A reader’s perspective: ‘A sneak peek into Nepali English writing’ by Uday Adhikari

Today, I have a blog by Uday Adhikari.

Uday Adhikari is a voracious reader, analyst, literature lover and a person who is always eager to share his knowledge and wisdom to literature lovers and alike within his country (Nepal) and abroad.

A sneak peek into Nepali English writing

– Uday Adhikari

Tracing back the history of ‘Nepali English writing’* is a very arduous job. Padma Jung Bahadur Rana’s ‘The life of Sir Junga Bahadur Rana’, a biography in English of the first Rana Prime Minister of Nepal, made the solid path for coming generations to venture into English. During the Rana regime, no common people could get as much privilege as the elite Ranas themselves. The page of Nepali English writing was left blank for a long while. Then came Laxmi prasad Devkota aka Mahakavi (poet laureate) with his full vigor to start many things afresh in Nepali literature as well as in Nepali English writing. Padma Jung’s was a political biography but it was poet Devkota who started literary writing and translating in English with such enthusiasm that his outburst compelled intellectuals erstwhile to not let go unnoticed of him. He aimed at spreading Nepali literature across the globe. His Tashkent (the Soviet Union then) speech well represented his motive. He translated some popular Nepali poets into English. He wrote Sakuntala, an epic in English that roughly follows the storyline of his Nepali epic with the same title. His epics, poems, and essays in English established him as one of the foremost pioneers in the Nepalese English writing history. Devkota seems to have been heavily influenced by waves of romanticism from poets like Percy Bessie Shelley, William Wordsworth, and the likes. Although the term ‘Clumsy’ is stuck with Devkota’s English as a literary stigma, it however works the opposite way. The new readers are encouraged to read Devkota‘s English writings to find what clumsy really means.

After Devkota, writers like Mani Dixit, Abhi Subedi and many more continued the legacy but this was at a slow pace. Unlike Nepal, our southern neighbor India has got a long history of English writing. The new generation of English writers from this region was clever enough to look beyond the national divide.

When I started reading English books from Indian writers, there was a hullabaloo of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children followed by a sudden outburst of a long list of masterpieces. My reading of Indian English novels and Narsimah Rao’s ‘Opening India to the rest of the world’ was a concurrence and I was one of the beneficiaries to reap the goodness of both worlds. The publication of Bikram Seth’s ‘A Suitable Boy’ in 1992 gave a necessary shudder to the English readers across the globe. A million-dollar signing amount for writing a book was a piece of news to unsettle the aspirant writers from South Asia, and Nepal was no exception. The news sent chills down the spine to many aspiring writers then. The big publication houses swarmed into India. Arundhati Roy’s big bang ‘The God of Small Things’, a Booker prize winner for 1997, was published at the same time. The publication of the book changed every order. The English speaking world started looking up at South Asian English writing from a different perspective. Nepal being close to India, danced then to the tune of Indian English writing that was taking the world by storm.

During the nineties, my days were filled with the excitement of reading Anita Desai, Bikram Seth, Rohinton Mistry, and Arundhati Roy. One day professor Durga Parsad Bhandari, a Nepali literature enthusiast and also well versed in English literature, wrote a long review in ‘The Rising Nepal’ daily on a travelogue ‘Mustang Bhot In Fragment’ and declared an advent of a very good English writer in Nepali literary scene. His article heightened my curiosity and for the first time, I came to hear about Manjushree Thapa. The year was 1992 when her book got published but sadly was limited to a closed group of erudite readers. It may be that the debutant book found a hard time traveling around the globe. Then, Samrat Upadhyaya came up with his first book ‘Arresting God In Kathmandu‘, an anthology of short stories. The book was published in 2001 and garnered good reviews and accolades. Reading about Nepalese writers in international magazines was a very proud moment for me.

The thrill of entering a new millennium was in the air and people were quite excited about the forthcoming developments. India had been making loud advancements in plenty of domains. The writers were scaling new heights and Manjushree Thapa from Nepal was trying not to miss the train of South Asian English writing. She fought back with her second book, her novel ‘The Tutor of History’, published in 2001 from Penguin. Comparatively a bulky novel, it helped in establishing the writer’s faith upon local content. And, it is probably a fine example of how a novel could be written in an international language with local content. In my view, the publication of this book changed the course of Nepalese English writing and created a milestone for many Nepali writers writing in English in the coming decades.

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*Nepali writers writing in English

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Editorial support: Jayant Sharma

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Jayant Sharma is a literary translator who works in the Nepali-English language pair. A translator and editor, Jayant Sharma also contributes as a writer to major national dailies and South-Asian journals regarding arts, literature, and culture. He is the editor and publisher of SATHI, an English literary journal that promotes Nepali literature through translation. Contact: jayant.catchme@gmail.com

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Presented 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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