Tenzin Dickie: Read works of people you know

- Srizu Bajracharya, Kathmandu

Jun 28, 2019-

Tenzin Dickie is a poet, writer, editor and translator, whose works have been published in various literary journals and newspapers, such as Cultural Anthropology, The Washington Post Online, and Words without Borders. Having grown up in India, Dickie moved to the US, where she completed her Bachelor’s at Harvard University, and a Master’s in Fine Arts at Columbia University. Old Demons, New Deities, her most recent work, was published in 2017 but was only launched in Nepal last week. Curated, edited and translated by Dickie, the book is an anthology of 21 short stories from Tibetan writers. In an interview with the Post’s Srizu Bajracharya, Dickie spoke about her love for reading and the writers who have inspired her. Excerpt: 

How did you first come to love books?

As a child, I started with comics. I remember borrowing comics from my cousin, who had a good collection of Archie and Tintin and spending hours reading them. 

But it was only after picking a book from my father’s collection, I was deeply moved. I don’t remember the book’s name but it was a story about one of Buddha’s previous lives. I was weeping by the end of it. I think after that I have always looked forward to reading books. I used to read The Famous Five, Sidney Sheldon--all kinds of books I could get a hold of.  I have been a huge reader all my life. 

What was the last book you read and did you like it?

I am currently reading Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy. I like the crazy mix of languages he uses and his approach to incorporating Indian history in the stories he tells. I have always enjoyed reading books that explore the narratives of refugees, colonialism and various distinct cultures. I think it's also because my family lived in exile in India for so many years, and whenever I read stories that gauge these issues, I get hooked on these books and it influences how I write.

I have also sort of made it a ritual to read George Eliot’s Middlemarch after reaching 30, and I have read it almost four times now. She is one of the wisest writers. I like Eliot’s observation of life. Even Virginia Woolf once said that it is one of the few books written for adults. 

I have also been reading some of Samrat Upadhyay’s works: his short stories and The Guru of Love. He captures the city and the people beautifully and is such a wise writer of human emotions.

What are five books you have read that you would recommend as must reads?

There are so many to pick from. George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Zia Haider Rahman’s In the Light of What We Know, Jamaica Kinkaid’s A Small Place. From Tibetan writers: Tsering Wangmo Dhompa’s A Home in Tibet and Jamyang Norbu’s The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes.

How did you begin writing? 

I remember reading Tenzin Tsundue’s poem, ‘When it rains in Dharamsala’, and wanting to pen poems. I knew him from before and I felt like if he could do it, I could too. That’s when I started writing poems. 

When you want to pursue writing, but you feel incompetent to start, read the works of people you know. This really helps you believe in yourself, it helps you question yourself, ‘if someone like you has done it, why can’t I?’

What book has influenced you the most and why?

I’d say Middlemarch. Although I read this book very late in my life, it’s a book that taught me a lot about human beings. Every time I read it, I feel like meeting a close friend in the form of the main character Dorothea. 

But I also think I was deeply moved by the Buddha story that I read from my father’s collection, when I was 9 or 10 years old. Although the story was fictional, the imagination in my head made the experience really vivid. 

How different is reading Tibetan stories from other stories for you? 

When I was growing up, I didn’t know any Tibetan writers and I thought they didn’t exist. But, later on, Tenzin Tsundue and Tsering Wangmo Dhompa came along and then others. Since then I have immersed myself in Tibetan literature. 

Reading Tibetan stories is like coming home, or like looking at the mirror. Growing up as a refugee, I was always aware of the difference between our world and others’. And so, when I read the books of Tibetan authors, it feels like a diagnosis of our lives.

How do you deal with writer’s block? 

I go through writer’s block every once in a while, and I think the best way to deal with it is to collaborate with someone. It’s easier when you have someone to talk to, and help you process your ideas. Second is reading. Read works of other writers, it's important to constantly feed your ideas and build on your knowledge.

What has been the take away from working on a book like this? 

In the beginning, when I had this idea, I used to think ‘I am not qualified enough to pursue this project’. However, I felt it was important to work on a book of this sort. I wanted to share our stories. So, when I approached the writers, they all agreed on this project. That was one of the best parts, how everyone felt the book was significant. Each story in this book is very special for me.

Where do you draw inspiration for writing?

I draw a lot of inspiration from my Tibetan heritage and history. I have always found my writing connects to the Tibetan land and the people. Most of my writings are trying to interrogate the distance between me and my homeland, and what I feel for this country. 

Published: 29-06-2019 06:30

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