Shortlisted for the 2018 SI Leeds Literary Prize.
Extract from The Act of Writing:
I imagine you come here with expectations. You want to hear tales, of the sari, of the mango, of cows and cow hooves kicking up a dry dust you will want to wipe off with a scented handkerchief. You want to hear of lavender, of turmeric, of jasmine soothing the hot summer evening in a distant tropical country. You expect to be told stories of a certain woman, a certain man in a certain way. You want to feel, but nothing beyond the ordinary, nothing you cannot stomach along with a thick steak, the knife a tad bloody from the rare meat.
Prepare then to be annoyed. Prepare to shake your heads at the lack of clichés. Prepare to throw away the book even. Prepare to be angry that anyone can write these stories nowadays, and no longer is it the right of the powerful, the strong, the erudite. That anyone can now take up a pen, a laptop and float words on the page, dipping into history and geography and creating; creating that which needn’t have been, or having taken form deserved to be demolished.
The story I want to write may be nothing you expect, or may be everything you desire. I don’t know yet you see. I can write about the place I am from, the shores I went to, the people I met. I can write about the accidents, the tragedies, the way people lost breath when they didn’t expect to, or were maimed and silenced. The blood which flowed when people attacked others, their homes, their bodies. Inspired by the books on war, I can, for example write about gas chambers or the site where a nuclear bomb ripped the soil and its heart, or I can write through the eyes of a little child whose parents kissed and were shot in front of his eyes. Except that it has been done before, in ways fourscore and one. I can write about the betrayal and naivety which led to foreign countries ruling my own, but that too has been done; the red and blue flag has been replaced a million times by the tricolor and evil has always been shown to be white. But why, I can fly across continents and write about modern wars, the one where planes drove into tall, proud towers, the one which is continuing everyday as delusional youth wield axes and knives or guns or strapping explosives on themselves aspire to explode and achieve heavendom, annihilating innocent people. Moved by the video of the civil war and watching neighbours bomb the Stari Most, I can explore the strife in countries far from my own.
There is so much to write.
But yes all that has been written before and I want to write something new, infinitely precious. So let me do this, a simple tale. A story told in three days…
Read more at The Citron Review.
Praise for Let Us Look Elsewhere:
‘It was a pleasure to read Mona’s writing for the first time, when she was shortlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Prize, and to introduce her work to the world. She is a writer of rare bravery, putting forward a manifesto against the tropes and delighting in subverting expectations.’ Roopa Farooki, Author
‘The powerful collection of short stories by Mona Dash, Let us Look Elsewhere literally takes us across the world: to Europe, the US, India, Britain and also into the lives of a wide range of very different characters, some of whom reflect darker elements of human behaviour and experience.’ Susheila Nasta, 2018 SI Leeds Literary Prize chair of judges
‘Mona Dash has produced an unflinching collection of short stories, demonstrating that she is a fearless writer, unafraid to reveal her characters flaws and extremes as they search for a sense of identity and belonging.’ Joe Melia, Bristol Short Story Prize Co-ordinator
‘These atmospheric stories travel across continents and time, offering surprising and intriguing incursions into the disparate moments of solitary lives.’ Amanthi Harris, Author
‘A wonderful, richly rendered and triumphant collection. Highly recommended.’ Irenosen Okojie, Author
‘The stories are neatly laid out – beautifully crafted gems adorn this crown of a collection. But the most impressive aspect of the collection is a combination of confidence and conviction – confidence in her craft and the conviction with which she tells her stories. A fascinating, bold debut that enthralls the reader right from the outset.’ Read more at onerightword.
‘Let Us Look Elsewhere by Mona Dash is a collection of short stories that will make you look elsewhere with eager eyes. Every time I opened this collection I looked forward to reading a new story. I never knew where the author would take me next, to different times and places all across the world where I could learn about so many different lives and settings. Imaginative, risk-taking and always surprising, this collection of short stories is a joy to read.’ By Tracy Fells. Read more at The Literary Pig.
