With the stalker within

Stalker is a forbidding word. So is racist, which is even creepier. And Panther is no exception, of course. One writer is nevertheless in a buoyant mood with these three: stalker, racist and panther.

That is none other than Chhimi Tendu-La - half English, half Tibetan - who grew up in Hong Kong, London, Delhi and finally Colombo, where he now lives with his wife, Samantha, and daughter, Tara. The Amazing Racist, his first novel, was released in January 2015 by Hachette India. His second novel, Panther, was released by HarperCollins India early in 2015. And his latest, Loyal Stalkers is now available in the leading bookshops.

Whatever it is, Chhimi Tenduf-La is yet to bear the brunt of any such criticism.

How can a racist be amazing? How can a stalker be loyal? How can a panther roam alone without instilling fear in the surrounding? They are but a creepy species, best let alone to their own devices.

But Tenduf-La has to bank on them to enter Sri Lanka’s literary hedgerow. Although much feeble in strength to exist, the literature industry of this country makes a commendable attempt to reach some destination. Not without debates and conflicts though.

The local writers share a conflict of interest with the expatriate writers. The latter have no firm footing to write about the country, the local critiques point out. First, most such writers, though born in the country, had stayed away from the country for so long and their idea about the landscape is far from reality. Second, they do not belong to the roots of the cultural landscape.

All the same both groups struggle for a placement in the world book market.

“First time I tried to write I had no idea what I had to do and what the techniques were. I bought a number of books about writing (which I can look up and add the piece if need be). Still, I found it hard to judge my own writing so I looked online for a literary consultancy,”

That was a costly enterprise, though Tenduf-La chose to see the sunny side. He will receive feedback for his novel.

“The feedback was positive but ultimately I could not bring that particular book together. But learning so much from doing it and in fact have stolen characters and scenes from it for my subsequent novels and short stories.”

Following his experience in authoring Amazing Racist and Panther, Tenduf-La decided to write to an Indian agent. The Google results directed him to Kanishka Gupta who turned out to be the best in India.

“He said he liked my writing but that my book needed further work. He has a team of editors and assigned one to me who made me draw out the book up to 65k words with more character development.”

When he was happy with it, Kanishka sent it out to many publishers. Three of them made offers as well as counter offers.

“While we waited for Amazing Racist to come out, Kanishka asked me if I had anything else and I sent him Panther, a Young Adult novel which again required extra work after which he sent it out and I got a few offers.”

When Tenduf-La sent Loyal Stalkers, he secured a few more offers, much better than for his first two books. Pan Macmillan India made him work hard on the edits. Two different expert editors worked through drafts. After releasing in South Asia they will try to sell the rights on to publishing houses in the West.

“Indian publishers are actively looking for Sri Lankan writers. It is a tough market to crack, but I am learning the ropes. You need to engage with bloggers and try to get storefront prominence. It is a superb learning experience working with such massive publishers and I now feel I am in a position to help people get published. However, I am personally reluctant to read or comment on people’s unpublished work as there is always a chance that similarities in future books can garner plagiarism accusations.”

But people really do have to get others to read their work and point them in the right direction. Tenduf-La also entered a site called YouWriteOn which was superb for that. You put up between 5000-7000 words of your writing and other aspiring writers critique it in return for your views on their books. They have a chart and if you get into the top five, then a publisher gives feedback too which happened with me.

“The best thing about Loyal Stalkers is its library of people. Wonderfully crafted characters that walk in singularly with their stories and then reappear perhaps as a face in the crowd gathered around a road accident, a person working out on the next treadmill or a guy who walks in with his son to buy a swanky birthday treat he can hardly afford,” writes Jhinuk Sen to www.catchnews.com.

“In some cases, I just Googled true stories in other countries and then mashed up a few of these things into a Sri Lankan setting. Mostly though, I started with a character, like a gym instructor, based on someone I know and then I built a story around him. I also always wanted to write about a stalker from his point of view – which has been done before. Where this is different is the victim never knows she is being stalked.”

Like other Asian countries, there is a lot that happens here that is not spoken about. This is what the first story that you explore in Loyal Stalkers.

“Avoiding shame to a generation of Sri Lankans is more important than anything else. Right now people in some areas have been devastated by floods and the outpouring of generosity is immense. Supermarket shelves are empty because people have gone out and spent all their money on rations for the people affected. Yet it has not escaped people’s notice that it takes.”

Setting off with a racist, continuing on with a panther and stalkers what will be Tenduf-La’s next destination?

“I started a crime thriller which was so creepy I started getting scared of my own reflection. I have put that on hold because I am quite busy annoying people into buying Loyal Stalkers. It’s not a bad time to take stock and see how things go so I can decide whether to flesh this story into a novel or do another collection of linked short stories.”

For the time being, be sternly advised: the protagonist of Loyal Stalkers is scary – yes, pretty much, albeit with an adorable characteristic or two. That was simply because such characterisation is Tenduf-La’s home turf.

“We all make mistakes; we all have reasons for the bad things we may have done and in this book, I hope one story may explain the characters’ mistakes in another. Sure, none of us has broken into a house and slept under someone’s bed without them knowing, but the guy is also incredibly loyal, loving and protective,” Tenduf-La remarks.



In a private room sheltered from the Colombo riots, a seventeen-year-old girl gives birth to a hatechild. At a modern city gym, an introverted fitness instructor obsesses over his unattainable client. Inside an untended guest-house room, an adolescent cricket champ is caught unawares by his coach’s violent fury. By a rain-drenched gravesite, a special-needs teacher confides in a stranger.

Edgy yet tender, racy yet warm, these interlinked stories take us into the unfamiliar everyday of Sri Lankan living, where smugglers, waiters, single moms and cheaters cross paths as they attempt to negotiate a web of shock, subterfuge and irony. A collection of infinite brio and charm, this is Chhimi Tenduf-La at his inventive best.


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