Quality over quantity
Dec 16, 2017-
Bhagirathi Shrestha is a writer with a soft spot for poetry and fiction and is renowned for her short stories. Shrestha, whose works include popular stories such as Kramasha, Mohadangs, and Bhumigat, has been writing for more than five decades. She is known for depicting various dimensions of social reality and capturing the agony of people through her narratives. In this conversation with the Post’s Samikshya Bhattarai, Shrestha talks about her works, inspirations, and her journey. Excerpts:
You started your literary journey more than five decades ago, at a time when there weren’t many female writers. How did you break into the literary landscape?
Writing has always been a passion of mine. As a child, even when I had very little knowledge about literature, I used to write a lot. Writing was a tool for expressing my emotions and pouring out my feelings. With time, I started sending out my works for publication in local newspapers and magazines. As my stories started appearing in print, I felt motivated to further pursue writing.
My real literary journey, however, only began once I came to Kathmandu from Gulmi to pursue higher studies. I got the necessary exposure through books but also through other emerging writers of the time. Back then, there was so much inspiration in this city and it pushed me to start writing sincerely.
A significant number of your works portray the struggles of either a newly married woman or a new mother. Is there a specific reason to why these characters are always central to your writing?
Though I have also written stories from the male perspective, being a woman, the inclination towards female protagonists comes naturally. The experiences that women go through once they get married and once they give birth, I believe, are shared. It is, more often than not, a story of more than just one woman.
Because I have been there myself, it is easier for me to put light into those issues and experiences. As a female writer, it is easier for me to capture the true essence of being a woman. I believe that it is very important that the stories you tell stem out from the reality that you have seen, heard, and lived through. And if women don’t tell the stories of women, who will?
Your stories also revolve around suffering and agony. Is there a reason why?
For me as a writer, it is very important to have plots that are complex and have some sort of emotional or social struggle at the centre. We are all humans with our own share of grief, and any story that taps into that side of the human nature easily entices the readers. It gives a sense of connectivity.
I feel that stories that are not based on social realities do not engage readers as much as stories that reflect the lives around them do. Struggles and complications are realities that we cannot escape and when we read or write about them, it feels fairly cathartic.
You write poetry as well as prose. Which genre do you enjoy the most?
I love writing in general so I have a soft spot for all genres. But I think being a keen observer of life and its many dimensions, I tend to write more fiction than I write poetry. I personally feel like it is easier to reflect the realities of life through short stories. Besides, short stories also provide the writer with much needed creative freedom. You can just pick up a real incident, draw inspiration from it, and turn it into a story.
What for you is the crux of a good short story?
The most important aspect of story writing has to be the plot. The plot determines other aspects of the story such as its characters, its climax, and its flow. And when it comes to plot, I like to base it on social realism. I feel like we should always write stories that we can relate to, rather than writing stories that stem out of just the imagination.
Symbols also play a very important role. The use of various symbols and metaphors allows the writer to explore and write their stories more creatively. It is equally important to have clarity in terms of character development. The writer should not impose their judgment on the characters and change the characteristics without any explanation to the readers.
You also have a collection of stories for children. How is writing for children different than writing for adults?
Writing for children is definitely more challenging than writing for adults. The children are quick to learn and have the tendency to believe whatever they read, so it is very important to be aware of what you are writing when you write for children. Also, it is important to know about the child psychology. I think the most common mistake that authors writing for children make is that they impose lessons and morals directly, rather than subtly incorporating them in the plots. It is important that you are creating an opportunity for children to learn and not impose anything on them.
How do you think Nepali literature scene has changed over the decades?
I think the Nepali literature scene has gone through significant changes over the years and more so in terms of women in literature. When I started writing, there were only a handful of female writers but the number has increased today. The other good news is the increase in readership—the number of readers has gone up too. While it was very difficult, if not impossible, for writers to make a living out of writing before, it has now changed for good. The writers also have enough room to experiment with their style and genre today.
But I do feel that with the rise in readership, the writers are being more impatient. Some of the writers today write just for the sake of publishing their work, which I think is a step backward. Quality of writing is more important than the quantity.
Published: 16-12-2017 09:19