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.
If you had to describe your book in one word or sentence (other than the title), what would that be?
My tribute to the mountains!
How does Priyanka Pradhan spend her time when not writing or busy with work?
I love painting and Kathak. I’ve also been learning to play the guitar, but I haven’t made much progress.
Other than writing, what else do you enjoy?
I do enjoy reading short stories – some of my favorite short fiction writers being Kurt Vonnegut, Roald Dahl, Anton Chekov, and of course, O. Henry.
What is about Uttarakhand you love the most?
Hands down, the cuisine! Uttarakhand has a unique cuisine -both, from the Kumaon as well as the Garhwal region. The palate is completely distinct, not to mention, extremely nutritious.
One of the stories in the book is my tribute to Uttarakhand’s delectable cuisine.
What are some of your favorite local spots to visit in Kumaon or Uttarakhand?
I love Landour for its old-world charm, especially Sister’s Bazaar and Rokeby Manor. I was recently in Auli for a skiing trip and absolutely loved its scenic beauty.
Nainital has also been one of my favorite places to visit since childhood – the lake district is lovely in autumn.
Priyanka Pradhan, Any plans for the next book?
Yes, I’m working on two books simultaneously- One is a young adult novel about a strained mother-daughter relationship and the other is Tales from the Himalayas 2! I’ll be expanding the scope of stories to the entire Himalayan belt, from the north-west of India to the North-east as well as Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet. It will have a strong focus on folklore and stories passed down through oral tradition, from these regions.