Yogmaya is one of the most interesting characters in Nepali history—an early 20th century poet turned social activist who went to found the first women’s rights organisation, and then led 60-something of her followers to a mass suicide. This fascinating persona is the primary character in Yogmaya, novelist and poet Neelam Karki’s recent Madan Puraskar winning novel. Karki, who writes under the nom-de-plume Niharika, is the author of books such as Beli, Hawaan and Cheerharan. In this interview with the Post, Karki talks about the book that won her Nepali literature’s highest honour and her journey as a young woman interested in reading to the centre of the Nepali literary stage. Excerpts:
What led you to writing?
I got into the world of literature since my early school days. Whether at school or at home, I was always with a book. My inclination towards reading helped a lot with my writing. There is something about literature that takes you into an imaginary universe. I then ventured into writing through my school magazine. Getting my poems published was a big deal for me and it encouraged me further to delve into the world of writing. I realised that I enjoyed sharing my perspectives and if it was written well, people would appreciate it.
What pushed you to become a full-time writer?
I always loved telling stories—good stories. There is nothing better than doing what you love. What fascinates me most is the thought processes of different characters within a novel. It is intriguing to be able to live so many different characters while writing fiction. There is a certain kind of independence and freedom attached to becoming a fiction writer.
You were shortlisted for the Madan Puraskar in 2016 too. How does it feel to win this prestigious award this time around?
Awards are never on your mind while writing. You write for yourself. If you begin to crave success and attention, you barely give a 100 percent to your work. If I had written any stories for the awards, it would have been a waste of my time and my love for literature. Having said that, it is my greatest honour to receive such a prestigious literary award for my novel Yogmaya—not as a writer but for the story. This award will probably raise expectations from readers but for me, it is a milestone and an inspiration to keep working and keep bringing more stories to my readers.
You have written many books in the past. What do you think is special about Yogmaya?
Yogmaya is very different from any of my previous work. It is one thing to write fiction but writing historical fiction carries much more responsibility. Born at a time when women were greatly limited within the boundaries of their family, Yogmaya was able to lead and inspire lot of people to stand up against an oppressive regime and the social norms of that time. She was able to see the root cause of problems and offer solutions to move toward a better future, not only for women but all sectors of society. When I heard about Yogmaya, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. It was a call that I had to answer.
Among all the books you have written so far, which book remains closest to your heart?
All of my works are very close to my heart, but I will choose Yogmaya, because of the inspiration and her iconic stature. It is clear that if you put your blood and sweat in something, the universe will work in your favour.
Every writer seems to go through ‘writer’s block’ at one time or the other. Have you ever faced such a situation and how did you deal with it?
I have experienced my fair share of writer’s block. When I come to a point where my plot is not moving forward or I cannot find the solution to the issue I am tackling, I try to distract myself by reading the work of others and coming back to my problem with a fresh set of eyes.Published: 2018-09-01 08:03:53