A Himalayan Affair: Jotted magazine interview


Priyanka Pradhan is a Dubai-based journalist with over 12 years of experience in television, print and electronic media, across India and the UAE. Her debut children’s book, Tales From The Himalayas is a collection of 17 short stories published by Rupa Publications. The book was runner-up for the Montegrappa Writing Prize 2020 at the Emirates Literature Festival (Dubai), where it was picked amongst the top 5 manuscripts in the Middle East, from 600 entries. Priyanka also bagged the Ruskin Bond Promising Writer award for Tales From The Himalayas; at the Dehradun Literature Festival 2019 (October), where the manuscript was handpicked by Mr Ruskin Bond, from amongst hundreds of entries by Indians across the world.

  • A few of the stories have been passed down to you from your grandmother. Do tell us how you wove these tales into your debut collection?

Some of the stories in the collection are my adaptations of folktales that my grandmother would narrate to me, as a child. I’ve retold these stories in my book, by updating them to reflect the times that we live in. I aimed to do this by incorporating contemporary issues that children deal with today.

For example, I’ve included themes such as colorism or color prejudice, body confidence and rejecting gender stereotypes, among others because these are issues that come up in their day-to-day lives and are important to address. There are also stories about environment conservation and wildlife preservation. There’s no set, ‘moral of the story’ here but you’ll find something that triggers a talking point. The idea is to discuss and ideate, not to preach.

  • Can you tell us a little about how you put the collection together? What did you have to keep in mind considering your audience is young adults and pre-teens?

The 17 stories in the collection are varied and cover different topics- some are adventure stories, while others delve into darker subjects. Two stories in the collection are about real-life heroes from Uttarakhand while other stories are simply high on entertainment value. However, there’s a common thread that binds these stories together- the theme of building confidence and having faith in oneself. 

Adolescence is such a tumultuous time for many of us- we don’t want to be called ‘children’ at this age. We want to be taken seriously but at the same time, are unsure about a lot of aspects of ourselves, our immediate world and the world beyond. The most important insight I got from reading books as an adolescent was to cultivate optimism, build confidence and to learn to have faith in my capabilities and judgement. My endeavour is to convey these aspects through my stories.

In all, there were 14 drafts for Tales from the Himalayas and it has changed a lot, over time.

  • What was your writing routine and process? How did the book change along the way? 

Well, I have the habit of quickly jotting down notes in a book or on my phone’s notepad whenever I get an idea for a story or a character. I find inspiration anywhere- while I’m dancing, painting, travelling or even eating something. My note-taking is also pictorial, with a lot of diagrams thrown in- I sometimes even draw out an entire story and then proceed to put it down in words.

So when I sit down to write, I assimilate all my notes and build upon them. The toughest part is to decipher my own handwriting and making sense of my crazy doodles.

In all, there were 14 drafts for Tales from the Himalayas and it has changed a lot, over time. I workshopped some of the stories in the collection, sent them to a few experts from the publishing industry and even just avid readers, for their critical feedback. This proved to be invaluable for me as a writer because it gave me an objective view of what worked and what didn’t.

  • Do tell us a little about the story that got you started with the collection and one that stood out for you? 

The story that got me started with this collection is the one I remember requesting my grandmother for, over and over again. It’s the story in the book called ‘Kafal’ – the memory is so vivid even now, it gives me goosebumps. Another story is based on a very popular folksong from Uttarakhand called,’Bedu Pakho’ – which has been such a big influence in my life growing up, I simply had to put it down.

But the story that stood out for me in this book is the last one, called, ‘Postcard’ because I drew from personal experience while writing about dealing with the loss of a loved one.

A Himalayan Affair Interview With Priyanka Pradhan

Image Courtesy: Instagram/@himalayan_tales

  • As a debut author, what was your biggest challenge in publishing this collection? 

The biggest challenge as a debut writer was the lack of guidance – how to approach a publisher? What should my pitch look like? Do writers even get positive feedback or am I just wasting my time submitting unsolicited manuscripts?

I’m glad a collective like Bound is here to help first-time writers, not only through writing workshops but also by offering advice and guidance through mentors who are published poets and novelists. This one-on-one contact with people established in the publishing world is crucial for debut writers.

