Emerging Writers and the scarcity of readers in Sikkim
How can humankind gain immortality? By creating, the author multiplies, either through art or reproduction. The thirst for this immortality, though latent, has been there since aeons. Writers aren’t any different. Writers who weave words to create another universe are indeed gods and masters of their art. As we honour them with these titles, no artist is free from some curse.
The first curse of a writer is hard work and patience to face the adversary that the world is filled with. The second curse is the ignorance of his/her art by the world around.
Sikkim is a microcosm of the world. The stories of Sikkim with its ethical essence are unique and flavourful but the emerging writers writing in English haven’t found their audience in the home ground. Our state, which is known for its cultural prosperity, sustainability and exotic tourist spots lacks passionate readership.
Prajwal Parajuly (The Gurkha’s Daughter) and Chetan Raj Shrestha (The King’s Harvest) are a few names who have become hugely popular and globally read. They write prolifically about the Nepali diaspora, marking their names in history. Their books give a taste of the Sikkimese way of life, managing to tell a tale that is informative as it is poignant. Bookstores and readers around the world appreciate such diversity in literature, yet there are more names, more books and more stories that need to be stocked on shelves and added to “Must Read” lists.
Pankaj Giri, the author of “The Fragile Thread of Hope”, winner of the Amazon Pen to Publish, 2018 is one of the many writers that Sikkim has produced. Giri’s first book was an ebook he published back in 2017 which garnered him praise and recognition. Writing came as an escape, more like a helping rope in times of drowning, when he had to relocate himself to the Capital town due to personal turmoil. An engineer by profession, he recalls his mother as being the one who encouraged him to pursue writing. He did and now has earned himself a book.
“Writing is like therapy. I lose myself in the character and plot”, says Giri. “I can channel my mind away from the negativity.” He mentions that “Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini and another is “Her Daughters Courage” by Renita D’Silva, are the two books he loves to read and re-read.
As the saying goes, ‘no prophet is accepted in his hometown’ (John 4:44), the struggle of a writer starts where recognition or acknowledgement in the local market comes rather late or posthumously.
Writers like Pankaj Giri who know that promotion in an age where seeing is believing, knows that a book review and snippets of books tossed in a messy bed of Instagram with a cup filled with dark coffee does make it desirable to the readers. It is sad yet the generation is evolving where we were told not to judge a book by its cover, we do it so casually by the name imprinted on its cover and sometimes by its popularity on our newsfeed.
Raul Jeremiah Rai, author of ‘Love & Lust’ considers Sikkim’s writing scenario to be in a terrible state, as for the writer as Ernest Hemingway puts it, “no art was created by a happy artist”. He believes that a writer needs turbulence and a little disturbance in life.
“When I was young, I started writing poems which I published as an ebook on Amazon as I had this knack for writing. Now I am more inclined towards the philosophies of Camus and Nietzche,” says the poet. “The literary art is the most unappreciated and we don’t have enough resources to enrich our art. We have explored enough of romance; we need to shed light into our society. There are so many books to read, so many genres to explore. We need to read more. I am doing that, I am reading”.
Then there is Parshu Dahal (Sharma), a police officer most notably known for his famous collection of short stories “The Lama Who Never Was”. He says he writes to encourage readers who are not serious literary readers but still thirst for good stories.
“I am a farmer’s son though I studied in Gangtok, my stories mostly revolve around rural Sikkim where I grew up. I had many stories to tell which I have done through my short stories. There is a hint of nostalgia in these stories which modern readers will find peculiar. I grew up reading Chekov, Tolstoy and Dickens not to forget, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Reading is an important habit”.
When asked about his struggles as a writer, Parshu Dahal says, time management between his duty and passion is an unmanageable affair.
Self-publication is another important platform for writers, who have stories boiling from their cups which traditional publishing houses bury under the heap of a slack pile. In ‘Black, White and Grey’, a self-publication venture by Ashim Basnet, who defines his work as a collection of short stories “where life is not a fixed colour”.
“Life is not absolute truth but in between. These stories are about hills and the characters are up to the readers to decide whether they are black or white. I read but I do not consider myself a serious writer as such. I juggle between my job and writing. I used to write for myself and with a little nudge from my family, I published it.”
The reading habit is dwindling among the young generation. “We do not have readers. We do not have local readers and in the national market, we fail in marketing. Writing market is a sort of syndicate. For established writers whose books sell like hotcakes in the national market, they already have a dominant audience and as for the local names, we do lack readers and an audience”, says Basnet.
He adds, “Success is never easy. We writers shouldn’t stop writing. Its luck and hard work, maybe someday something will click. I am not a commercial writer, I am writing for a cause, not for the money. I want to give back to society. All the profits I get from my book sales, although it seems far-fetched, I would like to give back to society to encourage and develop the reading habits. School education comes to nothing if people do not read. As for people who read, they are educated.”
So what is a writer without his readers but a mad man screaming in the wilderness for rain? A writer may not necessarily want a reader but he needs them to survive, not himself but for the stories. Sikkim is a land of possibilities, a land of abundant stories – and these writers are stubborn, continuing to weave their tales.
Still, the state’s best bet right now is that there are a handful of concerned and dedicated individuals who, for the love of reading have been trying their best to encourage people to read more. One of the most popular hotspots is Cafe fiction/Rachana Bookstore, Gangtok which has been opening its doors for hungry readers and writers alike.
These writers are unconsciously giving their life for a cause which may not bring global recognition now but one thing is for certain, they have done the due diligence of contributing to the society by keeping Sikkim’s stories alive. Perhaps, we can believe that after the last line of this article, you would be curious to read the words of the writers mentioned and lose yourself in the familiarity of stories that unfold around you. Perhaps, you will pick up a pen and immortalize yourself. Perhaps, we can just be optimists.