The day you killed your mother, you wished your father dead. A whole life of could-bes glittered in your mind. A beauty parlour for your mother, reams of thread and pots of sticky wax. A lunchbox business, stacks of…
It’s a strange thing to come back to a story years after writing it. It becomes an encounter with the past. I wrote “Daughter” in 2015–2016 and took it to my first workshop. For me, the story marks a time when I began thinking about craft consciously and actively. In the workshop, we read something written in second-person POV. I’m sure I had encountered this narrative choice before, but it struck me particularly then. I admired its power and intimacy, how it grabbed you by the throat, refused to let go. It started my fascination with second person, and I changed the narrative perspective of “Daughter” from third to second. I have since read stories that perfectly execute the style to amplify thematic concerns, for example “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience” by Rebecca Roanhorse and “Homecoming Is Just Another Word for the Sublimation of the Self” by Isabel J. Kim.
Revisiting “Daughter” for publication made me self-conscious. I have moved on in many ways in the how, who, and what I write. The writing seems overwrought, burdened with emotion, overly stylised at times. But some aspects feel raw and true: the intrusive thoughts, the desperate wishes and bargains we make with the world. Some aspects I recognise instinctively but realise might not be enough for readers: the fraught relationship with the father, the difficulty in capturing the day-to-day things which pile up to create a lifetime of hurt.
I discovered something of a voice through this story. My writing tends to differ story to story depending on the vibe and genre I’m going for, but it is consistently English mixed with Nepali. There are some words I have always only known in Nepali and some which don’t have an adequate English counterpart. Age eight onwards, I grew up in the West, with only the media available here. Everything I wrote—fan fiction or original—was imitations of that. Around the time I wrote “Daughter,” I was becoming aware of the need to actively resist the ‘default’ of white characters and white settings.
I had—and still have—ambivalence toward the gender roles in the story, even if they show a reality. I am conscious of the danger of perpetuating stereotypes about South Asian cultures, about women’s lives in ‘underdeveloped’ countries. I am cautious too of characterising a place, pinning it down for a Western gaze to categorise and consume. There is an intentional vagueness to the setting (the city, the capital, the border, the foreigners). I started off with an arid desert but, as I wrote, the ‘known’ filtered in—as it always does in my work—a confluence of the real and fictional that I find productive. In the stretch of months during which I worked on “Daughter,” there were devastating earthquakes in Nepal, as well as conflict on the Nepal-India border. The story doesn’t attempt to capture those, but the real-world events did soak into its fabric.
I like to think of “Daughter” as a timestamp of myself as a growing writer. It helps me accept it as it is and let it out into the world.
ISHA KARKI lives in London. Her short fiction won the Dinesh Allirajah Prize in 2021 and the Galley Beggar Short Story Prize and Mslexia Short Story Competition in 2020. She is a graduate of Clarion West and currently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing. @IshaKarki11