To sum up, I believe persistence, perseverance and patience are most important for debut writers.

A Himalayan Affair Interview With Priyanka Pradhan

Tales From The Himalayas by Priyanka Pradhan has been published by Rupa Books. Readers can now buy copies of the book on Amazon and Flipkart.

Author’s shelf: Top Children’s book recommendations

A few recommendations for children’s books, from my personal bookshelf. See any favorites? 
(Bottom to top)

The Dog Who Lost His Bark by Eoin Colfer
A gorgeous, pencil-illustrated book that shows why pets should not be bought, but adopted. An entertaining and moving story that drives the point home. 

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle – a fantasy-adventure novel which is a great introduction to sci-fi, for young readers. It’s not my favourite genre but this book is nothing short of terrific! 

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson- 
A coming-of-age adventure book you won’t forget in a hurry. Themes of fantasy, young love and coping with tragedy, make it a compelling read. 

Malgudi‘ and ‘The maneater of Malgudi’ by RK Narayan – The television series based on this fictional village was the reason why I picked up my first book as a child. It’s been the biggest influence on my writing and I can’t recommend it enough for RK Narayan’s inimitable style and storytelling. 

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie – Soon after the fatwa in his name for writing Satanic Verses, Rushdie surprised the world with his first children’s novel- an allegorical book that explores contemporary issues in the world while drawing on classic fantasy tales. 

Rain in the Mountains by Ruskin Bond
A collection of stories that have a way of connecting with the reader beyond the barriers of age- by one of my favorite writers, whom I have the privilege of calling a mentor!

‘Kim’ and ‘Just so stories’ by Rudyard Kipling.
Kim – a story set in Imperial India, is one of my favorite reads from the Nobel prize-winning author, Rudyard Kipling. The intriguing characters and exciting plot make for a book that’s unputdownable- even for adults. 

Just So stories’ is a collection of delightful tales with Kipling’s signature wit. A must-read for younger children, to exercise their imagination and develop a keen sense of humor.

The Kirkus review of ‘Tales from the Himalayas’

Thrilled to receive another fabulous review for my illustrated collection of short stories,’Tales from the Himalayas’ – this time, from the prestigious Kirkus Reviews. Here’s what it has to say:

The adventures of kids living in the Himalayan mountain region are recounted in this debut collection of short stories for children.

These 17 tales are set in the Northern Indian state of Uttarakhand among the Himalayas. In several stories, kids develop character through learning confidence and facing fears. In “The Villain,” for example, a girl talented in drama is distraught when her dark skin isn’t considered “pretty and dainty” enough to play the hero. Her sister convinces her that she’s special, beautiful, and strong—perfect for the fierce demon king, and she’s a huge hit in the role. Some pieces are ghost stories, as with “Daak Ghar,” in which village children test rumors that an abandoned post office is cursed. Other tales are based on inspiring, real-life figures, like the explorer and surveyor Nain Singh Rawat, or events. While several stories are set in the present day or recent past, others feel timeless: A little girl helps a dangerous animal, in this case a snow leopard, who later proves grateful; a king holds a contest to make a princess smile. Others subtly teach moral lessons, as when a girl learns the value of taking pride in any kind of work.

Pradhan—a journalist—cleverly weaves Uttarakhand culture and traditions into these entertaining stories. In one tale, for example, TV sets are among the loot of bandits who get trapped by a circle of traditional Choliya dancers celebrating the Holi festival. The stories also hold together well, as when the haunted post office’s function connects with its spookiness: Any trespasser “gets a mysterious letter in his name, which means he is the next victim of the blood-sucking ghouls that live there.”

Well-written, varied tales that draw on universal motifs and offer an appealing setting.” – Kirkus Reviews

*Kirkus Reviews are independent and unbiased, written by carefully vetted book reviewers from amongst a group of writers, librarians, educators and editors.

Buy the book on Amazon or Flipkart India. (International shipping for the book to open next week).

Pre-order now on Flipkart!

I’m thrilled to announce that, ‘Tales from the Himalayas’ is now available for pre-order on FLIPKART (India). Click on the link below and pre-order your copy right away!

Tales from the Himalayas

Hope you enjoy the book!
Thank you for your support and good wishes

Book cover reveal!

