‘Nepali literature needs more attention and visibility in the world’: An interview with author/translator Mahesh Paudyal

Today’s interview is with Mahesh Paudyal who writes in Nepali and English languages and has published novels, stories and plays for children, and stories, poems, criticism, and novels for adults. A celebrated critic and translator, his translations include Dancing Soul of Mount Everest, a collection of modern Nepali poems from Nepali into English, Silver Cascades – a collection of Nepali modern short stories into English, Adhura Samsmaran (Unfinished Memoirs) of Seikh Mujibur Rahman from English to Nepali and many poems by Pakistani women writers. A recipient of Nepal Vidya Bhushan, Acharya Narendra Mani Dixit Gold Medal, Bimal Gurung Memorial Award, Paudyal also is the Executive Editor of Rupantaran, a translation magazine published by the Department of Translation, Nepal Academy.  

SS: How is the scenario of writing in English as well as translated literature in Nepal?

MP: It has been more than a century that English education started in 1881 in Nepal. Today, the number of Nepali writers with access to proficient literary English has become significantly high, comprising of scholars with education at home or abroad. With this, Nepali literature originally written in English, or translated from original Nepali, has increased dramatically over the past few decades. However, the collective dream of the practices to internationalize Nepal through literature has always been thwarted. One of the probable solutions for this might come if conscious efforts are made to root Nepali literature in unique Nepali experiences and knowledge so that beside delighting as all literature do, they might open a gateway into a new epistemological territory, which might draw the attention of the world and help Nepal internationalize Nepali literature. 

A few books translated by Mahesh Paudyal

Radha (A novel by Krishna Dharabasi), published by Xlibris, USA (ISBN 13: 978-1543470109) & Forty Years in the Mountain (Memoir, by mountaineer Lhakpa Phuti Sherpa). Lhakpa Phuti Trust ISBN. 9789937935104

Dancing Soul of Mount Everest (Representative Nepali Poems), published by Nepali Kalasahitya Dot Com Foundation (ISBN 978-9937-2-3657-7) & Silver Cascades, published by Book Hill, ISBN-10: 9937935105, ISBN-13: 978-9937935104

SS: When did literary writing in Nepal started? Tells us a brief historical background.

MP: Documented information shows Laxmi Prasad Devkota was the first Nepali author to write originally in English. His own Shakuntal was written in 1949, followed by Bapu and Other Sonnets, 59 essays and a play The Windows (Padma 2013). The trend did not find a good continuity, and there was sparingly any substantial works that came for two decades hence. With the onset of the nineties, the rise of novelists like Mani Dixit, and writers like Padma Devkota, Abhi Subedi, DB Gurung, Tek Bahadur Karki, Laxmi Devi Raj Bhandari, Dilip Rana, and others took the number quite high. The trend continued with a boom, successfully spearheaded by writers like Ammaraj Joshi, Manju Kachuli, Greta Rana, Yuyutsu RD Sharma and many more who are active till this day. Some childhood prodigies like Oscar Sapkota, Victor Sapkota, Jwala Dhakal are published authors and are working with new deliveries.

Outside Nepal, the past decade has seen a great rise in the number of writers. The trend that began with Samrat Upadhyaya’s Arresting Gods in Kathmandu in 2001, has continued without a break. With more works of Upadhyaya, novels of Manjushree Thapa have appeared, followed by works of Ammaraj Joshi, Rabi Thapa, DB Gurung, and others, published either from India or abroad.

SS: How about Nepali Literature in English Translation? Any landmark publications you would like to mention?

MP: Like original writing, English translation of Nepali literature also began with Laxmi Prasad Devkota. Besides rendering his own works, he also translated verses of Siddhi Charan Shrestha, Shyam Das Vaishnav and others. Though translated quite early, his The Lunatic and Other Poems was compiled and launched only in 2009. Among collections that qualify to the rank of ‘representative’ works, mention may be Nepali Visions, Nepali Dreams (David Ruben, 1980), An Anthology of Short Stories of Nepal (Kesar Lall and Tej R. Kansakar, 1998),  The Himalayan Voices (Michael Hutt, 1993),  Selected Nepali Poems (Taranath Sharma 1999), Selected Nepali Essays (Govinda Raj Bhattarai, 2003) Contemporary Nepali Poems (Padma Devkota, 2000), Manao Secret Places (Manjushree Thapa and Samrat Upadhyay 2001), Selected Stories from Nepal (Govinda Raj Bhattarai, 2004) Stories of Conflict and War (Govinda Raj Bhattarai, 2007) Rebel: Stories of Conflict and War from Nepal (Ramchandra KC, 2011), Dancing Soul of Mountain Everest (poems, Mahesh Paudyal, 2011), Representative Anthology of Contemporary Nepali Poetry (Govinda Raj Bhattarai, 2014),  The Himalayan Bard (poems, Mahesh Paudyal, 2015),  Sangam: Contemporary Nepali Poetry in Translation (poems, Haris Adhikari, 2018),  Voice of Nepal (poems, many translators, 2019) Silver Cascades: Timeless Stories from Nepal (stories, Mahesh Paudyal, 2019) etc.   

