“I don’t know why people want to write, even in this modern age,” says Peter J Karthak, when asked what suggestions he has for aspiring writers. “Compared with my days in the 60s, people have many more choices now,” he adds. “Growing up, we had very limited options. But I would ask today’s youth: ‘Have you lived your life fully?’ Because they have lived comfortably, most of them haven’t lived life the way I did.” Peter John Karthak, 75, a musician, writer and journalist, has indeed had an eventful life. He was born in Shillong on December 12, 1943—when the Second World War was in full swing. Shillong was full of trenches and the Japanese were bombing the border town of Kohima. Karthak’s family decided to leave Shillong for Darjeeling, where he would spend the rest of his childhood.
In 1965, Karthak came to Kathmandu, where he spent the next 25 years as a copy editor, feature writer and columnist. He began his literary career by writing in Nepali: his first novel ‘Pratyek Thhaun: Pratyek Manchhe’ won the Sajha Puraskar in 1978. He later translated it into English and titled it ‘Every place: Every Person’ (2004).
‘Kathmandruids’, launched last month in Kathmandu, is Karthak’s latest and the first original novel in English.
“I started writing my first novel at the age of 25. I had experienced a few drastic things in Darjeeling before I left it and came to Nepal. So, I had the necessary ingredients for the novel,” says Karthak.
“If one aspires to be a writer, start writing. And to write, my motto is: don’t talk too much, listen more, read, look, see and observe. Such moody traits make a writer completely different.‘Kathmandruids’ itself came out of a conversation.”
The beginning of ‘Kathmandruids’
I think it was in 2000 when I was on antibiotics and I couldn’t drink. So I was soberly observing everyone at an event I was attending. Someone was sharing a story about his gang’s exploits and hooliganism in general. The story got me hooked. A week later, I wrote something based on what the person had said. That was how the story was born. And I gradually expanded it throughout the years.
I got the story because I listened. I would’ve listened even if I had scotch in my hands (laughs). People talk about these things everywhere. One needs to listen and observe.
The final phase of ‘Kathmandruids’
I always considered writing a hobby. But when I convinced myself—maybe before the earthquake—that my story could be made into a novel, I began re-reading it. Every morning I woke up at 4:00 and by 4:30 I was on my laptop working. And I stopped at 6:30. By that time the house was awake and I was tired too. It happened for seven days a week for nine months—three seasons in Kathmandu. No music, no other distraction. In those quiet mornings, I just edited, re-edited, added and deleted. That’s how I had a novel before the winter. Then I started looking for publishers.
Initially there was no prospect of it being published. I approached many publishing houses and got rejected every time. Some didn’t publish works in English, and the one that did, didn’t publish literary works. Then I met Biplav Pratik, who introduced me to Bhupendra Khadka. Interestingly, just after our second meeting, Bhupendra visited me with a publishing contract from Book Hill.
While that was very unexpected, so was when CK Lal wrote a blurb for the book. Lal isn’t a good friend of mine, but I admire him. Close friends are partial towards you. I needed someone who was neutral, who could look at both the best and the worst things in me. I didn’t have an editor for my novel; I revised my manuscript eight times, all by myself.
When Lal wrote the curt blurb for ‘Kathmandruids’, what a relief I felt! Lal is a brilliant writer and a brilliant thinker, a direct and honest person who suffers no fools. He was my first reader and a very critical one. When he wrote that brilliant blurb, it was understood that he would also become my editor. Of course, he didn’t say it, but it’s automatic.
Another book of mine is coming via Himal books; actually, it should have come before ‘Kathmandruids’. ‘Nepali Musicmakers’ is a collection of my newspaper columns, the reminiscences of some top Nepali music composers and singers.
I have many plans, but right now they are all in my head. I have a very good idea, the ‘Druids of Darjeeling’. I can create a novel from the characters (the druids) living in Darjeeling despite what happened throughout those years there, like the Gorkhaland movement. But I need to live there for months and I need to manage my expenses. I have a philosophy that one’s work should pay for itself. If I get advance payment, the plans in my head will materialize. Sadly, creative writing doesn’t have a rosy future in Nepal