I’m thrilled to reveal the cover of my book, ‘Tales from the Himalayas’, published by Rupa Publications, India.

The cover depicts a scene from one of the stories in the book called,’The Explorer’, which is about a real-life hero from Uttarakhand. Main Singh Rabat was one of the first Indian explorers of the 19th Century in British India, who hailed from a small village in Milam, Uttarakhand and went on to survey the Himalayas, not only in India but also in Tibet. He single-handedly determined the altitude of Lhasa, without the use of any professional equipment, uncover as a monk. He also contributed to the ambitious ‘Trigonometrical Survey of India’ and was decorated for his achievements.

The cover design has been made by Mugdha Sadhwani and the illustrations are by Mohit Suneja.

The book has garnered a lot of appreciation, especially by renowned writer, Ruskin Bond, who had picked this manuscript and awarded it, ‘ The Ruskin Bond Promising Writer Award’, at the Dehradun Literature Festival in October 2019.

His quote on the front cover reads,”Enchanting tales, straight from the heart of the mountains. Vivid storytelling and striking themes make it a delightful read.”

Actor Freida Pinto, who was one of the first few to read the manuscript commented,”Tales from the Himalayas has this unique and special storytelling quality that can transport you and your imagination into another world, where the wanderer’s heart and sol truly reside.

It is at once, an entertaining, heart-warming and delightful read for both, adults and children alike.

Themes of family, belonging, loss, wonder and nature dominate the pages.It is the perfect escape from the mundaneness of city life and the urban burden. Even the re-read of the same story is as pleasurable as the first read.”

Front cover of tales from the Himalayas
Front cover of Tales from the Himalayas
Back cover of Tales from the Himalayas

Convenience Store Woman: Book review

Japanese writer, Sayaka Murata’s translated book, ‘Convenience Store Woman’ is edgy, dark and unpredictable. In parts, even speculative. 

A lot of the reviews on the book called it hilarious/comical for some reason, which is absurd because I found it alltogether grim. Perhaps because Asian societies are very similar in the way they put pressure on individuals to conform, I found the scenario too real for it to tickle me.

The best thing about the protagonist, Keiko Furukura is that you don’t know where you stand with her. Do you dislike her, sympathize with her or are just plain frightened by her?

What would you make of her 36- year existence without an identity outside of her strobe-lit workplace? She is convinced that her place in society is that of a ‘convenience store worker’ and absolutely nothing else. 

Keiko has never had the time or inclination for love- platonic or romantic. Even her two- three acquaintances consider her a ‘foriegn object’ in their circle because of her robotic, abnormal lifestyle, which inexplicably revolves around a part-time job. 

She even steers towards psychopathic tendencies when she mimics the intonation and accents of two of her female colleagues in order to appear more ‘normal’, or when she wonders why her sister does not simply stab her baby with a knife that’s within reach, to make him stop crying. 

Her childhood episodes reveal she lacks empathy – a crucial factor that shapes her life and defines her ‘abnormality’. At the same time, she’s highly intelligent and self-aware, so she hatches a plot to cheat her way into being accepted by society. Does it work? There lies the crux of the story.

Since the story is narrated in first person, it gives us a glimpse into her perspective of the world- sometimes, it’s grotesquely skewed and sometimes, startlingly clear.

Her sister, Mami’s opinion of Keiko’s ‘abnormality’ reflects the double standards of modern society. Keiko observes that Mami is “far happier thinking her sister is normal, even if she has a lot of problems, than having an abnormal sister for whom everything is fine.” 

The reason I find the book leaning towards the speculative genre is because maybe our gradually eroding empathy as humans and our relentless need for societal approval is starting to skew our own perspective of the world. There may be a generation of humans who become so accustomed and indoctrinated into functioning as ‘cogs in the wheel’ of corporate machines, that they don’t have an individual identity anymore. 

Isn’t it happening already?

Where’s the work-life balance? There’s this constant need to work on the next career goal, next appraisal, next job and making our entire lives about work. In Japanese popular culture, there’s a growing section of youngsters with a strong aversion to sex and romance. There’s a name for it- the celibacy syndrome. 

Arn’t we all then, somehow becoming Keiko? Well, that frightened me the most (even more than her baby-stabbing idea).

