Voice to the voicelessFor someone who began publishing his writings only at the age of 50, Bhuwan Hari Sigdel has already a dozen Epic Poems and five novels, short stories and memoirs to his name.
For someone who began publishing his writings only at the age of 50, Bhuwan Hari Sigdel has already a dozen Epic Poems and five novels, short stories and memoirs to his name. A nominee for this year’s Madan Puraskar, for his book Aamoi, Sigdel is popular for his thought-provoking non-fiction works that give voice to the voiceless. In this conversation with the Post’s Samikshya Bhattarai, he talks about his book Aamoi and why reading is important. Excerpts:
How did your love for literature begin?
I was born into a Brahmin family where reading was highly encouraged; we had a lot of religious books and my father made me read one every day. It got frustrating at times and I even threw one of those books into a river once! But once I began school, I fell in love with short stories and novels. So much so, I would frequently come to Kathmandu from my home in Thankot to buy books at the Ratna Pustak Bhandar. Eventually, I was reading so much that I ran out of Nepali novels to read and had to branch out into books in Hindi.
As for writing, I never wrote much apart from my daily journal. Then, one day, I met a man who was returning from India after 15 long years with nothing to show for his toils there but the clothes he had on his back. I learned that he hadn’t been in touch with his family for all that while and was back in Nepal hoping to reunite with them. I was so moved by the story and had an incredible urge to write about it. That is how my writing career began.
Your book Aamoi was nominated for the prestigious Madan Puraskar this year. Tell us about the book and the inspiration behind it.
Aamoi is the story of my aunt, my father’s sister-in-law. She was widowed when she was just 14 and stayed with us in our home. She had taught herself to read and immersed herself in the Gita and other religious books, which was very rare for women of her time and age. Then, shortly after the birth of my younger brother, when I was 14, our father passed away. Even though we had our mother, Aamoi was the one that took care of us—we grew up in her shadow, my siblings and I. I believe we owe everything in our life to her. So, her death was a very hard thing to cope with. After her passing, I wrote few essays and published them and my friends encouraged me to convert them into a book. Aamoi was the strongest person I have ever known, so I wrote this book in the honour of her and her memories.
Most of your books are non-fiction and usually are based on one character of the society. What is the reason that all your books follow this pattern?
Every person is a book in themselves, so I try to write stories of real people. I am not much of a fiction writer, or even reader. I think we have so many stories within ourselves and our society that we should try to first explore those. Also, the central characters of my stories are always people who are disregarded by the society, who are always ignored by everyone else. I think that we have many stories about kings and rulers but not many about these people who are the actual reality of our society. So, I try to make people realise that these so-called outcasts of the society have the same human value as any other person in a society. I think this is my way of empowering these people whose voice are never heard.
You are also a poet. Which genre do you prefer writing more? Does poetry seep into your prose as well?
I think poetry is very hard to write. I usually write gadhya poems, which have a specific formula—you have to measure the number of words you are using and calculate accordingly. So, sometimes when you start to write about one thing, you finish by writing about a very different thing altogether. So, the poems that I write are abstract and can be interpreted in various different ways. On the other hand, writing stories or essays are much easier—I can write stories quicker compared to poems. But while writing stories you have to pay more attention to language, style, presentation and emotion, making it more complicated. But I think both are equally challenging and I love qriting in both the genres.
There are hundreds of books being published every year in Nepal, and it is not possible for a reader to read all of them. What for you is good writing?
As an avid reader myself, I think reading is very important. There is always something to gain from a book, even though the book maybe ‘bad’ in itself. So, I think readers should try to read as many books as possible. And when it comes to writing, I think every person is a book and the way they lead their life is a story, so for me good writing understands the person (subject) and their story and presents it in a very simple, yet lucid way. The reader should have questions in mind after they start to read. The text should be able to spur curiosity in readers’ mind and lure readers in a book in such a way that they end up reading cover to cover. I also think the writer should give much attention to the first few paragraphs of the book, as that is what determines a reader’s view on book.
Any advice for other bibliophiles?
I think the invention of modern technology and social networks has taken people away from reading books. The tradition of reading has been now been diminishing which is alarming for the society. I have come to realise that if one doesn’t read, they stand to miss out. I urge readers to read more; it doesn’t matter if the book is good or bad, you need to read.