Reading-a way of lifeReading-a way of life
Sunil Pokharel is one of the pioneers of modern Nepali theatre. He has directed more than 40 plays and five tele-serials in his nearly four-decade-long career. In 2000, he established Aarohan Gurukul, the first drama school in the country. Pokharel is currently running, Gyan—Discover with Sunil Pokharel, a three-month-long self-discovery course for youths at Anamnagar, Kathmandu. The Post’s Anup Ojha caught up with the artist to discuss the importance of reading for a theatre artist. Excerpts:
What are you presently reading? What is it about?
I am currently going through three books. The first one is King of Ithaca, by Glyn Iliffe. The book is a fictionalised account of ancient Greek mythologies.
The second one is The Palace of Illusions, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. The novel retells the Hindu epic Mahabharata from the perspective of Draupadi. The other book I am going through is Stireg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played with Fire, a crime fiction.
How did you first come to love books?
I spent my childhood in my village in Khotang. Growing up, I felt fortunate to have been born in an educated family. My father was headmaster at a primary school and he would come with chunks of books—Hindi and Nepali fiction. I didn’t have many friends during my childhood, so books, naturally, become my intimate friends. If you have a lot of books in your house, then a child automatically develops a reading habit.
Who were the first authors from whom you started developing reading habits?
I started reading with Lal Hira's stories; all were the work of fantasy. I also read Bir Sika and Bir Charitra’s books of chants and fantasy. I read Indrajala—Indra’s net, magic deception and fraud—in class eight. I read all those books at a young age and they left a lasting impression.
What led you to read such books?
I wanted to read and see what these books were exactly about. After intensive search and inquiry, I got those books from one of my friend’s friend in high school. He probably sneaked it from his father’s collection.
Who are your favourite writers?
There are many contemporary Nepali writers whose work I read and like a lot, but I don’t want to take names here. For classic Nepali literature, however, Shankar Lamichhane, Indra Bahadur Rai, Laxmi Prasad Devkota and BP Koirala’s writings always fascinate me. I also love reading William Shakespeare. Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen is also one of my all-time favourites. Russian playwright and author Anton Chekhov and French dramatist Jean Anouilh are also my favourite writers.
What is your favourite genre?
I love to read both fiction and non-fiction. I like reading memoirs as well. Till date one of my favourite memoirs writers is late Dha Cha Gotame. I feel honesty in his writing.
Why should one read? How important is reading for a theatre artist?
Reading is a choice. I believe reading widens one’s mind set and helps people to be open to everything. It helps to gain more experiences in life and helps us, in some ways, to be good human beings.
In theatre, one has to portray different roles. For that, a lot of research is required. Reading is essentially important to learn more about the role you are playing, and about the author, his time and why he has used certain dialogues. If you don’t read and research, there is no way you can understand the character and the role you are playing. Sometimes an extensive research is needed in pulling off a drama. For example, when we performed a drama Naya Premi, we collected pictures of the real characters so that we could get into the skin of the character and perform the roles successfully.
How do you evaluate the reading culture among Nepali theatre artists?
Compared to the past, not only among theatre artists, the reading culture has significantly increased among the youth people. They are more interested in reading and learning. We are living in a global world and this is a good sign for Nepal, not just Nepali theatre.
How do you select books to read?
Basically from book reviews and friend’s recommendations. Sometimes I heed to my son’s recommendations as well; he reads a lot.
What would your life have become if there were no books?
For me life without books would have been fruitless. I don’t really go out much and socialise, so books have always been great company. Whatever I have done in drama, it is because of books. The wealth I have earned throughout my life is books. I wouldn’t be saying too much if I said I wouldn’t have been what I am today if it weren’t for books and my reading habits.
Your advice for young people to acquire a reading habit…
You have to first find where your interest lies, and then go beyond it.
Read whatever comes in your hand. For young theatre artists, my advice is the same. You need this tool to hone your skills—if you have to play the role of a doctor then you have to learn about medical science. Trust me, once you acquire a reading habit, reading becomes your way of life—you won’t be able to live without books.