Manuscript help, book reviews and author interviews
Chhimi Tenduf-La’s second book Panther releases this month! We caught up with him for a chat!
tgbc: Who is the narrator of Panther?
Chhimi: The narrator of the war thread is meant to be a mystery and is only revealed towards the end of the book. It is written in the second person and in the present tense because it is based on memories that were blocked before, and seep out as the story progresses.
tgbc: What does Prabu symbolize for you?
Chimmi: Hope. Optimism born of that hope. His past is dreadful and it continues to haunt him, but by being positive he overcomes it and forges himself quite a promising future, He also symbolizes the younger generation of Sri Lanka. I work in education and the kids I come across are unconcerned by race, yet eager to learn from history. They are far more compassionate than I was as a child, for instance. Prabu is like this. He doesn’t just want to fit in; he wants everyone to fit in.
tgbc: Rampant corruption in the SL cricket selection -your thoughts on what makes it so difficult to overcome (btw, that is a similar problem with India).
Chhimi: Outside of my novel, I have no evidence of rampant corruption in cricket selection here. I think they pick pretty good teams. What is odd is that all selections have to go through the Sports Minister, which runs against the idea that sports and politics should not mix. I would imagine the issue for cricket in India and Sri Lanka is that it involves so much money and prestige that people fight to be a part of it. This leads to cricket boards being over-staffed and potentially corrupt, with people doing favours for friends. This is the same as FIFA, really. In fact, sadly sports is corrupt everywhere which is such a shame as, at its core, it is such a simple and pure pleasure.
tgbc: The coach makes a comment that outsiders don’t know about what really goes on in the camps but the Sri Lankans do…what was he referring to?
Chhimi: In that context his comment was more innocent than it sounds. He was referring to the idea that rehabilitation and IDP camps were different. The former could be for suspected combatants whereas the latter was for displaced people. In the story everyone thought Prabu was from an IDP camp. The secret was that he was from a rehab camp because he was a former child soldier. Had people known that, would they have been as comfortable accepting him into their school?
tgbc:Who is your favorite character in the book?
Chhimi: Prabu, for sure, as he is based on someone I know who had no ego, no ulterior motives, no agenda. Prabu is just someone who wants to have fun and live a normal life. Then again I also found Indika easy and enjoyable to write because some of his weaknesses are my own weaknesses and some of his great strengths are those I wish were mine!
tgbc: What parts did you have most fun writing?
Chhimi: I wanted to avoid writing about the war initially, but was encouraged to do so. Still, my intention was not to write scenes from Sri Lanka’s civil war, but just from any war. I enjoyed writing those parts, because although they are disturbing they allowed me to try to write punchy prose. To most people, war is not reality, thank God, so it allowed me a little license to shock myself even. It kept me up at night, a bit, but I enjoyed it. I did also enjoy writing the Colombo scenes as some of them are based loosely on things from when I was a teenager so it brought back memories of old friends.
tgbc: I thought that, despite its humor, the book was more intense than The Amazing Racist. Your thoughts on it? How was the writing process for this book different?
Chhimi: Panther started off as even more of a comedy than The Amazing Racist, but I added in a couple of scenes which changed the tone and direction of it. So yes, ultimately the intention was to be more intense. To create more tension, anger, hurt and so on. Having written something as lighthearted as The Amazing Racist I wanted to write something with more substance and punch. Whether I succeeded or not is another question. With the Amazing Racist, I wanted readers to laugh and cry. With Panther, I still hope people will laugh at parts, but I want readers to think a little more.
tgbc: What happens to Indika in the end?
Chhimi: I don’t want to give too much away, but I wanted the end to be ambiguous. My feedback thus far is that Panther is a positive story and some readers saw the ending as happy, some as sad. I was hoping for these differences in opinion. It may depend what frame of mind the reader is in, or how he or she felt about the characters. I don’t know myself. I change my mind all the time, depending on who I am speaking to. Without giving away any spoilers, I think it all depends on whether the reader thinks the character who reappears at the end is a good guy or a bad guy. Maybe he just acted the way he did because of the war, and now the war is over he is a good guy. Or maybe he was one of the reasons for war. For people who have not read Panther, what I have just said will make no sense. The same is possibly true for those who have read it!
tgbc: What next?
Chhimi: I started writing what I thought would be the greatest novel ever written but then I read it back to myself, and let me just say I was wrong. Badly wrong. One thing I want to do is to take longer over my next book. These first two I wrote very quickly and I think I can improve on my craft by taking my time and making sure I tie up all loose ends. For my new book I had written 30,000 words in 3 weeks and that was scarily fast. Too fast. By slowing down, there is a risk then I might be too clinical. Maybe my faults as a writer appealed to some readers, I am not sure. Yet the important thing to me is that I show progress and development as a writer or I should do something else. Besides, the main character in my next books is based on my mother-in-law and until the house we are building is finished, we are living with her, so I may have to wait. She read three pages of The Amazing Racist, which is two and a half more pages than I expected, so I have to be careful. More importantly, my wife is pregnant and our first child is almost 3 so I want to focus on family. There’s a chance I could write ten books, but I doubt I’ll be having ten kids and as much as I liked being published, to me it is pretty insignificant compared to the pride of fatherhood.