I wrote the novel about

  • Sonja Price
  • Publish Date: Jul 14 2017 9:02PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Jul 14 2017 9:02PM
I wrote the novel about

Kashmir but I have never visited the paradise on earth

 

My novel The Giants Look Down is set in the Vale of Kashmir. Though I have never had the chance to visit the area, I still feel I have been on a wondrous journey there. You see, I am one of those writers who do not feel inspired by the familiar and love to explore new places through their writing. It is one of the things that attracted me to the occupation in the first place - the fact that you need nothing more than pen and paper to go to the far corners of the Earth and beyond. The test is to make it credible to your readers and in endeavouring to pull this off, you embark on an unbelievable adventure. The most important tool of all for this task is a vivid imagination, which incidentally was one of the things that often got me into trouble at school!

My interest in the location was first ignited by a heart-breaking report on the car radio about the Great Earthquake of 2005, and once set free I couldn’t put the spirit of Kashmir back into its bottle. The deeper I got into researching my book, the more enthralled I became by the region. It seemed a magical place, by all accounts a veritable paradise on Earth, save for the Earthquakes, and the turmoil that Partition has sadly created. I discovered that Kashmir and specifically the Vale of Kashmir, is breathtakingly beautiful. Majestic snow-covered mountain ranges, among the highest on this planet, cradle a valley lush in sycamore woods and fields of saffron interspersed with a pearl necklace of lakes. According to season Wular Lake can expand to 100 square miles and is rich in carp and trout; houseboats moor amongst the reeds, and on Dal Lake gondola-like boats laden with fruit and vegetables meet to form a floating market. What a fantastic backdrop for a book, I thought, and began to plot the story of a 10-year-old Hindu girl called Jaya, who decides to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a doctor much to chagrin of her mother and the patriarchal society of the 1960s.

The first and foremost task of a novelist is to amuse and entertain the readership, and in keeping with this, I simply endeavoured to tell a story: nothing more, nothing less. I was well aware that the political strife of the region, which has spawned two wars between Pakistan and India, was complex, but as terrible as this is, I took a writer’s selfish view of weaving this into my story, for even fairy tales must contain some element of conflict. Given the nature of my novel, I could only touch upon the surface of the Kashmir tragedy, but in doing so I tried to deal with it as sensitively and truthfully as I possibly could. I did not want to take sides nor deliver a message. That was, I felt, not my job. Surely it couldn’t be a bad thing, I decided, that my book would at least draw attention to a dispute which, due to its duration, is often in danger of being ignored.

Of course, I had my doubts about evoking a place I had never set foot in, but I bolstered myself with the fact that the American crime writer Elizabeth George got away with basing her first published book in England before ever having crossed the Great Pond, and Andy Weir didn’t need to go to Mars to write 

 

THE MARTIAN

My book was edited by an Indian publisher and checked by a number of people who have been to the area, but thankfully publication quelled my misgivings as reviews including those from Indians sometimes even praised the authenticity of my portrayal of Kashmir. One reader actually thought that I must have lived there for years - the greatest compliment of all for me!

I have been following the ongoing dispute in Kashmir with intense interest and a heavy heart since I started my book, but like any author as soon as one book is finished, I have to think about the next. This does not mean that Kashmir is not on my mind. When I hear of the turmoil and tragic loss of life in Kashmir, I am deeply saddened. As an outsider it would be presumptuous of me to suggest a solution, but I do feel that any resolution must reflect first and foremost the interests and wishes of the people of Kashmir.

Presently, my time is eaten up with writing and researching my new novel about a widow’s quest to solve the mystery surrounding her husband’s death in the Canadian Wilds. Just like in THE GIANTS LOOK DOWN I have never journeyed there, and my story inevitably contains an innate conflict: this time the construction of an oil pipeline across the sacred burial sites of Native American territory.  

 

Buy THE GIANTS LOOK DOWN at amazon.in