She Writes Story Contest winner: Yishey Doma

Yishey Doma is one of twelve winners of the MSN-Random House She Writes a Story Contest', as chosen by our judges. Her story 'Mantras of Love' features in the 'She Writes: A collection of Short Stories' published by Random House India and available at all leading bookstores.

Yishey Doma

Yishey Doma

A journalist and a poet, Yishey Doma was born in Martam in the east district of Sikkim. Her published works include the highly acclaimed coffee table book Sikkim: The Hidden Fruitful Valley and other books like Legends of the Lepchas: Folktales from Sikkim and Sikkim: A Traveller's Companion. Her work has also been anthologized in Strangers Notes and Other Essays. She is a recipient of the first North-East Poetry Award (Guwahati, 2007) from the Poetry Society of India. Yishey lives in Gangtok and works as a copy editor for the Sikkim Express.

Read an extract from Yishey Doma 's story 'Mantras of Love'

  • Twenty-four years later when I returned to the monastery, it greeted me with a rainbow, concealing the gaping holes left behind by the cruel tenth December earthquake that had brought the little hill town to a standstill. But two things came to view instantly. The monastery had partially collapsed. And I had become old and frail.

  • Below the monastery, the emerald Teesta had vanished, despite the fact that it was July and raining. At yonder hill-the source of the river-a dam had been built in exchange for the 1500 megawatts of energy needed to light up the region. It had sucked all the water in. The caves where I offered my daily prayers had been blasted out and the stupas now seemed to mingle with the soil. My friends, a posse of yakherds, had already migrated to another village as a thousand calves, I was told, died prematurely, baffled by the sudden change.

  • The monks too had fled. Only the cracked walls of the sanctum sanctorum and the leaking roof sheltering the deities in meditation remained. Spiders covered the sacred scriptures in cobwebs, worms wriggled about the brocades that adorned the masked gods, while clarinets and cymbals choked in dust and rust.

  • Once it had the power to kindle love. To change lives. My life. My man's life. Forever.

  • Age has eaten into the alarm clock. A steady swish of tropical downpour wakes me up. Still half asleep, I reluctantly get into my trousers, carefully concealed by a flowing silk dress in order to maintain monastic etiquette, and walk out into the rains to a monastery in Dewachen, this time to witness its biggest summer festival. Within minutes, little frogs take charge of the dawn, cicadas tune up, and crickets are already in full cry. On the way, a cherry tree acknowledges me as its branches, bowed down by the heavy rain, suddenly rise and fling pellets of water on my face.

  • Atop a hill where the monastery stands, monks, decked up in colourful silk gowns with long broad sleeves, wait for the wind to chase away the clouds that has been blocking the humongous peaks of the Khangchendzonga. Two novice monks, dressed up in the style of jesters donning funnily contorted masks-one male and the other female-are engaged in crowd control that keeps swelling by the day. I am the first outsider to greet the jesters-Phuchung and his friend Utpal-before they conceal their Buddhist tenets behind the masks.

In her own words: Yishey Doma

  • Have you always been a writer? What made you start writing?

    My day starts and ends with writing or reading. I wake up at five and read translations from Buddhist texts and at times dabble in poetry. I read a lot during daytime. Evenings are all journalistic stuff (since I work for a local daily). This - I've been doing ever since I passed out my high school and today if I skip any of these I find myself like a fish out of water.

    Pain, a sense of loss at a young age, I would say, gave birth to my poetry. Pen was the last resort I could hold on then.

    The peaceful environment where I grew up to some extent also inspired me to take up writing. For example the colours of the dawn and dusk, birds feeding on fruit trees, the shrill cry of cicadas in the afternoon sun, and the cry of the foxes in the monsoon rain....were enough to keep my pen dancing.

  • What inspired you to enter She Writes?

    Of course, the big names - Random House and MSN. Moreover, I had a story to tell and the category fitted well.

  • Why did you choose the category you did?

    As I said earlier, there was this story lurking inside me for quite a long. At the same time I wasn't too sure that the idea of a self-styled nun falling in love with a foreigner in a monastery would generate any interest. The contest came as sheer coincidence and the category 'the man in my life' fitted well. I changed a bit of the storyline and it worked.

  • Do you have a writing routine - e.g. do you have favourite places to write/favourite times of day/do you write longhand or on a computer?

    Whether it is a news report, feature or petition letters for my neighbours, I have to... my profession demands. But it will be a short poem that I feel happy with. I write on a computer in my room-cum-shrine room - my power place that too in the morning hours after a night's good sleep. Strange as it may sound but I cannot write poems on a computer. I have to have the right pen and pieces of paper or a thin notebook.

  • Who is your favourite author?

    There are many. I grew up reading Charles Dickens, PG Wodehouse and Ruskin Bond, still my favourites. I love Michael Ondaatje for championing simplicity and transparency in his poems. I read and like a lot of Indian authors - Khushwant Singh (especially for Delhi, a novel, and Train to Pakistan), Tabish Khair, Amitav Ghosh and Rohinton Mistry.

  • Which book has inspired you the most?

    It is John Steinbeck's 'The Grapes of Wrath'. What makes this American novel set during the great depression in the 1930s in Oklahoma so powerful is the way it is written - the feel of the time, the story of struggle against despair and moments of hope - interspersed with poetic chapters - all perfectly captured. In fact, I was drowned in each sentence Steinbeck spoke. It still continues to inspire me. I don't think I have read anybody who has reached that level of genius.

  • Which key piece of advice would you give to any other budding writer?

    Remove your TV and make space for a bookshelf. Just like your body require water, read and feed your mind and be healthy and rich. And if you think you have a story to tell, start writing. Do not procrastinate.

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