Priyanka Pradhan documents her grandmother’s stories in a book
Praveen Sudevan

Writer Priyanka Pradhan discusses recording her grandmother’s legacy in a children’s book full of short stories from the Himalayas.

Two years ago, on a dull day at her home in Dubai, UAE, Priyanka Pradhan recalled the stories her grandmother used to tell her; memories of her grandmother comforts her like a warm blanket on a wintry night. Except, on this occasion, she decided to write the stories down, so she could pass it down to her three-year-old daughter as a gift.

That is how Tales from the Himalayas ended up becoming Priyanka’s debut book. A travel writer, Priyanka grew up far away from the Himalayas: in the concrete jungles of Bengaluru and Mumbai. It was her grandmother who brought the elegant mountains to Priyanka through the stories. “My grandparents were from Kumaon, Uttarakhand. When my grandfather was enlisted in the Navy in the 1960s, they moved to erstwhile Bombay. To ensure that we didn’t lose touch with our roots, my grandmother would often tell us folktales and stories from the hills,” she says, adding that her many summer vacations and solo trips were to the places in the hills her grandmother spoke so fondly of.

The book consists of 17 stories; none come with a timestamp. They all belong to an idyllic past going back two decades to five centuries. It has stories of schoolboys playing hooky, a little girl rescuing a ferocious snow leopard and a goat curing a princess’ overwhelming sadness. “I didn’t want to specify the time. Some of them were adapted from folktales that are probably 500 years old. Some of them are my grandmother’s, some of them from my experiences,” says Priyanka.

Some stories, however, feature contemporary social issues. ‘The Villain’, for instance, is about skin colour. This line from ‘Snow Leopard’ — ‘Perhaps there were very few [snow leopards] left now’ — is suggetive of climate change causing species to go extinct. “I felt it was very important for children to understand these things. My book was originally conceived as a collection of bedtime stories, but I thought it was a good idea to subtly talk about the issues I care about,” she adds.

Her writing has a flavour seemingly influenced by the works of RK Narayan and Ruskin Bond. “They are my all-time favourite authors. Before starting Tales from the Himalayas, I re-read a lot of their books besides works of other great writers like O’Henry, Anton Chekhov and Roald Dahl,” she says. 

Bond has, in fact, endorsed her book. “Enchanting tales, straight from the heart of the mountains. Vivid storytelling and striking themes make it a delightful read,” he writes in the book’s cover.

Tales from the Himalayas will be released in the first week of October.

Interview with Local Samosa, India
September 2020.

From being a journalist to now being an author, Priyanka Pradhan is all set with her upcoming novel Tales from the Himalayas. This book is a collection of seventeen short stories from Uttarakhand, the Himalayan state of northern India, invites young readers to discover the mountains through its stories. Just like the people of Uttarakhand, their stories are simple and heartfelt. 

We were in conversation with Priyanka Pradhan to explore more about herself, the book, and the storytelling.

Can you tell us a little about yourself? What inspired you to become an author?

I’ve been a journalist since 2006, having worked with business news channels in Mumbai, such as CNBC and Economic times now. Later, I ventured into writing for lifestyle and travel magazines, but I always knew since high school that I wanted to write a book. I even started compiling my first book when I was fourteen, but I never finished it.
Now, after my daughter was born, life came a full circle and I felt strongly about passing on a part of my Himalayan legacy onto her, to help her connect with her roots. This is what gave me the impetus to finally write that book. 

Tell us your inspiration behind Tales from the Himalayas! Your earliest memories with storytelling?

‘Tales from the Himalayas’ is inspired by my grandmother, who would narrate incredible tales about her childhood in Kumaon, Uttarakhand. I grew up listening to these beautiful stories, folktales, and legends about life in the mountains, giving me a glimpse into its culture, the food, and its people.

She was my favorite storyteller and her tales were vivid, colorful, and animated, allowing me to travel on a ticketless journey into the snowy mountains of Uttarakhand.

Can you share your fondest memories of spending time with your grandparents?

Well, my grandparents had moved to Mumbai in the 1960s, when my grandfather was inducted into the Indian Navy so the following generations never actually lived in the mountains. However, my grandmother made sure I kept in touch with my roots through her tales from the Himalayas.

She’d recall how leopards would steal calves from her backyard overnight, and about the delicious wild, local berries that ripened only in the month of April. She’d talk about freshwater fish that leapt out of streams and what the pine forests really smelled like. She’d also sing folk songs about the harvest season and regale everyone with her animated stories about mountain life. These are memories I’ll always cherish and somehow, I’ve found a way to immortalize them in a book.

How much research, imagination, and conviction do you think is required before writing any book? Take us through your writing process? 

Plenty of research, heaps of imagination but most of all, rock-solid conviction goes into the making of a book. I believe the story has to come from the writer’s body and soul- it has had to be part of every cell of her body, for her to be able to tell it with conviction.
For me, writing these stories came very naturally because I’ve lived them throughout my childhood. It’s part of who I am, as an individual.

Of course, a lot of research has gone into it, for background and context too. Also, imagination played a big role in the dramatization of the stories, drawing from my own experiences and projecting them in fiction. I often simply pen down my thoughts, observations, or conversations that inspire me to tell a story. The first draft is always just a note to myself and after a few rounds of editing, a fully crafted short story is born!

Priyanka Pradhan, From being a journalist to an author, you have come a long way! Tell us more about your workspace! Does it have a role to play in making you a storyteller!

From journalism to writing books for children, I’ve enjoyed the journey every bit of the way.
During my television news days, I had no spare time for creative writing- the most I’d do was write scripts for my feature stories. However, once I moved to Dubai, almost ten years ago, I started writing for print magazines and rediscovered my love for the written word.
While writing feature stories for magazines is quite different from writing books, especially for children, I believe what I’ve been doing all along, is tell stories! My career as a journalist and travel writer helped me hone my skills as a storyteller and perhaps subconsciously steered me into becoming an author.

Who is your favorite Indian author and your all-time cherished book?

While growing up, one of my favorite memories is that of watching ‘Malgudi days’ on television, based on RK Narayan’s books. His simple, yet powerful storytelling struck a chord with me and I went on to read all of his short stories and books. My most cherished book would have to be The Jungle Book! I’ve yet to come across a book that’s more fascinating and wholesome– a story of the triumph of the human spirit and of humankind’s connection with nature and all its beings.

Priyanka Pradhan, author of Tales from the Himalayas