal with the major publishing house Quercus. Once the short story collection was out, people got to see what the buzz was really about.

Although the themes of the stories in The Gurkha’s daughter are those that have already been tried and tested by other writers from the sub-continent, Parajuly’s book struck a chord with readers mainly because of his writing. His simple style is captivating and thankfully avoids the use of pompous language, a disease that has afflicted many of writers in English from down south. The book was short listed for the Dylan Thomas prize in 2012 (the year of its release), and announced the arrival of Parajuly as an upcoming talent.

With Land Where I Flee, his debut novel that was released late last year, Parajuly once again proves his simple story telling prowess and shows that he is more than just a one-hit wonder.

Land Where I Flee Prajwal Parajuly

Quercus

266pp

The story revolves around a planned reunion of three siblings with their grandmother Chitralekha Neupaney, the family matriarch for her Chaurasi, the 84th birthday, an important landmark in Hindu-Nepali traditions. Chitralekha runs a textile business and is both respected and feared in her hometown of Gangtok. Her overbearing nature has kept her grandchildren at bay and years have passed since the three last paid her or each other a visit, and all dread the meeting in equal measure.

Agastaya, the eldest, is a successful oncologist and lives in New York. His unmarried status is often the subject of puzzlement among the family. Manasa is an Oxford educated over-achiever who has been reduced to her father-in-law’s caregiver and her dissatisfaction with life is brilliantly portrayed in her bitterness. Bhagwati, the youngest, is meeting her grandmother for the first time after running away with a boy from a ‘lower’ caste.

What follows is an interwoven tale of sibling ties and the complexities of a modern-day family relationship. Land Where I Flee is also as much about individuality as it is about family and brings to surface the difficulties of seeking for identity in a society that prides itself on its togetherness.

Like the Gurkha’s Daughter, Parajuly injects issues of the subcontinental mindscape (caste, identity, fear of acceptance) into this one with such clarity that any individual, regardless of their origin, will find a connect with the story and mainly its characters. These are everyday people like us who are neither heroes nor villains, with each having a side for one to love and hate.

For instance, while you resent Chitralekha for being dominating, her acceptance of a transgender Prasanti as a househelp (one of the most colourful and cleverly written characters I’ve come across in recent literature) makes her equally admirable.

At 266 pages, Land Where I Flee is a short novel, one with a simple plot told simply and paced well. There are no boring passages that you skip and the narrative maintains a page turning fluidity. Even though you are done with the book in a day, the characters stay with you for much longer.

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