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    Posted on 16 September 2011
    CULTURE & SOCIETY  
    BOOKS

    Where the mind is without fear

    The Kathmandu Literature Jatra, in keeping with the traditions and culture of Nepal, affords a promising avenue for its writers, says Anumeha Yadav

    Kathmandu Literary Jatra, Nepalís first international literature festival, will be held at the Patan Durbar Square complex

    It has been long coming and Nepal has been waiting – space to express one’s mind without fear. The Kathmandu Literary Jatra, Nepal’s first international literature festival of its kind, that began on 16 September, offers just that. The festival will host 55 Nepali and 12 international writers and engage authors, poets and bibliophiles in readings, debates and workshops over three days at the Patan Durbar Square complex, a UNESCO world heritage site. The festival directors Suvani Singh and Pranab Singh talk about the brutal political past, a new dawn of freedom and why the Nepali novel on insurgency is yet to arrive.

    Suvani Singh

    Suvani Singh


    Can you comment on the change, writing has undergone since the time of censorship under the monarchy to the present day Nepal?
    The monarchy propagated a one-language policy and even after 1990, other languages were not recognised on the same level as Nepali. Nepal has over 100 different languages, so naturally, a lot of the voices were being gagged. The 2006 people’s movement has helped create a literary space for a variety of Nepali languages.

    Overall, Nepali literature had begun flourishing since the 1990 people’s movement and restoration of democracy. The freedom from censorship and a stifling political environment has allowed for Nepali writers to explore the medium of writing and storytelling. The decade-long insurgency forms a backdrop to many books written in this century. Many books from memoirs by ex-combatants to travelogues through Maoist-controlled areas to novels that utilise the insurgency as a premise have been published. And of course, scholars have written a lot about the causes and effects of the Maoist insurgency.

    However, we think the impact the insurgency had on people’s lives is something that we, as a nation, are still trying to understand. The violence, the bloodshed and the culture of fear were something many of us never expected. In this sense, the Nepali novel on the insurgency is yet to come and we all look forward to it.

    Why is the Kathmandu Literary Jatra simultaneously focusing on writing in English as well as Nepali, Newari and Maithili?
    One of the things we want to encourage with the Jatra is an inter-lingual discourse in Nepal between the languages spoken here. We believe that there is a lot to be gained by the language, literature, and ultimately, the people from such exchanges. We also hope that the Jatra will encourage more translations from English into Nepali languages and also among the various Nepali languages.

    We see Nepal’s future as a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual society and the Jatra, for that reason, will always be a multi-lingual festival. While practical sense dictates that the discussions be held in English and Nepali, the substance will be drawn from the literary traditions of several other languages.

    How does the Jatra place itself in Nepal’s turbulent political context?
    There couldn’t have been a better time to hold a literature festival in Nepal. At the moment, we have a unique space in Nepal to think freely, to express and discuss ideas. Such freedom of thought didn’t exist before. The Jatra capitalises upon this space and intends to expand this freedom. In some sense, this is already political for we believe in free thought and free speech, without being affiliated to any of the political parties or ideologies present in Nepal or India.

    For us, the Jatra is a space for political actors to discuss the merits and demerits of their beliefs and actions. It is a space for them to talk and explain where they come from and what they see.

    For instance, we have a session on student politics in universities and have invited student leaders from the three big parties to talk about whether student unions have any merit. We definitely are not afraid to address politics at a time when it is essential to the process of nation building. However, we wouldn’t let any individual or idea to hijack this free space either.

    Can you comment on the economics of publishing in Nepal? Is there enough going on to be able to survive as an author, or is it common for writers to have parallel careers?
    Part of our objective with the Jatra is to showcase the growing reading market in Nepal. There are now quite a few private publishing houses in Nepal that focus exclusively on fiction and popular non-fiction titles. A number of new publishing houses are bringing about dramatic changes. For instance, a relatively new publisher, Nepa-laya, was hugely successful in marketing and promoting Narayan Wagle’s book, Palpasa Café. The book came out in 2008 and has sold over 50,000 copies. Inspired by the success of Palpasa Café, a number of new books are being written and published.

    Making a living as writer is tough anywhere in the world, but there are people in Nepal who are already doing it. In this sense, Manjushree Thapa is a shining example, but not everyone can survive on writing and the majority of Nepali writers have parallel careers. But we are optimistic. This is the first time in Nepali history that so many of its people are literate and a reading culture is being established.

    How is India viewed as a market for Nepalis writing in English?
    Thanks to similar cultures and traditions, Nepal and India share a unique relationship. There are plenty of Nepalis who travel to India for fun, to study and to work and there are Indians who do the same in Nepal. It’s only natural that Nepali literature will find resonance with Indian readers. The same goes for Indian writing—there is much to be shared and learned from each other.

    Nepal has a relatively smaller percentage of English speakers and readers as compared to India. So, for Nepalis writing in English, India does represent a big market. The number of Indian publishers taking an interest in Nepali writers is rising. We hope that the Jatra will help increase this interest in Nepali literature not just in those writing in English, but also for translations.

    Anumeha Yadav is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.
    [email protected]


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    Posted on 16 September 2011
 

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