There are many individual works that have been translated into English – around two hundred in number.

SS: Do you think Nepali literature is getting exposure as needed?

MP: A huge body of Nepali literature is now available in English. However, for the global literary community, Nepal literature, as, Theodore Riccardi says, has remained by and large “unknown”. Most of the major university curricula for literature do without a mention of Nepali literature. Barring a few individual writers accommodated for an individual piece of work, no major body of Nepali literature finds representation in major anthologies and journals. Books like Master Works of Asian Literature in Comparative Perspective (Barbara Stoller Millar, 1994), Dislocating Culture (Uma Narayanan 1997), Modern South Asian Literature (Paul Brian 2003),  Modern East Asian Literature (Jesua S. Misto 2003), How Poets See the World (Willard Spigilman, 2005), Inter Asia Cultural Studies (Kuan Sing-Chen and Chuwa Weng 2007), Asian Poets (Rosemary M. Kenfield Remesmann 2012), Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature (Peter Hunt, 1996) do not make even a mention of Nepal.  This summarily means, we have not been able to draw the attention of the world.

Our literature so far, both in English or Nepali, has either been about the universals (which no longer attract the Google generation) or has been overtly critical of the past. Consequently, our past, with so much knowledge and glory, has always been sidelined from our mainstream literature. As a result, our mythology, cultural glory, scriptural and philosophical poignancy, folk and rural experiences and indigenous Nepali epistemology, has not found adequate entry into our literature. 

What could be done to promote Nepali literature in the world?

Anything stale, strewn with overused and anemic metaphors will not be palatable anymore. Nepali literature, in order to draw the world’s attention, should turn towards its own cultural, mythological, indigenous space. We probably can do so by reinventing our past glory—by launching a ‘romantic renaissance’ of Nepali version, or by directing ourselves towards exploring anything which will showcase a ‘Nepalipan’ as Samrat Upadhyay says. Like the colonies, we don’t have a ‘colonial’ experience. Our criticism should theorize this magical experience of remaining free even in the rife of colonization, and our literature should play this uniquely Nepali peculiarity of diplomacy–which, I believe, is provided by our culturally given power to negotiate with the empire and keep it at bay. Second, unlike the Western experience of crusades when any of the Semitic religions came face-to-face, Nepal, in spite of being home to three major religions of the world, namely Hinduism, Buddhism, and Kirat religion, have never faced a crusade or a religious war, and our literature should theorize this, which, I believe, hinges on the absence of conversion drives in our religions.

Given that the content has the Nepalipan we foreground here, writers writing originally in English should attempt to find publishers abroad. For works to be translated, bodies like (Non-Resident Nepalese Association (NRNA) or International Nepali Literary Society (INLS) can make a team of experts who first select the touchstones of Nepali literature on pure merit basis without bias, and hire professional and capable translators to do the translations. Such works, if promoted abroad, can secure us a big and respectable space in the global literary firmament.

The interview with Mahesh Poudel was done via email. 


Written by Dr Sangita Swechcha

Dr Sangita Swechcha is a Communications Professional, Researcher, and a Fiction writer. She has over 15 years of experience in international communications and media relations. She is a Guest Editor for Global Literature in Libraries Initiative (GLLI) and coordinating ‘Nepali Literature month’ – November 2019. She is a novelist and a writer who has written a novel ‘Pakhalieko Siundo’, a joint collection of stories ‘Asahamatika Pailaharu’ and a collection of short stories ‘Gulafsangako Prem’ in Nepali.

Forthcoming in English translations in 2020 in e-book formats first: A novel ‘Pakhalieko Siundo’ and a collection of short stories ‘Gulafsangako Prem’, titled in English as ‘The Rose: An Unusual Love Story’ (looking for international publisher/s for publishing print versions of these books). Her twitter handle: SangyShrestha. Email: sangyshrestha@hotmail.com Connect on Facebook.

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