Prerna Dewan Rai is a quintessential Darjeelingley, an alumnus of Loreto Convent, South Field College and St. Joseph’s Post-Grad. Her debut novel “The Oblique Rays of Sunshine” has become the talk of the town. It captures the emotions of Darjeeling and her people. The story spans the decades after 1986 when our town witnessed the first Gorkhaland Andolan, and highlights the love, hurts, heartaches and more that we all got to witness…
We sat down for a short interview with her
Name: Prerna Dewan Rai Ama: Sumitra Dewan Baba: Jiwan Dewan School(s): Loreto Convent, Darjeeling College(s): Southfield College (Bachelor’s Degree- English) St Joesph’s College( Master’s Degree) Shree Ramakrishna B T college, Darjeeling
TheDC: Who or what inspired you to get into writing?
Prerna: Words have been my friend for as long as I can remember. You could say, my brain is a litter of words. Everything I have read from a little girl till now has inspired me in one way or another. During my college days, Virginia Woolf’s stream of consciousness technique in Mrs Dalloway intrigued me. In recent times, Ali Smith has to a great extent inspired me to open my notebook and scribble my thoughts.
TheDC: Tell us about your journey as a writer so far…
Prerna: ‘The Oblique Rays Of Sunshine’ is my first novel and perhaps my first step into the literary world. Until now, I have always been a writer in oblivion, without the intention of breaking the anonymity. I loved what I became when left alone with my thoughts and a notebook. With this novel, it is for the first time I have allowed my work the liberty of an audience. I guess the journey has just started.
TheDC: Tell us about the process, when you write… how do you eke out the characters, and are they based on real-life experiences, people or events?
Prerna: I believe fiction borrows from reality as much as reality borrows from fiction. Writers, along with vivid imagination and the ability to craft words, are extremely observant creatures. All the characters I have given life to are an amalgamation of all the people, friends and strangers, with whom I have crossed paths even if briefly. It is for a reason, they say, writers have the power to immortalise everything and anything under their radar…
TheDC: Your new book ‘The Oblique Rays of Sunshine’ what was the starting point? what inspired/triggered you to write this book?
Prerna: When I started drafting the novel, I was then living in Delhi with my husband. The novel I had imagined at the time was entirely different. It was a simple love story. When I actually started writing the novel, my husband and I, started living in a different country. The further I went from home, the more Darjeeling insisted to come to me. Every night, a new Darjeeling memory would unlock in my mind. Perhaps this is why I had almost six drafts of the novel. In 2020, when my son was born, spending sleepless nights, amidst newborn wails, I rewrote the novel. Thus a simple love story had now become the love story of Darjeeling town and its people.
TheDC: Grounded in the Andolan days of “chyasi”, your main character is ‘Charles Nepali Mukherjee’ – a very peculiar name. Could you care to tell us more about Charles and the inspiration behind this character if any?
Prerna: Firstly, I would like to point out that the major time frame of the novel is 1990 when the town had slowly started to witness the restoration of partial normalcy. However, the novel does not seek to answer in-depth the who, why, what, when or how of the Andolan. It is the aftermath, the life wallowing in grief, misery, in bereavement, yet the town and its people carry on with the Hope that one-day happiness will return just as the rhododendrons and the magnolias do every Spring. The resilient spirit of the town is what I wanted to capture. Most of the characters in my book have Nepali pet names like Kaila, Saila, Maila or even names of famous personalities like Pele, Charles, and Bairangi Kaila. It was a deliberate attempt to emphasise the importance of one’s name, lineage, the sense of community and identity. Basically to highlight the identity crisis. Through a queer name choice, Charles Nepali Mukherjee, it became convenient to put the point across.
TheDC: How did you go about finding a publisher?
Prerna: There were a lot of submissions and a waiting game. Thanks to social media, I stumbled upon a few pages that led me to find a suitable arrangement with my current publisher. I must say, nothing is impossible these days.
TheDC: Care to share the difficulties you faced along the way, and how you overcame them?
Prerna: Since the major part of the novel was re-written during my post-partum days, it was an arduous task but worth the pain. Discipline, writing despite the inconvenience, I discovered, is what differentiates a writer from an author. Now I am delighted to call myself one. Also being a woman, a mother and a wife, balancing domestic duties and writing was like surviving a whirlwind.
Regarding the writing process, I had a pertinent question in my mind. What would Darjeeling say if she could talk? Hence the idea to humanise a place, a town, germinated. Then to catch the narrator’s voice, to humanise a victim of trauma, the incoherent monologues, if you read carefully there is the repetition of lines, misinterpretation of a certain English word, to implement the stream–of–consciousness technique and flashbacks in the effort of personifying a non-living thing was quite a challenge. In the end, Darjeeling ended up becoming an important character, the narrator of the protagonist’s story as well as her own.
TheDC: Where do you see yourself 10-years from now?
Prerna: Happy. Content. Wiser. Perhaps a second novel added to my name.
TheDC: Any messages for those who may want to follow in your footsteps?
Prerna: In school, on one of our diary pages, there was a line attributed to the founder of the institution, Mary Ward. ‘Women in time to come will do much.’ Somehow it stuck in my brain since then.
To all the writers, never give up on your dreams.
To the women writers/ artists, do not wait for the right time. Time is here and now. Come out and shine!
We wish Prerna ‘Good Luck’ with the success of her first novel, and we hope it inspires others too to share their stories with us
You can order your copy of the book here: The Oblique Rays of Sunshine