Finalist Eastern Eye Awards for Literature 2020
Finalist People’s Book Prize 2020 (Non-Fiction)
Winner Eyelands Book Award 2020 (Memoir)
Read an excerpt at : MeharaLit.
Praise for A Roll of the Dice:
‘This is a story of loss, love and genetics, as Mona Dash, the author, indicates with her subtitle and indeed each one of these themes plays a key part in this very sensitive memoir about the adventure of a mother whose newborn baby’s life is in danger. But this is just the beginning of an astonishing narrative of a contemporary life drama. Perfectly written in an unadorned, powerfully subtle style, demonstrating a deep knowledge of human – and especially female – nature, without superfluous outbursts and therefore even more stunning. A Roll of the Dice is at the same time touching and riveting from cover to cover.’ Judges, Eyelands Book Awards 2020
‘Mona Dash’s A Roll of the Dice is aptly subtitled ‘a story of loss, love and genetics’. Her story spanning ten years records in extraordinary detail, both medical and personal, Mona’s long and arduous journey to motherhood, reminding us that children do not always come as naturally as leaves to a tree. With an introduction by Professor Bobby Gaspar of Great Ormond Street Hospital, a pioneer in gene therapy, the details of SCID (Severe Combined Immuno-Deficiency) meticulously recorded is a must-read for anyone facing a similar set of challenges. A memoir with a beating heart, the book makes a vital contribution to literature in the field.’ Shanta Acharya
‘A profoundly moving and uplifting book about the triumphant survival of life against all odds. It’ll go straight into your heart and expand its capacity for feeling. Read it and be changed.’ Neel Mukherjee
‘Powerful, moving, beautifully observed and wonderfully sensitive. It mines the depths and heights of human love and suffering and is perceptive about family dynamics, the weight of trauma and comfort of family support. The steady accretion of detail and emotion are exceptionally skilful; the book creeps up on you and steals your heart. I couldn’t stop reading once I started. I particularly like the observations of daily life in cities –the textured evocation of having to walk and talk, live, love and work in the ‘ordinary’ world –while going through operatic swings of emotion at the same time. Mona Dash is a powerful, important and fearlessly honest new voice – capable of looking the deepest suffering and the greatest joy full in the face.’ Bidisha
‘A writer of rare bravery, putting forward a manifesto against the tropes and delighting in subverting expectations.’ Roopa Farooki
‘A deeply affecting book, touching and beautifully rendered. A powerful read from an exciting new voice.’ Irenosen Okojie
‘A beautiful depiction of heartbreak and resilience. This memoir will open your eyes whilst also filling them with tears.’ Mahsuda Snaith
‘I wrote the Bubble Boy from the innocent and unaware perspective of an 11 year old boy with SCID. And I had an adventure…we all had a fictional adventure. SCID is real, full of heartache, suffering and frustration of search for help and cure. Mona Dash takes us on a journey that I could only imagine. Beautifully written, honestly written. I am a writer of fiction. This is the real thing.’ Stewart Foster (via Twitter)
’I met Mona Dash at the premier of my film The Sky is Pink in London. In a sea of people hugging me she left a strong impression as she sobbed in my arms and said how much she loved the film and how it was almost her own life story. Soon after she mailed me her book A Roll of the Dice. I put off reading it for months. I felt that I know the story of a mother losing a child to SCID through and through and wasn’t inclined to relive it. But I could not forget Mona and when she asked me to read it again I was unable to say no. I picked it up and thought I’d just read the first 20 pages. I was in the middle of writing two scripts of my own and had only kept an hour a day to do any reading. I started the book and the hour turned into two and then three as it was unputdownable! Even though I knew the facts and the emotions of this journey very closely – the book was riveting. I personally devour thrillers and whodunits in my leisure time and this is how this book felt. A suspenseful novel which made me invest deeply in my protagonist and keep going till the nail biting finish as to will they be okay. And ultimately it IS a happy ending and a feel good book. And the journey of the protagonist is inspiring. Mona also has a wonderful writing style. Sometimes stories can be great but the form prosaic. Mona’s prose itself is delicious to read; her way of stringing words and sentences together. I recommend this book highly.’ Shonali Bose, filmmaker, writer
‘The language of this story is for the most part lyrical and even poetic, making it a highly engaging narrative, even as it also includes more technical passages describing medical conditions and procedures. In terms of audience, this memoir might be of particular interest to mothers who are trying to conceive or experiencing issues regarding pregnancy, or health issues of a young child. However, it will at the same time appeal to a much broader audience, as the author addresses how she overcomes obstacles and stresses the importance of persistence in order to achieve one’s dreams. This memoir is not a self-help book, but it is in the best sense inspirational.’ By author America Hart. Read more at the Joao-Roque Literary Journal.
