The fate of Nepali writers writing in English
Over the past few years, reading culture in Nepal has grown significantly. Novels, short stories, poetry collections, anthologies of ghazals, travelogues, and non-fiction—focusing on the grave political upheaval and socio-cultural issues—have sprouted like mushrooms in the Nepali language. Conversely, Nepali writers writing in English seem to be very sparse. Apart from a few internationally eminent authors like Samrat Upadhyaya, Manjushree Thapa, Rabi Thapa, Pranaya Rana, and Prawin Adhikari, none of the others are widely read or even acknowledged. Rabi Thapa, along with other prominent writers and editors, is bi-annually publishing a literary magazine, La.Lit, giving a much-needed platform to the emerging writers. This small step, however, is quite innocuous when viewed from a larger perspective.
While the Nepali speaking world caters to limited readers in the country, English writing goes beyond the sphere, reaching out to a larger mass. Translations of old Nepali literature into English is fulfilling the same purpose. Translators such as Manjushree Thapa, Prawin Adhikari, Mahesh Paudyal, Balram Adhikari, Haris Adhikari, and Bikash Sangraula have been translating both prose and poetry into the English language. From translating the novels of Jagdish Ghimire and Dhurba Chandra Gautam to the stories of Dev Kumari Thapa and Indra Bahadur Rai, the translators have done a fair job in helping Nepali literature go beyond the borders. However, the quality of translation is sometimes questionable especially when it concerns poetry.
English writing in Nepal isn’t read less because the books aren’t good but because of the lack of proper marketing.
The Nepali writings in English have come and gone. A few like Rabi Thapa’s short story collection Nothing to Declare and recently his non-fiction, Thamel: Dark Star of Kathmandu, Prawin Adhikari’s The Vanishing Act, Pranaya Rana’s City of Dreams, Shraddha Ghale’s The Wayward Daughter, and Greta Rana’s Hostage have been received exceptionally well. Yet there are other writers whose copies are caked with dust and are still lying in the bookstores. Sushma Joshi is little known and so is Sheeba Shah, despite having some books to their credit. Also, many of the self-published poets and novelists are still toiling in obscurity. Their works have been read, and sadly, forgotten.
English writing in Nepal isn’t read less because the books aren’t good but because of the lack of proper marketing. It is also because of the lack of English readership. Yet even this can be vaguely true because the college-going youngsters prefer reading books in English rather than Nepali. However, they prefer to read international authors. Most of our Nepali writers writing in English remain in the shadow after publication.They are least bothered about marketing, unlike the Nepali writers writing in Nepali. They may feel that their job is to write, not to promote. On the contrary, the Nepali publishers too aren’t keen to publish books written in English as they don’t mint hefty money out of them. Because of this, these writers have to look for international publishers. To make a living as a writer in Nepal, one has to use the pen in Nepali, not in English. That is the unvarnished truth.
South Asian literature is flourishing not only in the country but beyond too, where writers have organized the literary get-together. In the past few years, several Literature Festivals were organized by one of the leading publishing houses, Fine Print, where hundreds of National and International authors flocked together. Such festivals have crossed the border of linguistic, cultural, and geographical boundaries. Along with the proliferation in its theme and style, Nepali literature written in either language also has multifaceted objectives in its creation. Issues of ethnicity, socio-cultural structures, identity, roots, and diaspora have become the mainstream.
We are not sure if the mushrooming books have a genuine literary flavor or can be called “literature.” Most of the chick-lits, travelogues, or the light reads found handy in roadside stalls are page-turners that lack the aesthetic appeal and hardly have a lasting impression on readers.
Besides the big gatherings, there are other small-time literature festivals for South Asians that are of equal brilliance. Poet Chirag Bangdel organized a two-day South Asian Poetry Festival twice. The festival was inclusive of Nepali writers and literary figures from Pakistan, several parts of India like Sikkim, Darjeeling, Goa, and Bangladesh. Likewise, poet Bhisma Uprety recently organized another two-day event, the South Asian Literature Festival.
