Unraveling untold stories
Mar 17, 2018-
Born and raised in western Chitwan, Amar Neupane is a celebrated novelist and writer in Nepali literature. His debut work Pani ko Gham bagged the 2010 Padmashree Prize, while Seto Dharti bagged the 2012 Madan Puraskar. In this conversation with the Post, Neupane talks about what inspires his stories. Excerpts:
Can you put a finger on something from your childhood that might have shaped who you are today?
There is no one event or a book that shaped who I am today. I grew up in an environment that nurtured the reader and eventually also the writer in me. Growing up, my mother read me shlokas from the Gauri Khandakavya penned by Madhav Ghimire. It was a daily bedtime routine. I am sure the poetic essence had an impact on a child’s mind. My father was also an avid reader with a large personal collection of reading materials. Although he didn’t read to me or let me get my hands on his books, I’d secretly exploit his resources.
Which writer or work of writing has had a great impact on you?
Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala has had a great impact on me, especially his novel Sumnima. I just can’t get over the book, I keep going back to it. I have read it at least five times already.
You used to teach before you made your leap as a fulltime writer. What was the transition like?
Honestly, I had never planned to become a teacher. I only took the job because I needed a source of income. The experience, however, taught me a lot. In the twelve years that I taught, I learned more from my students than they learnt from me.
The transition happened when I got an opportunity to stay and work in Nepalgunj. I spent this time travelling and looking for stories which eventually inspired the content for my debut work—Pani ko Gham. Even then I was still a teacher on sabbatical.
I was very nervous about my first book, I didn’t know how it would work out. When it finally hit the shelves, I was overwhelmed with all the positive response that came my way. The Padmashree award that followed encouraged me and gave me the courage to dedicate my whole time in writing.
There is so much inspiration around us and so many subjects to tap into. How do you choose your matter?
It depends upon the intensity with which something moves me. It also depends upon how unique the subject matter is.
After my first work, I had realised that I really needed to write about the elderly people as there are not many stories that have been told about them or from their perspectives. It doesn’t matter what social class they belong to, the senior citizens have always been neglected. In an attempt to find stories that revolved around this group of people, I travelled to Devghat. Once in the town, I came across a different group of marginalised people whose stories had been swept under the carpet. I got to meet and talk to child-widows whose stories had to be told. It was not in the plan but I saw the gravity of the stories and eventually started writing Seto Dharti.
In a different light, Karodau Kasturi was inspired by my first hand experience with students and teaching. During my teaching career I observed how impractical our education system is. Neither innovative education nor the holistic development of students is ever paid attention to. Most schools are business-oriented and all teachers only care that they are there to make a living and nothing more. Little to no attention is paid to the environment we are creating for the students. Hence, I just imagined how Hari Bansha Acharya would have gotten through this kind of creativity-stifling education system and wrote a novel on it.
Your different novels have taken inspiration from different parts of the country. Is it safe to say that you are a keen traveler always on a hunt for stories?
Yes, I am always on the move. There are times when unexpected stories unravel, and I welcome them with open arms, but I always travel with a certain purpose. I only pack my bags once I know what I am looking for and where I can find them.
You are also a painter. How does one form of art inspire another in your life? What effect does your love for painting have on your writing?
Oho! I don’t paint anymore. It is a long story. There was a time when I was probably equally passionate about both painting and writing. I have actually exhibited my paintings in six venues already and one of them was a solo exhibit. Over the years, my drive for writing overpowered my interest in painting. I could not keep up with it anymore. I never had enough space for a studio in my rented flats and besides I had to keep moving, hence I eventually gave it up.
But, of course, painting has played a role in keeping my creative side ticking. It has also aided my writing. I believe that any writer should have basic knowledge of other forms of arts ranging from painting to music and theatre. All forms of arts have their way of stimulating one’s descriptive senses. Be it the play of colours or a movie scene, they inspire me to pen my imagination with littlest of sensory details. They help me breathe life into words.
Why do you write, what drives you to write?
First and foremost I write for my personal sense of satisfaction. I also write to justify my existence. I want to leave my mark in this world through my work. Writing gives me a purpose. I would not say my works have made drastic impacts in Nepali society, but I am aware that it has made some difference in many readers’ life.
What’s next in the pipeline?
I am working on a novel that taps into the psychology of adolescents. It delves into the cognitive development of teenagers. If every-thing works out, it will hit the shelves by April.
Published: 17-03-2018 15:44