Saturday Features

‘My love for literature outweighed my career aspirations’

May 12, 2018-

On the occasion of BP Koirala’s birth centenary in 2014, a nationwide-open Nepali essay competition was held. Over a hundred writers had submitted essays on BP Koirala’s place in Nepal’s cultural memory and in the end, Ram Prasad Panta’s work was declared the best. Born in Baletaksar, Gulmi in 1953, Panta studied Sanskrit from a young age and graduated in Shastri, a degree in Sanskrit, from Benaras. Since he returned to Nepal in 1976, he has been continuously involved in Nepali literature—be it writing for magazines or penning 28 books or establishing the literary magazine, Dayitwa. The magazine is celebrating its 32nd anniversary today, May 12. Panta sat down with The Post’s Abijeet Pant this week to talk about writing and his affinity for Nepali literature. Excerpts:

For someone like you who has penned 28 books, reading must have also been an intrinsic part of your life. Can you remember the first book that you read?

Until the fifth grade, I studied at a primary school in my village. There were no secondary schools around and attending even the nearest ones was not so easy. I was very mischievous and my parents were unwilling to send me to distant schools. They thought that studying with a pandit would discipline me—and that’s what happened.

As I recall, Laghu Kaumudi (the book of Sanskrit grammar) was the first book that I read. Not only did the first few chapters ignite my interest in Sanskrit language, but I also sensed a drastic change in my behaviour. Reading habit made me more sincere, and planted the love of literature, which still persists today.

As a writer, you have written stories, poems, travelogues, and novels. But among these, what do you hold closest to your heart?

I published my debut book Birano Basti, a novel, in 1987. After some years, I was referred to as a story writer as most of my published works were novels and stories. But today, out of my 28 published books, 14 are based on my journey across Nepal as well as other parts of the world.

So, I would say I am a travel writer; at least for the most part. I have been a travel enthusiast from a very young age and remain so today. Wherever I go, I want to capture the atmosphere of the time and place and writing allows me to do so.

Satya Mohan Joshi Shatabdi Samman (2016) and Uttam Shanti Puraskar (2015) are  some prominent awards that you have received. Particularly, is there any award that gave you a sense of inner satisfaction? 

For me, nothing could be more precious than being awarded a prize on BP Koirala’s birth centenary. When I studied in Benaras, though it was for a very short period, I met BP Koirala and used to live nearby him. He is my ideal person and his values, teachings, and love towards me have always inspired me.

It seems, people and organisations give me awards out of deference—I am after all quite old. People felicitate me easily due to my seniority or because they know me. Even most of those who critique my books have become my friends and acquaintances. But in that essay competition, the judges were kept anonymous. So, winning the prize for the essay was something I felt I truly earned. I felt I deserved it for my years of hard work and my respect for Koirala. 

Can you briefly put light on Dayitwa and Dayitwa Bangmaya Pratisthan, the literary foundation?

I, along with some friends, established the Dayitwa magazine 32 years ago. We all wanted to write and publish but we were not able to. So, we began publishing a bimonthly magazine and eventually went on to establish Dayitwa Bangmaya Pratisthan.

Today, hundreds of writers have used Dayitwa as a platform to write and publish. Our foundation has published 111 books and coincidentally, the 111th volume of our magazine is also in the works. 

Basically, our foundation aims to publicise the contributions of senior writers but it also welcomes writers of the next generation. Alongside our magazine, we also run a publishing house where we focus on publishing works by up and coming writers. As a way of encouraging writers, we also felicitate them annually.

The centennial issue of Dayitwa delves into the challenges of literary journalism in Nepal. In bringing up Dayitwa to today’s form, what have you been through?

To begin with, literary journalism does not have a commercial scope in Nepal. It requires hard work and sacrifices and is a labour of passion. To tell you the truth, until its 25th-26th issue, I had to allocate funds out of my own pocket to keep the publication alive. But today, we get advertisements, which are just sufficient to sustain the magazine.

Back in the Panchayat era, it was very difficult to register any organisation or publish newspapers. Despite procedural complexities we started Dayitwa but to register it, we had to wait until the advent of democracy in 1990. Likewise, civil servants like me, specially the gazetted officers, are not allowed to be involved in active journalism or any other organisation. Dayitwa had to be registered with Laxmi Panta, my wife, credited as the chief editor because of this. 

How did you juggle between your writing life and your civil service career?

I joined civil service in 1978 and my workplace was where I did most of my writing. As a section officer, I always had a pile of files to work through. Right after taking attendance, I would sort through the files which took me an hour or two and for the rest of the day, I wrote.

Along with this, running Dayitwa was also on my plate. Editing books, publishing magazine, organising literature programmes or attending them—I was perpetually busy. I was afraid that Dayitwa wouldn’t flourish, which is why I opted to work for those ministries that don’t have branches outside the capital. Had I taken transfer to remote areas and garnered enough credits, I would have been promoted to higher ranks within the civil service. So, you could say that my love for literature outweighed my career interest. 

Today, even though you are retired, you seem to busier than ever. What keeps you going?

I have grown busier than back when I was employed full time. I have to proofread and edit books, write my own, and run a publication as well as a foundation. Invitations from other writers and programmes come every now and then. And I also travel to places very often. So, for me, time is of the essence now.

It is my love for literature that energises me. I observe the world me and I am moved by many aspects of it. Until and unless I write about it, or keep on promoting the art of writing, I am not satisfied. Writing brings me peace. But as a senior literary journalist once said, “journalism is more like an unending tapasya (meditation) and we must never expect our god to be pleased!”   

Published: 12-05-2018 08:51

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