Indisputably, readership in Nepal has proliferated over the years. And along with the readership has flourished the quality of writing and the sales of books. But whether this growth has fostered the Nepali literature is doubtful. We are not sure if the mushrooming books have a genuine literary flavor or can be called “literature.” Most of the chick-lits, travelogues, or the light reads found handy in roadside stalls are page-turners that lack the aesthetic appeal and hardly have a lasting impression on readers.
Additionally, the problem of why Nepali writing in English is not read widely is because the writers in English cannot strike the right chord that connects them to the readers or purely. Bibek Adhikari, a graduate student of English Literature who writes regularly in English, mentions that the problem lies in reception. Many of the readers from the far-flung places of Nepal don’t have access to English literature. Also, many lack the certain knack that is required when reading and appreciating literature in a language that is not inherently ours. He therefore pines that Nepali literature is always prominent, preferred by readers, and thus has more market value.
Every time I have been a part of some literary programs, my mind is swarmed with questions, seeing the repeated faces more that of glitterati than literati. As an everyday observer, a novice reader who has spoken in a few literary programs, held a handful of panel discussions, and read some books, I wonder why “groupism” is so very clear in the Nepali literary circle. Why are authors so insecure? I have seldom read or heard even revered scholars talk about others’ books. Is it they are so self-centered that they read nothing else written by the contemporary writers at all?
One of the highly acclaimed faces even publicly admitted that he or any other Nepali writers hardly read other Nepali writers, for they consider it odious to their ego. Ask a writer about their favorite author, they hardly name any contemporary writers. Is it only Madan Mani Dixit, Devkota, Bhupi Sherchan, Parijat, and the likes they read or can discuss? Do they consider none of the contemporary counterparts worthy enough to read?
Most of theseOne of the highly acclaimed faces even publicly admitted that he or any other Nepali writers hardly read other Nepali writers, for they consider it odious to their ego.
Most of these writers become so actively “people-friendly” only at the time their books get published. Are they so frantic to promote themselves? This shouldn’t be the case; they read most of the books but remain tight-lipped to avoid giving unnecessary footage or publicity to the other’s work. If there is a book discussion/promotion where the writer is present, along with him we see his cluster of fans, or should I say plainly, sycophants? Most of them defend the author or sing paeans of their authorship and look over the loopholes. And most of the time authors aren’t ready to accept the flaws if anyone in the mass points out one.
On another discussion or gathering or a book launch, it is once again a lot of unknown faces and plastic smiles. In one such Kodak moments, a writer was so bitter about the people sitting in the panel that she, in her frenzy, literally pent out her venom over another supposedly favored writer who was also a part of the audience. It was a program on Women in Nepali Literature and a ghastly sight to witness one woman verbosely attacking another—left, right, and center.
There is a fierce competition to survive, to be over the top, but I guess one cannot understand that it is the work that speaks volumes more than anything else. They cannot understand that the competition lies within the self and being bothered by others’ success doesn’t help. Good marketing is mandatory, and it seems the authors/publishers have to be in excellent books with the media too.
Similarly, literary criticism lacks balanced opinions. Either it is observed through a flattering pair of spectacles or in an unconstructive spirit. Until and unless there are solidarity and discussions amid the authors, and exchange of ideas, I’m afraid there will be any paramount change in Nepali literature. I, as a reader, feel sorry to see such a grim and sordid state of affair and wish the revered scholars give some thought to it.
Here’s a list of books by few Nepali writers writing in English.
1. Greta Rana —Guests in this Country: A Third World Fantasy, Hidden Women of Nepal, A Place Beneath the Pipal Tree, So Why not Sleep, Nothing Personal, Hostage
2. Peter J Karthak — Every Place, Every Person: A Himalayan Tale from Darjeeling, Kathmandruids: Monomyths and Meanymyths.
