Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Varanasi connection

Varanasi, the historical hub of political thinkers and writers, has been pivotal in shaping the political and literary history of Nepal. Since the times of the Rana regime, Nepali scholars have found this small town in Uttar Pradesh, India a most suitable place for education. Educated Nepalis, large in number here, were heavily involved in Nepal’s political dialogue and outspoken against tyranny in speech and writing. Their activities formed several organisations which represented the voice of Nepali people.
In this hub of political dynamism, a couple—Ganesh Bahadur and Vishnumaya Shrestha—were exiles who had left their hometown Bhaktapur to escape the Rana regime’s atrocities. In Varanasi, they gave birth to a child and named him Kashi Bahadur, inspired by his birth in Kashi, the other name for the same town.
This son of exiled Nepali parents later became an important literary figure that made great contributions to Nepali language and literature. He published Udaya magazine in Varanasi, a respite for Nepali writers as writing and publishing were   considered seditious by the Ranas in Nepal. 
 Since its inception in 1937, the magazine has withstood major social changes within Varanasi and Nepal. Few students today, for instance, consider Varanasi for education and tourists flock the ghats of Ganga instead. India’s neo-liberal developments too have trickled into Varanasi, but the city retains its identity as a centre for religious pilgrimage.
In Nepal, the political changes of the 20th century opened up education and employment opportunities and only a few Nepalis went to Vanarasi for higher studies. Democracy in the 1990s made publishing easy, reducing dependency on Varanasi. All of these changes did not hamper the publication of Udaya, a non-profit publication. Other magazines in comparison, died down due to low finance and social change.
Kashi Bahadur lived for 78 years and his magazine, already in print for 52 years, was continued by his eldest son Durga Prasad Shrestha. At the age of 72, Durga Prasad is wholeheartedly devoted to the editing and publishing of Udaya—a magazine with historical value for Nepali literature. Shrestha says, “I want to continue working for Udaya for my love and respect for Nepali literature that I inherited from my father.”  Shrestha had been busy organising a literary programme to mark the birth centenary of his father recently. After the successful completion of one leg of the programme in Vanarasi, he came to Kathmandu to participate in Nepal Academy’s celebration of the same occasion.
Pursuing the legacy of his father, Shrestha has been active in writing literary books. He has published five novels and other books, which include anthologies of poetry and short stories and a book of literary criticism. A graduate in Hindi literature from Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Shrestha writes in Hindi with equal mastery. He has published a novel, short stories and a travelogue in the language and has been considered as being award-winning. “I started writing in Hindi as a young student. It was easy for me to publish my Nepali writings because we had Udaya but publishing Hindi articles was a real challenge,” says Shrestha who wrote for the local Hindi newspaper Aaj.
Capturing complex human relations in simple language is what Shrestha has mastered in his lifetime. Influenced by Indian writers like Premchand, Bhagawati Charan Verma and Dharma Veer Bharati, Shrestha equally admires the writings of Somerset Maugham and T.S. Eliot. His novels Shesantar, Koselee, Bhagyarekha, Uskaa Antahin Kathaa among others depict the lives of Nepalis who live in Kathmandu and Varanasi. Shrestha’s familiarity with both places gives him the ability to depict Nepali lives in these two locations.
In Kathmandu, people also know Shrestha as the writer of the first Nepali film Aama—a film that attempted to popularise the Panchayat agenda. Also assistant director of the film, Shrestha, while working as section officer at the Information Office at the time, was approached and funded by the government to write a script for the film. When asked about the politics behind the job, Shrestha claims of never being interested in politics. “I worked in the office of information because I needed a job at the time. After leaving the government job, I returned to Varanasi to write and edit for newspapers and magazines,” he says.
Shrestha feels proud to be handling Udaya, a magazine that has often published writings of legends such as Siddhi Charan Shrestha, Bal Krishna Sama, Bairagi Kainla, and Kamal Mani Dixit. These writers have spoken highly of this magazine and in Kashi Bahadur Smriti Grantha, Siddhi Charan Shrestha has applauded Kashi Bahadur’s efforts in running it. Writers from all over India and Nepal contribute their work to Udaya assuring a constant traffic of articles.  
His career in writing and editing continues till this day as he is stationed in the Dudhvinayak Mohalla of Kashi, living in the same house that his father built. In his 70s, Shrestha remains busy working in many literary and social organisations. But these activities aside, the task of paramount importance for him remains giving continuity to Udaya—an insignia of Nepali-speaking people in India.
Posted on: 2011-11-19 09:35 (The Kathmandu Post)


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