I’m Dipika Kohli. I publish my stories here. This is Kismuth Books.
A writer’s life: Part I, ‘Seeking the concept’
The early days were fluid, artwise. Exploring and doing what I felt like. Art, writing.
Writing since I was six, and making poems since I was even younger, I started publishing my own stories in 2012 with a true memoir, The Elopement. It took ten years to really get the feeling right to tell it, tell it straighforwardly, and put my most important lessons learned into it, too. How much is too much to trade for a promise of love?, the book asks.
The same year, I gave a TEDx talk, ‘There’s Not That Much Time Left’. See ‘short talks’ at my dipikakohli.com. So many things came from that, in the thinking up the thing I wanted to say, if I was going to make a speech or something like that, there. I’m not new to speechmaking; I ran for Student Government and won the Vice President spot in high school, and was in two contests for Japanese language speechmaking (I won one, lost one) in the 90s. But this was different. I wanted to talk about…something that would be a summary of all the things I felt and needed to speak about, I felt. I naturally brought up the story of 1985, in that talk. Which I wrote later, in Kanishka. Realizing it all now, looking back on these thirty years of using words to work out the feelings, I see the theme has become very clear for what it is that constitutes the thread running through all of Kismuth’s books. ‘What is the theme of your work?’ a professor had once asked. I know now. It is this.
Time, and Self, held in an instant of it: will I take a risk?
It was a long time ago but I remember the speech I launched into, unexpectedly, and holding the attention of a bunch of MFA students and the professor, too, who couldn’t stop the flow. I was talking. I was talking in the way I talk when I talk about what matters to me. It’s a thing. Passion. If somewhere, sometime, in thismdment there is a person who wants to quell this or wish it gone from me, I feel unruffled. It’s them, not me, that doesn’t want to risk living the life they choose.
Which is what makes Kismuth so terrifying, I think. It’s about richly opting into the version of yourself you really wish you could be: and becoming it.
There’s not that much time left, I said in Raleigh-Durham on that stage in 2012 at TEDx. My hometown, home turf. It was refreshing and relaxing and just right to do, and make the choice, that same year, to get going. Myself. To actually leave. My own comfort zone. Again.
Not to elope. Not to go wok somewhere. But: to explore the horizon. And just do that.
A writer’s life: Part II, ‘Living on purpose’
I am writing this from Cambodia. I have been in Southeast Asia now for ten years.
Finishing my things in the United States meant going back to where I was from and looking at it all and making a decision for myself about what I wanted, next. Asia. Somewhere in Asia, I said. Let’s just up and go. And so, there was the long year of ‘Uncertainty’, to ‘practice the new, uncertain and different.’ Which led to new places, and new people, and opportunities that made up together, on the spot. Trading design for accommodation. Trading house painting for a room. Being open to possibilities, accepting the gift of discounted hotel rooms because the owners ‘like what you are doing and want to support this, in some way.’
I wrote Breakfast in Cambodia in 2016. This was followed by End of the Rainbow, Solitude, and Reality & Trust, which I put together in Vietnam during an unexpected 20-month stint of quiet ‘waiting for the pandemic to end.’
What is the theme of my work? More than just time and noticing it, instants of it, in moments that I describe at length, as a reviewer pointed out, in my stories, it’s about the risks we take on living on purpose. That’s the whole thing. That’s the center, right there.
What do you do with the time you have on this earth? What do you do with your life, and whom do you want to spend it with? These questions: of choices, of movement, of change, self-discovery vis-a-vis the status quo or tradition, are part of this set of books.
Before this, I’d worked for newspapers. Two years at a lifestyle newspaper upstart in southwest Ireland, and then two for a business trade daily in Seattle. Somewhere before and after that, I did articles in a freelance way for publications like J@pan Inc., AbroadView, Transitions Abroad, Urban Hiker, Evening Echo (Cork), Southern Star (West Cork), Displaced Nation, and a UK organization focused on talking out childhood grief. And columns over two years for Northwest Asian Weekly and Saathee Magazine.
Do not expect Kismuth to take you on a thrilling adventure of plot lines. But let yourself relax into the moments documented here, in which time and space blur into one another. And you can be. Just be. As and how you are in the loud quiet, apart from the expectations others put on you or that you put on yourself. To find out. For yourself. What makes you you, and love it.