3. Manjushree Thapa — Forget Kathmandu, Tutor of History, A Boy from Siklis, The Country is Yours (translation of selected Nepali poems), Seasons of Flight, The Lives We Have Lost, All Of Us in Our Own Lives
4. Samrat Upadhyay — Arresting God in Kathmandu, Guru of Love, Royal Ghost, Buddha’s Orphans, Mad Country
5. Rabi Thapa — Nothing to Declare, Thamel: Dark Star of Kathmandu
6. Narayan Waagle — Palpasa Café (translated by Bikash Sangraula)
7. Pranaya SJB Rana — City of Dreams
8. Manan Karki — Memory of Leaves
9. Prawin Adhikari — The Vanishing Act
10. Sheeba Shah — Loyals of the Crown, Beyond the Illusions, Facing My Phantoms, The Other Queen
11. Prajwal Parajuly — The Gurkha’s Daughter, Land Where I Flee
12. Sushma Joshi — The End of the World
13. Amod Dev Bhattarai — Chapters (translated by Prawin Adhikari)
14. Archana Thapa — Telling A Tale
15. Shraddha Ghale — The Wayward Daughter
16. Deepak SJB Rana — The Bending Reed, The Silent Flute, Shikari
17. Chirag Bangdel — Mist Around Stupas
18. Ishwor Kadel — Baya,(an anthology of poems), Echoes (novel)
19. Prakash Subedi — Stars and Fireflies (an anthology of poems)
20. Prakash Subedi, Keshab Sigdel, Balu Thapa, Sarita Bhattarai, Saraswati Lamichhane, Hem Raj Kafle — Six Strings (an anthology of poems)
21. Itisha Giri ed — These Fine Lines: Poems of Restraint and Abandonment
22. Maya Thakuri – of a lesser god ( translated by Damodar Sharma)
23. Manisha Koirala — Healed: How Cancer Gave Me a New Life
24. Nabin K Chhetri — Bini (an anthology of poems)
25. Barun Bajracharya — Sins of Love (a collection of stories)
26. Neeva Pradhan — The Best of Both Worlds
27. Bhuwan Thapaliya — Safa Tempo (an anthology of poems)
28. Madhav Khatri — Hope of Broken Hearts
29. Richa Bhattarai — Fifteen and 3 Quarters
30. Haris Adhikari — Like a Flowing River
31. Chetan Raj Shrestha- The King’s Harvest, The Light of his Clan
32. Shivani Neupane — Monica Pieces of Perfect
33. Arun Budathoki — Edge, Prisoner of an iPad
34. Mahendra Joshi — Rockin’ Rolin’ Rolpa
35. Mahesh Poudyal : Of Walls and Pigeons, Stories, Notes of Silent Times, (anthology of poems) and Silver Cascades
36. Anita Limbu Moktan – Reflections In the Mirror of the time ( poems and thoughts)
37. Sangram Lama – The Joy of Being Alive (Poems)
I wonder why the domestic publications don’t show faith in the upcoming writers willing to write in English. It is almost disheartening to see very good and promising writers having to look for foreign publications when the domestic publications keep entertaining very low average books might as well not be deemed as genuine literature. The individuals such as writers, readers, and publishers risk their time, money, and energy to promote books and help create a market in the non-friendly reading and writing culture.
We need to remember that we live in a country that does not offer a creative writing course; most established writers/poets love to write but don’t purchase and read books written by other writers/poets; most women writers depend on male writers’ endorsements before they launch their books and young readers dream to become full-time writers where a ‘book-buying culture’ is merely a utopia.
It is almost disheartening to see very good and promising writers having to look for foreign publications when the domestic publications keep entertaining very low average books might as well not be deemed as genuine literature.
The fact remains that we live in a ‘book borrowing culture,’ where people willingly spend more on beers and cosmetics than on buying books. The social, economic, and political problems are countless but encore to readers, writers, publishers, and critics who continue to cater to dreams of a better world through books. Not all the books mentioned above are worth reading but I strongly believe that the mediocre book writing is just the initial step towards quality book writing.
All in all, though the reading, writing, and publication of literature has flourished in the Nepali language over the last decade, the same cannot be said to be true with the English writing in Nepal. Only a handful of Nepalis have been published in India and beyond, yet their books are not widely read and discussed. The reason is two-fold: writers writing inadequate literature and readers’ lack of command over the second language. If the Nepali writers writing in English can come up with books for the young adults, that will help in imbibing the habit of reading Nepali authors from an early age. Furthermore, the country needs more writers writing in English, exploring all the genres, and making “English reading” parallel to its Nepali counterpart.
The author is the founder and administrator of the online literary discussion platform, bOOkahOlics and an educator.