Thursday, August 29, 2013

State of the art : Nepali literature

‘I become frustrated when I think of Nepali fiction. We are quite backward compared to some new writers of other Third World countries, let alone the world-class masterpieces,” writes Narayan Dhakal in Mulyankan. Although Dhakal’s statement is debatable, coming from one of the leading fiction writers in the country, his observation cannot be denied completely either. He goes on to write, “The reality of Nepali society which we have recreated in our literature is so weak, lopsided, and far-fetched that it could never influence larger audiences.”
Although discouraging, this perspective should not imply that Nepali writers have achieved nothing. Indeed, new writers, who are well-versed in the latest literary trends prevalent around the world, have been experimenting and taking risks in their works. Writers like Yug Pathak, Buddhisagar, Rajan Mukarung, to name a few, have pushed forth fresh perspectives and new styles. Moreover, their work has crossed the boundaries set by hitherto existing literature—which often rang true to the tenor of the middle class or the elites—striving instead to represent the voices and woes of marginalised groups. Despite these advances, however, there still exist distinct problems that continue to plague Nepali literature. 
Less fiction, more memoirs
Writing fiction is a tiring and complex process. Given the size of the market and the returns an author gets in Nepal, fiction is a genre very few dare to grapple with. And even among these few, poor research and a lack of patience towards rigorous work results in low quality output. Nepali writers find it more rewarding—and seemingly less difficult—to write memoirs than fiction. “Memoir will become the most-read genre in the 21st century,” says Khagendra Sangraula. Although the life and times of Sangraula himself, as a master of his craft, might appeal to his readers, herein the question arises, would the memoirs of any given personality really appeal to readers?
Having read a good many memoirs myself, I’ve come to understand that in order for these works to be insightful and entertaining, they need to come from figures who not only excel at the craft of writing, but more importantly, have lived through the vagaries of life. And there also needs to be a gutsy, candid honesty about one’s own experiences. If you cannot portray openly the realities of how you have lived your life, what is then the point of writing a memoir? And further, if real-life events are not connected to broader social realities, the memoir risks becoming self-indulgent, squeezed into a too-narrow circle created by the individual. The memoir titled Pahad Jasto Baato Jasto Ma by Manjul is an example of this; although penned by a senior writer, the book is weak in terms of language and comprises of pages filled with what appears to be overly-emotional ranting.
Considering the difficulty of penning a quality memoir, it is safe to state that the blind inclination of young writers towards autobiographical writing in Nepal is not a good sign. Among other things, this inward focus on one’s own life also lessens the patience to research on various pertinent issues, which could possibly have resulted in new, more productive information.    
Media practice and literature
With the proliferation of the media after 1990, newspapers and magazines were soon taking on the services of many new writers. While this allowed writers exposure—not to mention incessant practice—it also restricted their willingness to go beyond that particular arena, breeding complacency. Indeed, this is visible even today where lack of constructive criticism, as well as poor editing, induces writers to become lazy, usually resorting to collecting their short pieces in anthologies or writing shoddy novels. Soon, the author becomes less and less interested in re-working and editing his work, too busy dreaming of becoming a market bestseller. And fortunately for him, the process of getting his book published, reviewed widely and positively in the newspapers, and listed as a bestseller is ridiculously easy in Nepal. This is how the unhealthy ties between author-media-publisher come into play.
Newspapers and magazines have become a space for bartering praises and coverage. Creating hype is effortless. Mr. A praises his friend B’s book, ignoring all its weaknesses, and once A himself becomes published, B pays him back with gushing eulogies in the media. The trash being produced and hyped in the Nepali market in this way could eventually discourage new readers, who today have the alternative of turning to better quality work from around the world.
Publishers themselves are focused not on the quality of writing, but on the authors’ status and their rapport with the media and journalists. This intimacy of the author with the media becomes more of an indication of the books’ eventual popularity, rather than the actual content. “There are many journalist-turned creative writers and they are unnecessarily hyped in the media,” says Govinda Bartaman, a critic. What Bartaman says does not apply to all journalist-turned writers, of course, but his observation also gives a nudge towards how the media-author-publisher tie has, in the long run, badly affected the Nepali literature scene.
Publishers without editors
A dearth of editors in publishing houses is also a contributing factor. Most publishers do not employ editors, citing good ones as rarities. But how can good editors be expected to emerge unless people with commendable literary sense and language skills are given a break?
An editor, who declines to be named, says, “I don’t reject books that come to me because I work on commission and these opportunities are very rare.” This editor does not ask any writer to rework the book even when it is necessary, fearing that in doing so, the writer may decide to take his work to another publisher in the future. This is another chronic problem that ails the Nepali literary firmament.
We could trace many more problems and achievements of Nepali literature—it is such a broad study. But, on the bright side, despite the many complications, the interest shown by young-generation writers in Nepali literature indicates a vast, un-mined potential. It is therefore important, especially for those who write for a living, to acknowledge their own limitations and strengths and to channel them productively.

Posted on: 2011-09-17 08:34 (The Kathmandu Post)


Post a Comment