Q&A with Sushila Deoja
How and when did you start writing?
I was fascinated by literature from a very early age but, it wasn’t until 2003 that I actually decided to pursue a career in writing. That was also the year when my first article was published. A good friend of mine submitted my article to a women’s magazine called Kasturi and later that year it was published in their annual edition.
Why did you wait so long to write?
Since I was raised in a traditional Nepali household, the notion of taking care of your husband, your kids and your family preceded everything else. So, I dedicated most of my time looking after the household works, raising our two sons and fulfilling the family’s social obligations. But, soon after our youngest son left for college, I found myself with enough spare time and that’s when I decided to venture back into writing.
You have shared a lot of your thoughts in your memoirs about the places you have travelled and their history? In what ways did your travel experiences shape your thought process and its influence in your writings?
I guess I was always intrigued by newer places and learning about different things. But, with limited exposure, one can only resort to books and one’s own imagination. Luckily because of my husband’s work I got to travel to many different places with him. Traveling to all these different countries and meeting people from all walks of lives definitely opened up my horizon to a whole new level and left me with enough material to last this lifetime.
What was your biggest inspiration behind writing?
I have always been an avid reader. But for some reason, I felt that there wasn’t a lot of material around some of the glaring social issues of Nepal that I felt should be conveyed in simple yet eye catching ways. So, I guess my interest in literature coupled with the need to address some of the prevailing social issues where some of my biggest inspirations behind writing.
Would you give any specific person credit for inspiring you to write again?
I must give credit to my niece Sanjita Deoja who was my inspiration and my motivator in my early days of writing. She is an established song writer herself.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers today?
I would say stick with what you are good at, write about things that matter to you the most. When you write something with fervor, people will eventually listen to you and the message you are intending to impart.
Do you have any suggestions for people who are trying to juggle their time between creativity and social obligations?
Just like everything else in life, balance is the key. I believe one has to set priorities straight and learn to allocate their time accordingly.
How do you handle discouragement that seems to accompany anyone who tries to embark on a new creative journey?
Criticisms and various other forms of discouragement are unavoidable components of an artist’s creative journey and to be honest criticisms and sometimes discouragements could actually play integral roles in one’s such creative journey. Many a times, we want to prove the naysayers wrong and subsequently that could give us extra motivation in completing a piece that we may have been putting aside for far too long or start a new one which we may have wanted to for a long time. Sometimes criticisms can bring about new ideas or help make improvements to an already existing work. But, despite all of this, the most important revelation for an artist is, staying true to oneself and following the path one has set out for with dedication and vigor. Everything else is arbitrary.
How do you know that an idea is worth cultivating?
As a writer, one has to have a finger on the pulse and if you take into consideration the types of topics I delve into, it becomes a prerequisite for me to observe everything and everyone around me. I acquire ideas by observing people, perceiving their lives, reading about the societal changes etc. Oddly enough, despite all that’s happening around us, we as humans are so caught up in our own world that we fail to see some glaring signs that might be telling us otherwise. Therefore, as an artist I sometimes feel that it is my responsibility to make my readers see the world through different sets of eyes and remind ourselves to learn to feel again.
You have established yourself as a successful writer in Nepali with many of your stories dwelling around the social issues of the Indian sub-continent. They have been received very well by the Nepali readers. What should the English readers expect from your upcoming English translation of your short stories?
I am a firm believer that despite all our claims, at the end of the day we are all members of the same human race and we all want the same things. My stories have a universal message which I firmly believe transcends cultures and borders. Besides, it would be a wonderful opportunity for a lot of Nepali as well as non Nepali English readers to tap into the inner tapestries of the Nepali psyche and along the way also learn more about the society and the culture.
How do you think your stories can appeal to the English readers?
My stories have a tendency to leave behind a lasting message which is not confined to only a particular set of culture or region. We as humans are hardwired to think and feel the same way. So, having said that, I firmly believe that a lot of the English readers will be able to relate to my stories in their own context.
How long does it usually take you to write a short story?
On an average, without any distractions, I would say it should take me about a day or two to complete a short story that is around 5-6 pages long.
Your stories somehow always seem to leave some sort of a message in the end. What makes you think that such messages are taken well or that your readers feel there is a need for such universal messages to be communicated to them?
That’s a very fair point. Not everyone may necessarily relate to every story of mine which is fine as my stories tend to cover wide range of topics and address varied number of issues. My aim as a writer is to bring light to topics that may be glaringly obvious but we as a society may be failing to notice it or address the issues in our hands while we find ourselves so caught up in the matrix. This is prevalent in every culture in every part of the globe in today’s day and age.
Do you think that other cultures will embrace these messages since most of the characters in your stories are based in Nepal or in Nepali communities settled in other parts of the world?
My stories for the most part have a predisposition towards a collective message as they strive for coherence, purpose and harmony and bring to our realization that we all feel the same way, act the same way and we all want to be loved at the end of the day.
How would you describe your short stories in a sentence?
Stories inspired by true life events that aim to instill good moral values and compel a reader to look at his/her surroundings with different sets of eyes while leaving behind lasting messages of love, peace and harmony.