‘The writing style, the vivid description of places, and in-depth presentation of medical practices in this book reflect an uninhibited rendering of a personal experience without half-truths, which leaves nothing to doubt and this, I found remarkable and courageous.’ By Akuchidinma Raymonda M., Nigerian fiction writer and current Senior Editor, Media and Creative Director at MeharaLit. Read more at MeharaLit.
‘A Roll of the Dice is a story of the glorious transformation of a woman; her sense of unassimilable loss and abiding hopes go hand in hand throughout the book. Although the void of her first lost child reverberates so often, her astute circumspection, conjectural observations, and unwavering trust propel her toward becoming a mother again. Dash’s story is emblematic of life’s unpredictability, darting back and forth between sudden delightfulness and creeping despair.’ By Mohammad Farhan, Aligarh Muslim University. Read more in World Literature Today.
”Structured into six sections, each exploring a different challenge and interestingly mapped to a corresponding emotion, A Roll of the Dice is a beautiful story, articulated in an honest, heartfelt manner which hooks the reader. So readers, don’t miss this book, you will love it, you will read it again and again. When your spirits are down, you will learn to believe… there is hope, there is love and there is grace, it is all possible with tremendous will power. Read it and you will never take your children for granted again.” Dr Leena Appicatlaa. Read the whole review in the November issue of Confluence on page 6.
‘A Roll of the Dice is a book that resonates with sadness and joy; altogether an amalgamation of ardent fervor, a mother’s love, and the world’s gentle sway in the direction of good fortune. It is a story of motherhood and resilience and the power of hope. Mona Dash’s memoir narrates her ill-fortune of being a genetic carrier of the Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID) virus – a fact she learned the hard way: losing her first born to it.’ Ghada Ibrahim, Jaggery Lit
‘Mona Dash lost her first child, a boy, to a very rare genetic disease passed from mothers to sons, SCID (severe combined immunodeficiency). Spanning ten years we follow her through the horrowing efforts to find out why her healthy at first baby son is fading. Her descriptions of the last hours of her son will impact deeply any caring person. She is wounded when the hospital personnel told her the boy will be buried, not cremated as is customary for those of her faith, Hindus. She was told babies under one are buried. Of course Mona tries to understand what happened. She had very carefully observed proper procedures, all her check ups had been positive. Why was her baby taken? As the memoir opens she learns the problem.’ Mel U, The Reading Life
‘In A Roll of the Dice, Mona Dash explains the consequences of passing on faulty genes to her two sons – and why she has relied continually on her faith and recital of the Hindu Maha Mrutyunjaya mantra [religious chant]. As the book’s subtitle makes clear, hers is “a story of loss, love and genetics”. For good reason, it is commended by two well-known authors. Neel Mukherjee has said, “It’ll go straight to your heart”, while Bidisha calls it “powerful, important and fearlessly honest”’ Amit Roy, Eastern Eye
‘Mona Dash is an author and poet, and mother of two sons affected by SCID. Her first son died tragically at eight months old; her second son was able to have a successful stem cell transplant. Mona shares her personal journey and opinion on why newborn screening for SCID is so important.’ PID UK – Supporting families affected by primary immunodeficiencies
‘Mona Dash’s verses have a civilised quality that will appeal to members of every diaspora. While holding Shiva and Durga dear she has embraced Claude Monet and the Palais Garnier. In short, she is a new woman of a new age’ Reginald Massey, poet
A Certain Way also contains poems that explore religious, spiritual and mythological themes. Dash finds it ‘comforting / … to see Shiva in this land’ and know that ‘the all-pervading / everything of Shiva’ is present in England, as much as in India. (‘Shiva’) ‘Metamorphosis’ interprets the Narcissus story through the medium of Salvador Dali’s painting ‘The Metamorphosis of Narcissus’.
