Story telling is a cornerstone of human existence; it’s what enables people to communicate and connect with one another. Today, we are happy to have with us a warm-hearted storyteller, photographer and author Jim W Kasom, from Manipur. He talks to us about his debut book, “Homecoming and Other Stories” – a collection of short stories that will actually move your heart and fill the soul.
“I left my hometown at an early age, but I still write about that place and the people” – Manipuri author and photographer, Jim Wungramyao Kasom talks about the inspiration for his debut book. Read on to learn more about him, his childhood and family that are the roots of his love for storytelling.
Hello Jim! Introduce yourself to our readers.
Hello R&L my name is Jim Wungramyao Kasom. I’m a photographer and a writer. I was born and raised in Ukhrul, Manipur. But currently, I’m living in Delhi.
Tell us about your book, “Homecoming and Other Stories”.
My book is a collection of 19 short stories published by Bibliophile South Asia and Promila & Co. New Delhi.
The stories are bound together with a strong sense of attachment to the mountains; of a oneness with them. The book covers a span of hundred years and more, from the onset of Christianity to the present times, the arrival of the Japanese in a small village during the Second World War and to the advent of new ideas and modern beliefs.
The cover of Jim’s book, “Homecoming and Other Stories”
These were times of great change for our people. I wanted to write about the changing times and help preserve the old ways of life that are fast disappearing from our lives. I lived through some tumultuous times of tribal feuds, of big social and political waves of modernization. As a storyteller, I have always been intrigued by these themes and have wanted to tell stories that reflect the spirit and zest of each era.
These are stories of ordinary people and their lives, stories often left untold, stories swept away in the cross currents of political upheavals.
House full at the “Homecoming” book launch in New Delhi.
Tell us what pushed you to write this book?
I write because I love language and the freedom it gives me to create my own world. I love the whole process of reading and writing. These stories have been written over a span of ten years. So when I began writing, I didn’t really have a book in mind. It has been a very gradual process. As a young man, I looked at writing as a noble profession and I wanted to become one myself. In some way, this is my dream come true.
When I started writing, I was trying to write honest stories. Later when I start reaching out to a larger audiences, I realized that it comes with a responsibility. Oral tradition is a dying practice… And there is an urgency to preserve it. The Conversion to Christianity has completely overthrown our tradition and culture. The importance of preserving whatever remains cannot be overstated. Though that was not why I started writing, that would be a good reason to continue.
Author Jim W Kasom in conversation with Shelmi Sankhil at a book event in New Delhi.
What initially sparked your interest in writing?
I grew up listening to stories in an era where there were no video games and mobile phones, and storytelling was the highest form of entertainment. Our history and beliefs were passed down from one generation to another through oral storytelling and that extended to everyday conversations. I would nag my grandparents to tell stories almost every night.
That wealth of stories is where I fall back on when I write. I grew up waddled in a pool of interesting and exciting real life stories which triggered my interest in writing long before I even learned the basics of writing.
Jim photographs his beloved Grandma in her garden.
How has your roots or upbringing influenced your writing and style?
For me, my upbringing is everything. It’s what gives soul to my writing.
The small village I called home has shaped my philosophy and perspective. It has shaped the way I see the world. I left my hometown so many years back, but I still write about that place. My heart echos what William Faulkner once said – “I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it”. I have always believed that the home has a way of shaping you, more than you realize. I will never get tired of writing about my place and my people.
Jim’s book “Homecoming and Other Stories” against the world famous red chilies of Sirarakhong, Manipur – his hometown.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
There is no writing without reading. Every writer starts as a reader. I draw inspiration from a lot of American writers like Flannery O Conor, John Steinbeck and William Faulkner. They all believed that people are often manipulated by forces of society and nature beyond their understanding or control. I love the work of Alexie Sherman, a Native American Writer because he writes about his people and their fight to keep their identity in a changing world – that’s something I can relate to. I also look up to a lot of northeastern writers like Easterine Kire, Temsula Ao, Janice Pariat and Jahnavi Barua.
My families and friends inspire me on a daily basis. The simple everyday-conversations is where I get most of my raw materials for stories. I want to find meanings in the ordinary.
Jim with poet and author Easterine Kire at The Oxford Bookshop in CP, New Delhi.
My job has enabled me to travel extensively for the past 6-7 years. I feel that travel only brings you closer to home. When you begin to blend with people from different cultures and social backgrounds, you will be amazed at how much you discover about yourself. Travel has made me more appreciative of what I’ve inherited. It has given me a new perspective of my homeland.
Sometimes inspiration can be just a random photograph or a film.
Jim’s book against a backdrop view of his hometown – Sirarakhong, Manipur.
An old Tangkhul man feeding chickens at his backyard, wearing traditional body cloth called Haora | Photograph by Jim W Kasom
A shot from Jim’s photo series, “Some Growing Up To”.
What do you hope people take away from your stories?
I just want readers to enjoy my book. I want them to feel something when they read it. I love that we can all read the same story and feel differently, draw from our experiences and interpret it in so many ways.
North East India is frequently in the news for all the wrong reasons. I don’t intend to change anyone’s opinion but if my writing can help shed a little light into the lives, culture and history of our people, then I’ll be more than happy.
The book is about looking back: about a homecoming to the memories and place I hold dear. There’s a lot of attachment and nostalgia to the old ways. Our ancestors tried hard to keep the history of each family alive. It’s so clear from the names they gave us. Our folklore and folk songs are ways of fighting the decaying of time and memories. I hope people embrace their identity and past.
“Homecoming and Other Stories” is available on Amazon as well as Flipkart, so grab your copy now! Also, do follow Jim W Kasom on Instagram to check out his amazing photography and inspiring stories.
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