Exploring potential

  • Nepali writings in English deserve credible stories of the nation’s struggle against the odds
- Atul K Thakur
Exploring potential

Oct 20, 2014-

The oft repeated term ‘Indian writing in English’—which is itself a quite difficult construct to decode—made me think: whither is Nepali writing in English going? Does it really exist as holistically and completely as claimed, or is it disguised through a few noticeable and the rest passable works of literary merit? Moreover, does it really have the backing of tradition? These queries might be unanswered, as the narratives of writers and critics are unusually woven in soft threads to the level where question marks would not really end as more than a set of weak propositions.

It has been truly customary to spot a few predictable names of writers and their works of fiction while delving into the state of affairs of English writing in the Subcontinent in general and of creative writing in particular. This signifies the flawed way of looking at literary developments in Nepal, which otherwise has, in patches, an impressive history for recollection.

Literary hibernation

It would be wishful to say that Nepali literature should be seen in totality, instead through a set pattern of narrow segregation, which undermines literary pursuits that have grown up to the national and international level over the decades. Noticed by literary critics but not equally reciprocated by readers en masse, the stream of Nepali writing in English started with poetry that came into prominence as early as the 1950s, with the English writings of poets like Laxmi Prasad Devkota. His seminal Shakuntal, an anthology of poetry, made an impressive foray into English poetry writing. Sadly, Devkota’s fame from his English writings was short-lived, consigned to oblivion instead.

Not common placed, Mani Dixit’s tryst with fiction writing in English too gained little prominent place in the Nepali literary scene. He wrote more than half a dozen books, mostly forgotten now, except in their occasional bearings on journalistic fact-checking and musings. Following the much aped trend of the 1960s and 1970s, he wrote on the anti-system culture of hippies in his novel Red Temple.

Since, in the lack of a literary tradition, there were almost no significant happenings till the 1990s. For over the next two decades, Nepali writers in English kept themselves in painful hibernation.

Remarkably, again in the 1990s, poetry made headway and poets like Ramesh Shrestha, Tek Bahadur Karki, Padma Devkota, Abhi Subedi, Dil Bahadur Gurung, and others broadened the literary quest, vis-a-vis the crucial political changes the country was undergoing through. In recent years too, poetic activities have been more active than prose writings in Nepal—but the limelight has remained elusive. Thus, few know the scores of contemporary Nepali poets writing in Nepali or English, as they wield little influence when compared to the ‘hyper-celebrated non-resident’ writers.

Elusive limelight

The writers placed in the second category mostly write in ‘first person’ narratives and exude their linkage with the country’s power-nerve, in the process of which the actual significance of their works does not get passed down to common readers. It is true that those writers brought international exposure to their texts through the same channels, but the heavy amount of ‘hype’ that came unintentionally has been feeding the growing appetite for literary occupations in the Himalayan nation.

Not beyond the obvious, Samrat Upadhyay and Manjushree Thapa are two well-known writers from Nepal—albeit, they both live outside their country and often appear alien to the plethora of activities in their homeland. Yet, an absence of fame of other contemporary writers awards them a clear edge. Surprisingly, this state of affairs has endured, even when the country has seen a tectonic shift in its politics and social structure in the last few years.

Rarely, though, we hear about other writers as well, and one of them is a seasoned Nepali journalist, Narayan Wagle, whose Palpasa Café was a valuable addition to the not well-diversified literary stock in Nepal. In its English translation, this book deserved to be read widely, but sadly has failed to attain that readership, despite having a moving tale from the Maoist insurgency days and a personalised account of a victim presented with a minimalist approach to look at the significance of the ordinary.

Privileged writings

Upadhyay’s Arresting God in Kathmandu and The Royal Ghosts, and Thapa’s Tutor of History, Forget Kathmandu, and A Boy of Siklis established a sort of a new wave of privileged writings. Those writings forged interest among the readers not only in Nepal, but in India as well. Thapa’s old books are now with Aleph Publications (an imprint of Rupa) and Upadhyay’s books too were published by the same publisher, which has a genuine interest in exploring literary potential in Nepal.

Many books of fiction and non-fiction are now surfacing. Prashant Jha’s Battles of the New Republic in an interesting first-person narrative and a line of upcoming short stories collections from new writers confirm the restlessness and high articulation of young writers in Nepal. They are better informed and better positioned to tell the world about Nepal and how it has been sailing against the odds—those odds were and are stiff, and shall be known precisely as ‘democratic impediments’.

The fall of the monarchy and the dismal delivery of the newly introduced, in-transition, republic has made people more agile than ever before for their positions in the changing times. Sadly, the literary occupations are still with the established writers, bolstered by their quantifiable involvement with letters. The letters hold power and that should be dealt sensibly, not from the angle of how important ones’ home address is and how the conflicts of the underbelly are seen from the comfort zone afar. Nepal deserves better in terms of literary writings, and certainly liberation from doubtful works.

Thakur is a New Delhi based journalist and writer

Published: 21-10-2014 09:24

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