PRANAYA SJB RANA
The City of Dreams, a compilation of short stories, is Pranaya SJB Rana’s literary debut. This deftly woven collection of stories exposes the interaction of city dwellers with this teeming, schizophrenic metropolis, caught in the tussle between tradition and modernity (that’s what the back cover text says). We fell in love with the stories, submerged ourselves into Kanti’s world and fell for the mysteries of Maya, all the while being submerged in the surreal world of this book. It was difficult to put the book down once we got started.
Considering the depth and sophistication of his stories, it was difficult to come into terms with how young Pranaya was. But his age belies his character and maturity, something we went on to understand pretty soon after we met him. He believes he still has a long way to go, and we believe him and are looking forward to where he is headed. His first book definitely has set the bar high, and we can’t wait to see what he has in store.
Our team had a small coffee session with him where he elaborated on what it takes to be a writer and a little bit more about his book.
‘I FEEL LIKE A SPIRIT TAKES OVER ME, SAYING ALL THIS SOUNDS BIZARRE BUT THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT I EXPERIENCE WHEN I WRITE’
TNM: HOW DID YOUR WRITING STYLE DEVELOP?
PR: I mostly write fiction because that is my thing, more specifically, short stories. But I have been involved in journalism and reporting for almost a decade now. I started out as a reporter for The Nepali Times and I used to write for Wave magazine as well. Somewhere in between I went abroad, returned and worked as the Editor for Kathmandu Post (Op-Ed Editor). It was mostly editing work but I used to write articles and editorials as well. It was mostly very political writing which might not necessarily be my forte but I liked doing that though because I was interested in politics and socio political issues. My book is a collection of short stories. They have been written over a period of maybe 10 years. The oldest story is probably 15 years old.
TNM: WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BE A WRITER?
PR: I read a lot as a kid. I went to an all boys boarding school and they encouraged us to read all the time. I feel like I owe who I am today to the efforts of my teachers Sundar Gurung and Dheeraj Gurung, they were both great teachers and amazing story tellers. Whenever we had a free period we would always be told stories by them. Sundar Sir took about a month and told us the entire plot of the Godfather; as kids we didn’t really know about most of the stuff in the plot which made it difficult to grasp, but he was such an entertaining storyteller that all of us would anticipate the story-time anyways.
I realized that the way he made me feel while listening to the story is what I wanted to be able to do. I want to tell people stories and detach people from reality, even if for a little while. So that sparked my interest in writing.
I’ve been writing for a very long time, but I used be pretty bad then and was influenced very much by the characters I used to read about in Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys books; and the stories had nothing Nepali about them. The realization that my characters couldn’t be from a foreign land, with foreign names soon set in which helped my writing style shift to what I knew best; which was growing up in Kathmandu. My stories in this collection is about young urban Nepalis.
TNM: ARE YOU WHERE YOU WANT TO BE AS A WRITER?
PR: I always wanted to write a book and I thought that once I had this book in my hand with my name on it I would be so proud. It wasn’t exactly how I had made it out to be in my head.
TNM: THEY SAY THE ABILITIES OF WRITERS AND ARTISTS CANNOT BE MEASURED. WHAT IN YOUR OPINION MAKES A GOOD WRITER?
PR: I don’t know, I really don’t know. I guess I can call myself a writer because I have a book with my name on the cover, before that I never really called myself one. I would just say I like to write. Maybe there has to be an external validation. People who are full of themselves can claim to be whoever they claim to be but then that does not make them anything. You are a writer if that is your profession, I think, and that pays your bills. It is very difficult in Nepal to do that but it’s not impossible.
TNM: HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT WRITING THIS PARTICULAR BOOK?
PR: I just wrote stories as they came to me, whatever I experienced as a kid, I enhanced it with some fiction and imagination and then that is how the stories and characters came to life. Everything is fictionalized. I’ve got a lot of feedback from really young people that they liked the fact that they could relate to the stories on a personal level. Mostly the reviews that have been good are from the young people.
TNM: HOW WOULD YOU SAY YOU FIT INTO THE IMAGE OF A WRITER?
PR: I have a beard does that count?
TNM: TO SOME EXTENT… BUT THERE MUST BE SOMETHING MORE.
PR: I do not know what is normal so I think this image pretty much depends on the eyes of the beholder. I do not think I am crazy but I do not think I am like everyone else though. One of the central themes in my book is identity. It challenges you with the question of ‘who are you’. Can you ever look at a picture of yourself and say that’s you? That was you during the time the photograph was taken, but you could be someone different now. Photos are always in the past and you are your present which is always changing. It’s not just about your memories and experiences but it’s about who you are and who you are with. Who you are always depends on who you are with and when you are with them.
TNM: HOW DID YOUR FAMILY TAKE IT WHEN YOU DECIDED ON WRITING FOR A PROFESSION?
PR: My mom has always let me do what I want. There are certain things she wants me to do and she will try to make me do them, but I have never been the type of person who has done things that other people have wanted me to do. So when I got into writing she wasn’t really happy but she knew she could not do much about it. She just sort of went along with it. She is happy now though, my book is dedicated to her and she launched it and a lot of people have come up to her and told her that they have read her son’s book, which I think, made her pretty happy.
TNM: YOUR STORIES DELVE WITH AMAZINGLY LUCID, SOPHISTICATED AND SURREAL IDEAS. HOW CHALLENGING IS IT TO TRANSLATE YOUR THOUGHTS INTO YOUR WORDS?
PR: There is this thing that happens when I write. Most of my stories I write in one sitting. I usually don’t stop until I have everything down and that is the first draft. I will come back to it in the next few days and I might change I completely then. It just takes me and sometimes I don’t even think about what
I am writing. I feel like a spirit takes over me, saying all this sounds bizarre but that is exactly what I experience when I write. I can’t sequentially build a story and it naturally comes out.
TNM: IN CONTEXT OF NEPAL, WRITING IS STILL AN UNCONVENTIONAL PROFESSION, WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SAY TO ASPIRING WRITERS?
PR: These days there are a lot of writers. Saying that, everyone thinks they are poets or writers which isn’t a good thing. You should not start out believing you are writer .You should start out with I like to write and now what can I do with this. Immediately if you start with the point where you are so sure of yourself you are never going to progress. These days it is so easy because of social media, you write and you let it out there and you are locked in this eco-chamber where all your friends will read it and commend your work. Those are the people you should not listen to. Do not listen to the people who say you are good. Listen to those who say otherwise and ask them why you suck. Listen to the reasons they have to say and take it constructively to become better. If someone says you are bad just for the sake of saying it then it is mandatory you weed them out but then it is important to be criticized because this will help you grow. Even the most accomplished writers in the world are filled with self doubt. That is like a prerequisite in order to improve yourself as a writer. You have to constantly be unsure of what you are doing. Start out thinking you are horrible and then you will have a point to reach where you are good. Just by having a book with your name on it you do not become a good writer. I personally do not feel I have reached that point yet. I don’t think I will be there in the next 20 years. My goal is to be happy with what I publish.
“DO NOT LISTEN TO THE PEOPLE WHO SAY YOU ARE GOOD.LISTEN TO THOSE WHO SAY OTHERWISE AND ASK THEM WHY YOU SUCK.LISTEN TO THE REASONS THEY HAVE TO SAY AND TAKE IT CONSTRUCTIVELY TO BUILD YOURSELF”