Print Edition - 2017-03-08  |  The Collegian

Something to declare

- Post Report, Kathmandu

Mar 8, 2017-

Rabi Thapa, the editor of the literary magazine La.Lit, has written popular books like Nothing to Declare and the recently-published Thamel: 

Dark Star of Kathmandu. Also published in different anthologies over the years, Thapa is one of the leading Nepali authors writing in English today. In this conversation with The Post’s Samikshya Bhattarai, Thapa talks about his latest book, its inspirations and about the growing community of writers taking to English today. Excerpts: 

Tell us about your latest book Thamel and the inspiration behind it?

After publishing my first book Nothing to Declare, which is a collection of short stories with its narration set in Kathmandu, I got a little tired of fiction and the artificiality that comes with it. To retreat from simulation, I decided to try my hand at non-fiction. I was a bit reluctant to write about Kathmandu again but Thamel has always intrigued me in one way or another. 

Thamel is an enigma in itself. Even when it physically covers an area of just about two kilometers, it feels huge in our heads and occupies a lot of space in our hearts. While Thamel is a place that showcases the outside world to many Nepalis, it is also the first impression of Nepal for most foreigners that land in the country. Thamel is many things—a hub for youngsters, a sanctuary for vices, and the centre for many aspirations. It is an area where time stands still, yet two different eras keep crossing paths, where age-old traditions meet new trends. Hence, I attempted to unravel the history and unfold layers that Thamel is made of. 

What is ilike being an English language author in Nepal?

It’s not a conscious decision when you pick a language to write in. One writes in the language he or she is most comfortable in. I think I express better when I am writing in English and hence this is my language of preference. When you are an English language writer in Nepal, you become a subject to a preconceived notion that you are capable of writing about only superficial things that cater to a bubble within the Nepali society. I don’t agree at all. Most of the writers writing in Nepali write about social issues, while many English language writers write about things that are not necessarily common social problems and sometimes even weird things that happen to very small group or at very rare instances. But that doesn’t mean one can or should generalise and judge without foundation. I welcome critique and reviews, but one challenge of being an English language writer is that you become victim to unnecessary and generalised criticism, and that is just not fair.    

How has writing and readership for English language in Nepal evolved over the years?

The number and involvement of both writers and readers has definitely increased over the years, but the growth is still not as exponential as I expected. Back in 2011, the English language literature scene in Nepal was moving forward at a really good pace. In fact, there were Indian publishers and new publishing houses that showed interest in publishing books by authors like me. But, in less than couple of years, all the hype has fizzled out. However, of late, I have noticed that the English language literature scene has revived itself again. More and more young writers are aspiring to write in the language and it is definitely a good sign. 

The Nepali language literature has a large readership and various support systems and literary organisations of its own; do English language litterateurs enjoy the same privilege?

Nepali is our primary language with a long history of its own, and it is a wonderful thing that the government supports the community. But English language literature is only just evolving and still in its very initial stages. We don’t have literary organisations that solely focus on the language but there are few closed communities that I have heard of. 

La.Lit has over the years been able to form a community of its own for both published and aspiring writers. We have been able to provide platforms for celebrated writers like Pranaya Rana, Rajani Thapa, Smriti Ranjit among others through it. It is an unofficial community but the support system is growing stronger with time. 

What do you think is good writing? What makes a good writer?

People have their own taste and ideas when it comes reading therefore the definition of good writing varies across readers. I would say that there is no certain formula that gets it right when it comes to writing. The only thing a writer should be concerned about while writing is whether their work is engaging enough for readers. Good writing should draw the readers and engage them regardless of their interest. My triumph as a writer would be making a person who is not remotely interested in my book curious about it. 

I also think a good writer should be a good reader and listener first; and remain open to new ideas and knowledge. Also, anyone aspiring to be a writer should not be rigid with their idea and expectation of being a writer. It will only limit their imagination and capability. One also needs to develop their skills and practice their craft regularly to be a good writer.

What authors or books do you recommend for readers who are interested in exploring English language literature in Nepal?

Even though it may seem a bit biased, I would say to grasp good sense of English language literature in Nepal one should follow La.Lit as we have many writers and editors who represent the current literature scene. We also have two short-stories anthologies, as well as many books that make for good reads; and our upcoming edition is very promising. We also have translations of many Nepali literary works by not just popular Nepali authors but also by marginalised and still-emerging story tellers. 

Published: 08-03-2017 08:44

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