A number of moving poems are on womanhood and motherhood. In ‘Woman’ Dash asserts her solidarity with women the world over:
Always, a different name,
a different country,
a different life.
But the same I
Love is a crucial theme running through Dash’s collection, as important as her focus on the diasporic situation. Many kinds of love are celebrated in her poems – the love between man and woman, a mother’s love, love for a father, love for a vampire, cynical love, wistful love, sensuous love, spiritual love and love that is lost. Love is a difficult subject to write about with originality, but I applaud Mona Dash for essaying it with courage and flair. In the fine poem ‘Happiness in Love’, Dash speculates on what expression gods and yogis would give to their joy in love, but asserts that human love can grow close to perfection:
You are you, I am I
a mere man, a mere woman,
we hurt, we pleasure
we try everything
to be closer together
to keep the oneness
as long as we can
with candles, aroma, tantra.
Sometimes I think,
in our happiness
we are almost there.
Many a first generation British Indian writer has commented on their diaspora experience – in poetry and in prose – and indeed some have done so memorably. While I welcome this first collection that adds to this growing body of literature, in my view, its author’s true forte lies in her intimate poems of connectivity. It is in these poems about personal relationships with people, places and traditions that emotions surface with authenticity. There may not be many answers in these poems, but Mona Dash does ask the right questions.
By Debjani Chatterjee, MBE, poet, scholar in The Book Review, June 2017. Read more at The Book Review Literary Trust.
An Uncertainty of the Certain
There is a great calmness at the heart of tears in Mona Dash’s windswept canvas of A Certain Way. A great objectivity and dispassionate detachment marks her profound involvement in the human experience of her own, yet universal suffering in the light, taut poems of time past, present, and yet to come – in which she locates the vast continents and depths of her mind, soul and body – uniting the acts of love, grief, and poetic release. In most of her poems the slight opening of the analysis is rapidly developed at the centre that takes off effortlessly into the universal from her personal, familiar observation: she carries us from her own world into the reaches of memory, desire, mood, thought and feeling that is the vessel from which we are carried from the mortal to the transcendent, from blood, bone and nerve into an eternal, solitary, yet all-embracing spiritual, soulful and almost celestial sphere.
“There are two voices at work here: the personal domestic one, and the bold public one,” writes Saleem Peeradina in the blurb. Indeed, the two worlds do not exclude one another in Mona’s poems but merge into a beautiful synthesis of detailed reality and evocative imagination like a martini delicately stirred, not shaken. The first poem, ‘A Certain Way’ juxtaposes the need to conform to Indian culture with the freedom to live life as you like allowed by the liberal culture of the West but again the need of conforming to that particular “public” culture:
As an immigrant,
I am expected to behave in a way,
A certain way…
The poem then continues to refer both to the Indian and English ‘way’s. With the memory of Frost’s ‘How way leads on to way’ in ‘The Road Not Taken’ and both the blending of the “domestic” (English) and now foreign Indian ‘way’s, the synthesis and contrast form a brilliant polar analysis. The first sentence, however, might have been less direct and blunt, in keeping with the technique of subtlety in Mona’s extremely delicate and elegantly crafted style: but reading the poem as a whole, one wonders, again, how else the statement could have been written. Followed by the impressionism of ‘Belonging’ (see the poem “Nympheas”) and “The Skin of Tradition,” the titles of all three are the definition of the elusive identity one must search for, but may never find, in neither location nor dislocation. ‘Typically,’ writes Peeradina, ‘she mirrors the lives of all migrants, in achieving a poetic disequilibrium suspended between belonging and dislocation’, almost as in the visualisations of the major paintings of Dali. A difficult achievement, accommodating, say, Van Gogh, and Dali (see the poem “Metamorphosis”) in building a striking technical and thematic structure.
