It’s ‘Meet the Character’ time again and this week we’re popping over to Kashmir, where popular author Sonja Price is interviewing Jaya from her debut novel,‘The Giants Look Down’. Isn’t the cover gorgeous?
Let’s find out a bit about the book
THE GIANTS LOOK DOWN tells the story of Jaya, who wants to become a doctor in 1960s Kashmir. Will she be able to fulfill her dream in the face of obstacles as high as the mountains around her without having to forgo the love of her life?
Now over to Sonja and her interview with Jaya.
Hello Jaya. Even though you’re only ten you clearly know your mind.
You mean because I want to become a doctor?
Well, it is rather unusual. Do you know of any other women doctors?
Not personally, but then I don’t get out much. In my spare time I’m expected to learn to cook and run a household. My two younger brothers, on the other hand, can do whatever they want. Ma wants them to become doctors or lawyers, though they don’t seem very interested at the moment. Boys are lucky. They can play in the sandpit of life, whereas I am destined to stay at home. The point is, I don’t want to sit around and watch others play. I want to heal people, just like Pa.
Your father’s a doctor too?
Yes, he’s responsible for all the settlements we can see from our house up in the foothills.
What exactly triggered this desire?
I happened to be with Pa when he was delivering twins: a boy and a girl. Only, the girl arrived limp and lifeless. Pa had to look after the mother and everyone thought the girl was a goner. The father didn’t care – he was too busy cradling his newborn boy, who was screaming at the top of his lungs. The little girl looked like a beautiful white china doll until I gave her the kiss of life. I had seen the herdsman do the same with a newborn yak. A miracle! She started breathing. I couldn’t believe it. I had saved her life! That’s when I knew.
What did you know?
That this was my calling. That this was all I ever wanted to do. I want to help people, especially the ones who don’t stand a chance because they can’t reach the hospitals down in the valley in time.
You want to work alongside your father?
Yes, it is my greatest desire. He takes me on his rounds whenever he can and in this way, I get to learn so much. We have plans to build a clinic high up in the mountains together.
And what does your mother say to this?
Um – that’s a little tricky. Of course, she wants the best for me, but her kind of happiness is solely about raising a family. It’s what all my friends are expected to do, too. For the moment I’m keeping it from her. I’m just waiting for the right moment to tell her.
Has that whetted your appetite? Here’s an extract
Extract from THE GIANTS LOOK DOWN
Avani looked regal in her embroidered lehenga wedding dress and when Madhav, the bridegroom, arrived at the head of the wedding procession on a white mare, wearing a sky-blue silk suit, golden turban, orange waistband and sword, he looked every inch her prince. They had been promised to each other as children but she kept her eyes steadfastly fixed on the ground as rose petals showered down on the two of them at the wedding feast.
The air was heavy with the delicious aroma of eggplant brinjal, spinach and cheese, potato stew, pulao, green beans with coconut, dum aloo, paneer in lemon and honey sauce, fluffy white or saffron coloured rice and mouth-watering sauces and chutneys so that my stomach was already rumbling when a gong announced the feast. I queued with Ma at the huge metal container for a plate of steaming biryani before taking my place at the long table reserved for us women. I had never been to such an event before.
‘Now don’t show us up, Jaya,’ said Ma as I drank my second glass of lassi. I loved the feel of the thick goat’s yoghurt slithering down my throat but Ma soon got distracted by all the commotion and was smiling and enjoying herself like all the rest of us.
Avani’s father clapped his hands and the rabab and sarangi players started to sing. My feet couldn’t help tapping to the age-old melodies that touched my heart. Someone tugged my arm as all the women on my table got up and we danced the Hafiza until we nearly dropped.
I stayed long enough to watch money shower down on the newlyweds before Kaliq came to take us children and Granny home. Much too soon. After all, I was already twelve.
The evenings were cold once the sun sank behind the ridges. Much too excited to sleep, I sat outside on our porch wrapped in Granny’s shawl. Made from the down of the chiru, the dainty Tibetan antelope, the shatush shawl was so soft and incredibly warm even though it had faded over time. It was so fine that Granny could even pull it through her wedding ring.
Down in the valley, the lights of the wedding tent glittered in the darkness while faint chords of music drifted up through the stillness. The wolves didn’t howl in summer when they had so much to prey on higher up.
The gigantic orb of a Kashmiri moon doused the rocky slopes in its silvery light and the wedding made me briefly want to become the figure who began to exchange stolen looks with her handsome young husband. I wasn’t keen on the being married bit, but the getting married bit seemed perfectly splendid. I could faintly hear Granny snoring through the shutters. She had written poems when she was young, but she raised Pa. Ma did the same for us and my life was as predictable as the sun rising up over the Zolija pass next morning. I was more likely to marry a Maharajah than become a doctor.
A shooting star burst overhead. I made my wish.
Good luck with that Jaya!
Sonja lives in Somerset, and is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. Her short stories have appeared in Stories For Homes, the Shelter Anthology of Short Stories and In these Tangles, Beauty Lies, an anthology in aid of the Beanstalk Trust for children with reading difficulties. Her debut novel The Giants Look Down came out in 2016 and made her a finalist for the Joan Hessayon Award.
Facebook: Sonja Price Author
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