Saturday Features

Write despite the odds, without excuses

Jun 16, 2018-

When Anita Tuladhar published her first story ‘Mero Manko Dhoko’ in 1967, she hadn’t imagined that it would have an impact on a renowned poet of the time. As soon as he read the story, poet Hari Bhakta Katuwal decided that he needed to see the author and visited her at Padma Kanya College, where Tuladhar was studying. Among the few things Katuwal had to say to her were to not limit her talent to a yearly magazine and to keep writing no matter what. In 1977, Tuladhar published her first story collection Fulu which was then followed by other collections such as Ritto Sahar, Surya Grahan, and Bidambana, within a decade’s time. However, she took a long hiatus from her literary career thereafter. The good news is that Tuladhar is ready to make a comeback with a novel and a poetry collection. In this conversation with the Post’s Abijeet Pant, Tuladhar talks about her love for writing and the ups and downs of her literary career. Excerpts:

You were born and raised in a traditional Newar family and even married into one. How challenging was it then to choose Nepali for writing over your mother tongue—Nepal Bhasa?

When I was in the ninth grade, I had to choose between Nepali and Nepal Bhasa as the supplementary subject for the SLC examinations. My decision to choose Nepali was very radical as nobody in my family had ever done that. My father didn’t entertain the decision. In fact, he discouraged me, saying that I would have a difficult time getting good grades. But I stuck to my decision. I was determined to do well in the subject and as a result, my affinity with the language grew. Not only did I start delving into Nepali literature, but I also studied Nepali until the graduate level. By then, I had already started publishing my stories. Later, I was married into a family where Nepali was an alien language to almost everyone. This meant that language-wise the environment was not ideal; I can’t say it was easy.

You are an occasional poet but mostly a storyteller. What draws you to fiction?

Writing a story gives me a sense of freedom which I do not find or enjoy in any other genre of writing, not even poetry. When you have a character in mind, a story provides you a platform to mobilise that character and bring it to life. You can build other characters around it, expand the setting, and create a whole new world with pen and paper.

Poetry, on the other hand, evolves from brief events that have an impact on me. In my poems, I try to portray events and characters that I occasionally come across. I use poetry to express my momentary emotions and experiences. My poems often run for a few lines or a full page at the most. That’s my limitation. My stories on the other hand can vary tremendously in length. There is less limitation and more freedom.     

Most of your stories echo a personal voice. Would it be right to say you write to make sense of the world?

Of course. My personal voice is one of the factors that make my stories stand out, and I write to reflect on and make sense of my surroundings. Once I get engrossed in a particular surrounding and indulge in the characters I see, I build a story that reflects my feelings about them. I spend a lot of time analysing the environment from multiple perspectives. And I find it very comfortable to write a story with a voice that is centred on my thoughts.

When you were writing during the Panchayat era, literature was an advocate for change. What role does it play today?

I started writing at a time when writing was a tool to catalyse socio-political change. It was a time when literature was used as a tool to evoke civic consciousness and political reform. My stories, however, have always been more social than political.

The role of literature, regardless of what time period, I believe, depends upon the consciousness of the readers themselves. If we writers can produce good literature and if the nuanced readers get hold of it, that is when the true magic of literature can be seen. But it is ironic that most good literature is inspired from the stories of the marginalised and the illiterate who can’t read and therefore can’t be influenced by what comes out in print. 

Can you tell us about your hiatus from literature? How easy was it to pick up where you left; what was the transition like?

I never worked on a book directly. I would write consistently, and get my works published in various daily and monthly papers. Once I had a collection of about 50 stories, I would then work on compiling them into a story collection and publishing a book. However, after I published Bidambana in 1989, I stopped writing altogether. Fifteen years of my life were dedicated to becoming a full time mother and homemaker. When I took a break from writing, I devoted my time to bringing up my children, settling our family in a new part of Kathmandu, and running the family.

When I resumed my writing, the transition was quite difficult. It was like starting everything from zero all over again. It felt like I had forgotten the art of writing and my books were already lost. When I tried to pick up writing again, computers had arrived and I was very reluctant to adopt the technology. I felt lost. I had lost my momentum.

Now, looking back, I feel that aspiring writers should not take long breaks. And women writers, especially, should not use family as an excuse. The situation has changed a lot and they must write despite all odds. 

How can the new generation of writers inspire themselves? What should they focus on?

If there used to be a time when the world wasn’t so mobile and the writers could patiently observe the world around them, it has all changed now. However, it’s not a drawback as such. The fast-moving world has made it even easier to build up your characters and settings. Let’s suppose that you live in a rented flat and share the building with so many other families. There are new characters and new stories emerging every day, that too right next door. The stories are everywhere and so is the inspiration. Moreover, with the evolution and accessibility of technology, writing and publishing too have become easier. The young crop of writers should acknowledge this and understand that time is priceless and there is no substitute to hard work.

Published: 16-06-2018 09:35

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