The ‘bold personal’ voice leaves reality alone and takes us by the hand into the floating realms of emotion – primarily an overwhelming, heartfelt love, as in –
So close to the soul,
So close, only you. (‘His Gift’)
By Chandan Das (Late), poet, English professor. Read more at Muse India.
Mona Dash’s new collection of poems, A Certain Way, displays a heightened sensibility that straddles the East and the West. The poems reflect the narrative of displacement and question tradition and modernity in language that is lyrical and full of strong imagery. In ‘Home and Beyond,’ she writes about the many who pine for “the country they came from where the frangipani breathes, where the fish glisten…forgetting they were the ones who decided to leave the country of the narrow roads and claustrophobia.” A number of poems in the collection hark back nostalgically to a past and a way of life left behind.
This collection marks the arrival of a poet with an astute and sensitive awareness of what it means to arrive and leave.
By Reshma Ruia, author. Read more at Episteme.
Read an extract from Untamed Heart in the debut issue of Setu, in June 2016.
Untamed Heart: a praise song to the contemporary Indian woman
Mona Dash’s debut novel, Untamed Heart, is a praise song to the contemporary Indian woman coming of age in a patriarchal society that refuses to relinquish its orthodox views. In an India, struggling to hold ground between tradition and contemporaneity, enmeshed in a plethora of complexities, the female protagonist Mohini comes to terms with herself and the world around her. The meeting of East and West and the spaces they occupy geographically and culturally are marvellously portrayed in the novel. The response of the protagonist to her multicultural spaces is based on her own choices and at the same time, beyond her control. The strikingly beautiful protagonist is an ambivalent and complex character: martyr, deceiver and explorer in wilful pursuit of the world and a means of transcending her limitations. In Mohini’s dilemmas, we see the India existing in many tiers: the sanctimonious middle class India, the India of the emerging, educated upper class, the corporate India, the NRI India and the evolving female India. Opening at a critical moment in the protagonist’s life in New Delhi, the bustling capital of India, the novel takes the reader through a labyrinth of Mohini’s past, her present, her roller coaster emotions, her complex family life and her uncertain future.
By Usha Kishore, poet, scholar.
First published in LakeView International 68 LIJLA Vol.4, No.2 August 2016
Read more at pages 68-71 in issuu.
UNTAMED HEART by Mona Dash is a bold novel, engagingly told. It’s the saga of a modern, educated woman with accomplishments and deserving aspirations. She has the ability to impart a classical touch to anything she takes up or is into. Agreeing to get spliced, she turns into a homemaker doing her best for the joint family even at the cost of private space between her and her husband. So much so everyone in the family looks up to her. She becomes indispensable. But if things are stagnant, where is the spice? The irrepressible urge within her comes to the fore and urges her on, and she launches herself into a job with élan. Within no time she makes a name for herself to the envy of even her superiors. Her escapades take her even out of the country on business events and conferences. Singapore, Malaysia, UK, France, Sweden. This globe-trotting go-getter feels at home wherever she goes. An embodiment of free spirit, she yearns for more and more. Whatever she dreams of, she realises it. So is everything smooth and hunky-dory? How does she satisfy her husband, how does she satisfy the members in the joint family? To know answers to all these and to many more unsaid, do grab your copy of UNTAMED HEART, and race through the 324 page novel packed with woman-power. Kudos to Mona for the unique plot and theme, for enriching the story with a mass of relevant inputs, for creating the right atmosphere from scene to scene, and for being photographic in detail wherever demanded, and for her narrative skills.
By U. Atreya Sarma, Editor Muse India.
Dawn-drops is a collection of poems, published by Writer’s Workshop, India