Print Edition - 2014-11-30  |  Free the Words

Writing in Angreji

  • Nepali writing in English seems to only have gained momentum after the 1990 Janaandolan
Writing in Angreji

Nov 29, 2014-

Laxmi Prasad Devkota started writing in English in the 1950s, followed by a long silence during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. During these decades, original writing in English was rarely produced, except for a few English translations. But with the 1990 Janaandolan for the restoration of multiparty democracy in Nepal, which put an end to the Panchayat and absolute monarchy, Nepal opened up to new possibilities in every aspect of life. One of these was the development of Nepali writing in English.

Nepali writers like Abhi Subedi, Padma Prasad Devkota, Mani Dixit, DB Gurung, and Laxmi Devi Rajbhandari have been writing in English since then. But Nepal’s English literary movement only gained momentum with the publication of Samrat Upadhyay’s Arresting God in Kathmandu (2000) and Manjushree Thapa’s The Tutor of History (2001). Since then, Nepali writers in English, whether from within Nepal or abroad, have earned critical acclaim, won literary prizes, and have been included on school and university courses.

History and development

Soon after the restoration of multiparty democracy in Nepal, Manjushree Thapa published her first non-fiction work, Mustang Bhot in Fragments, in 1992. Its publication became a harbinger of a new Nepali politics and society. But the true reflection of changing English writing was seen when Samrat Upadhyay and Manjushree Thapa came up with their fictional works. Both these writers gained popularity and were widely read at home and abroad.     

It was only after 1990 that a flood of writers emerged who wrote in English. One reasons was the official end to censorship, with the lifting of the ban on political parties. The first major anthology of poems originally written in English by Nepali poets is Voices from Nepal (1999). Similarly, two other important anthologies of original works, An Other Voice: English Literature from Nepal (edited by Deepak Thapa and Kesang Tseten, and published by Martin Chautari in 2002) and New Nepal, New Voices: An Anthology of Short Stories edited by Sushma Joshi and Ajit Baral in 2008 are notable collections of English literature from Nepal.

Besides anthologies of original works in English, there are individual works by Nepali writers in and outside Nepal. These include novels, short story collections, plays, poetry collections, and non-fiction works like essay collections, ancient tales, biographies, critical writing, and other prose works. Khem Aryal’s Kathmandu Saga and Other Poems, Padma Prasad Devkota’s Dawn Cycle and Other Poems, Sachendra Manandhar’s It’s All Written in the Stars, Abhi Subedi’s Chasing Dreams, Sangita Rayamajhi’s All Mothers Are Working Mothers, Mani Dixit’s Over the Mountains, Rajan Prasad Pokharel’s Rebels of the Mountains, Sheeba Shivangini Shah’s Facing My Phantoms, Samrat Upadhyay’s Buddha’s Orphans, Manjushree Thapa’s Seasons of Flight, Kesar Lall’s Folk Tales from Nepal: Myths & Legends, Archana Thapa’s Telling a Tale, and Sanjeev Uprety and Robin Piya’s IMAP Reader: A Collection of Essays on Art and Theatre in Kathmandu are some examples.   

Translations and new frontiers

One major trends of Nepali writing in English is translation. Devkota’s Muna Madan, BP Koirala’s Sumnima, Parijat’s Shirish ko Phool, Diamond Shumsher Rana’s Seto Bagh and serial publications of Kavita have all been translated into English. Three anthologies of short stories in translation are worth mentioning: Stories from Nepal, Selected Stories from Nepal, and Himalayan Voices: An Introduction to Modern Nepali Literature. The first two publications are pioneering works published by two leading academic institutions: the Royal Nepal Academy (now Nepal Academy) and Sajha Prakashan respectively. Such works have helped introduce Nepali literature to the wider world.

The legacy of both writing originally in English and English translation left behind by Devkota was well developed and practiced by Tirtha Raj Tuladhar, ML Karmacharya, Daniel Khaling, Kesar Lall, Taranath Sharma, Tanka Vilas Varya, Chaitanya Krishna Upadhyay, Dhruba K Deep, Madhusudhan Devkota, and Abhi Subedi. This practice has been continuously followed by Padma Prasad Devkota, Shanti Mishra, Shailendra Kumar Singh, Nagendra Shrama, Peter J Karthak, HM Ansari, Govinda Raj Bhattarai, Pallav Ranjan, Manjushree Thapa, and Tek Bahadur Karki. There are some other translators, such as Sondra Zeidenstein, Greta Rana, Michael Hutt, Larry Hartsell, Maya Watson, Yuyutsu RD Sharma, Wayne Amtzis, and Philip Pierce whose mother tongue is not Nepali but have contributed a lot to the field of English translation in Nepal.

There are also some literary and social organisations that promote English writing. Among them, the Literary Association of Nepal, the Society of Nepali Writers in English (NWEN), Martin Chautari, and the Asian English Language Teachers’ Creative Writing Project have contributed significantly to English writing in Nepal. In Pokhara, the Pokhara English Literary Forum-Nepal (PELF-Nepal) and the English Writers Association of Nepal have been active in this area for a couple of years.  

With the turn of the century, online publishers began adapting to the interactive and informative qualities of the Internet, instead of simply duplicating print magazines on the web. Nepali publishers with an eye on a potential readership in the millions started publishing online magazines. Apart from print and online activities, there are also live literary events. As such, the Kathmandu Literary Jatra was organised in Kathmandu twice in 2011 and 2012. Similarly, the Ncell Nepal Literature Festival has been held regularly since 2012.

Roads yet to be taken

Since 1990, creative writing in English has flourished well in Nepal. But it is important to initiate academic discourses on how and at what points English literature produced in Nepal differs from English literature in other parts of the world. Is there such a thing as Nepali writing in English? If there is, its form needs discussion.    

But Nepali writing in English has only gained momentum post-1990. There is much to be done. For now, Nepali literary works in English must be reviewed critically, looking particularly at how scholars and critics elsewhere have approached these standards. Various approaches to studying standards, distinguishing between developmental and social contexts must be identified. There is also a need to discern the relationship between local and global trends in writing, especially identifying recurring themes and techniques in the study of standardisation.

Pun is a lecturer of English at Prithvi Narayan Campus, Pokhara. This article is based on research in collaboration with the University Grants Commission

Published: 30-11-2014 09:58

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