Overall, an intense and thought-provoking book that throws light on social constructs that we subconsciously live within, seemingly happily. A highly recommended read.

My thoughts on ‘The Palace of Illusions’ by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

As the feminist re-telling of the Mahabharata, Divakaruni’s work stands out distinctly  amongst the scores of adaptations and renditions of the ancient Hindu epic.

Set in a deeply patriarchal society, this is the story of Drapuadi – a fiery, outspoken and fearless princess who, despite all her virtues and achievements, was known and remembered only for her vengeful and manipulative nature.

The Mahabharata is complex, with characters, episodes and incidences that overlap and/or stretch for over decades together, but Divakaruni’s story-telling is masterful. Her writing flows beautifully and effortlessly, allowing the reader to absorb, pause and reflect.

Draupadi’s perspective unfolds in a way that the reader is fully invested in her cause and immersed in her narrative.

Draupadi (or Panchaali, her favoured name), is by no means someone who can be defined or described in a sentence. Divakaruni urges the reader to empathise with this character’s multi-layered persona – even her pride, and her all-consuming thirst for revenge. Panchaali, is strong-wiled and isn’t afraid to put her needs and desires first – qualities that may not be necessarily likeable, but are certainly relatable, especially for the modern woman.

In a society where polygamy was the norm and royals or noblemen were accustomed to taking many wives, Panchaali was constantly chastised for marrying the Pandava brothers. This, despite the fact that it was never her own choice or intention.

In the ‘PG-rated’ version of the televised Mahabharata in the 80’s (which I watched as a child), I always thought of Panchaali’s character as only the victim of dubious situations – such as her mother-in-law declaring that she must marry all five of her sons instead of one, or her husbands ‘losing her’ to the villains in a wager of chess. It was only now, I realized that Panchaali was made to take turns to live with each brother for two years as a wife and repeat this cycle for the rest of her life. Little wonder then, she was never in love with any of her husbands.

As cringe-worthy this situation may be, I realized where some of her motivations came from and why she was considered to be cold-hearted. Could I blame her, after being passed around by all the brothers, each of whom had wives and children of their own, on the side? It was unfair that she was made to live such a strange and loveless existence, as ordered by her mother-in-law.

The antagonists, Duryodhan and Karna, had their ego bruised by Panchaali in public, which why they took the first opportunity to humiliate her. The public disrobing and shaming of Panchaali is the crux of the story of Mahabharat, making her the all-important character in the great epic.

After her public humiliation, she used her position as wife to five of the greatest warriors in history, to rally them against those who insulted her. She made sure the fires of vengeance burned brightly in them for twelve long years, in exile. She appealed to their sense of duty and justice, reminded them that her dishonour was theirs too and systematically propelled them towards the greatest war that mankind had ever witnessed. Manipulative? I call it being human.

Divakaruni makes the reader root heavily for Panchaali right till then end, when she is finally united with her soul-mate – Karna, in after-life. Her inexplicable draw towards Karna, her husbands’ half-brother and arch enemy, made for one of the most compelling and intriguing parts of the book.

The book ends in the aftermath of the war, where Panchaali was repentant for the war, having lost her beloved brother and her own sons in battle. As she ascends the mountains along with the Pandavas on their Final Journey, Divakaruni pens some poignant words which stay with the reader long after finishing the book – those of duty, sacrifice, family and vengeance but most of all, of love.

When I found the exact spot which was used for the cover of the book, at Jaipur City Palace, Rajasthan

An American Marriage: Book Review

Tayari Jones’ story begins by putting us in the middle of an intense dialogue between a newly- married African American couple, Roy and Celestial. 

A few more pages into the book, the plot takes a wildly unexpected turn, which disrupts the lives of the couple. 

Rape. An unfair trial. Incarceration. A miscarriage, both literal and figurative. 

The intimacy and intensity of their relationship unfolds beautifully in the form of letters to each other.  Roy writes from behind prison bars, clinging to visions of his former life and Celestial writes from the free world, where she’s living her dream of a successful artist-entrepreneur. 

This epistolary narrative, for me, was the most compelling portion of the book. The letters show the passage of time and their wavering emotions so poignantly and so evocatively, that I simply couldn’t put the book down. 

However, roughly mid-way through the book, the story slowed down and the plot came a bit loose. The narrative became plagued with too many distracting details and the story seemed unwilling to move forward.

But the book wrapped up nicely in the last few chapters, cleaning up well after itself. I was happy with the ending, although with all those distractions in the middle of the book, I had managed to think up a very creative (and decidedly twisted) end to the book. I was relieved it didn’t go my way.

Overall, I think it’s a very readable novel, with the three flawed and relatable protagonists, supported by some beautifully etched secondary characters. The book is high on emotion and drama, vivid in its portrayal of small-town African American life and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a refreshing take on love, marriage and intimacy. 

Tayari Jones

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones won the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 and the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Fiction 2019.

Milk Teeth By Amrita Mahale: Book review

I thought about why the book is named, ‘Milk teeth’. 

Is it a reference to earstwhile Bombay’s shedding of it’s post-industrial era greasepaint, into a shiny new coat of cosmopolitan, glitzy, ‘Mumbai’? Or is about the people that constitute the great metropolis, shedding their migrant ideologies, old habits and ethos to survive in the city of dreams? 

Perhaps its about how the central characters, Ira Kamat and Kartik Kini, two childhood friends, grow into their respective adult lives in post- liberalized India – in ways that are vastly different from what is expected out of them.

This was a time when satellite channels were beamed on television sets, the telephone had just arrived at home, cars had suddenly become more accessible- harbingers of permanent change. So was the rapidly changing skyline of Mumbai, from the comfortable chaos of Matunga’s network of crumbling old buildings to neat squares of sparkling new high-rises, grudgingly rubbing shoulders.

The story follows the life of a city reporter in Mumbai in the late 90’s. Ira Kamat is a third-generation daughter of working-class immigrants from the Konkan coast – a Goud Saraswat Brahmin (something she’s keenly reminded of, in her firmly casteist, bourgeois family). Her family’s tussle with their building’s landlord and a builder who want to drive out all the ‘tenants’ who’ve been occupying the building for generations, is intertwined with her childhood friendship and consequent courtship with Kartik Kini, who hails from a fellow high-caste ‘bourgie’ family.

A certain secret, forbidden love-affair exposes a glaring contrast to the protagonist’s middle-class values and manner of life.

As Kartik and Ira’s lives unfold, the story exposes the acrid class, caste and religious divides amongst the people of 90’s Bombay. The characters are vulnerable at times, irreverent at others- giving us an intimate glimpse into their lives and an insight into the motivations of millions of middle- class Indians living in the city.

I liked how my feelings for the three central characters were made to oscillate wildly throughout the book. Just when I started to hate one of them, Mahale carved a soft corner for him in my heart. Likewise, just when I stared to feel terrible for another character, she made him do something so vile, I recoiled in horror. I liked this ebb and flow of emotion- it kept me engaged and made sure I wasn’t partial to a particular character. It gave me objectivity as a reader, which was crucial to the story.

The exhaustive, everyday race for a better life is so poignantly put in words, the rich architectural heritage of south Bombay so intricately described, and the gaping class divide so sharply dissected, that it turns ‘Milk Teeth’ into a slick, sharp-tongued tour guide, offering a rare, voyeuristic view of the city.

I would’ve probably written the last page of the book differently, though. There was ample closure for the central character, Ira but I felt like there was something amiss – something huge. Apart from this, and the over-use of the word ‘acquiescence’ (four times in the second half of the book. Why? It’s not even a particularly good word), I relished the novel, page by page. 

A beautifully written and thought-provoking debut.

Giveaway Alert!

Hello readers!

I’m giving away a fabulous GIFT VOUCHER from Borders UAE and the multiple award-winning children’s book, ‘Last Stop On Market Street’ by Matt De La Pena.

This beautiful picture book with a heartfelt and very important message, won the prestigious Newberry Medal and Caldecott Honor. For children in the age group 5-7, it is an engaging, thought-provoking and profound book.

For a chance to win this giveaway, all you must do is jot down your name and city as a comment below! Easy like pie 🙂

The giveaway is open to residents of the UAE only. The winner will be picked at random, on 12th of December. Just in time for the perfect Christmas gift for someone you love!

Thanks and all the best!