The disruptive writerA few years ago, Ganesh Poudel retired as a teacher to pursue his love for writing.
A few years ago, Ganesh Poudel retired as a teacher to pursue his love for writing. This year he published Paitala, his debut surrealistic novel, which instead of answering questions, aims to encourage the readers to raise some about science, religion, and spirituality. In this conversation with the Post’s Samikshya Bhattarai, Poudel talks about his new book and how good literature is a product of the taste of good readers. Excerpts:
Tell us about your debut novel, Paitala? How would you describe what you have tried to bring to the readers with the book?
Paitala is a quest novel of a mystical genre in which the protagonist Josmani is destined to wander through different Tantric cities encountering surreal characters and myth-like incidents. He is inspired to leave home and worldly affairs in search of a mythological Sanjivani Bidhya and a mystic chemical, called NH6CY in the novel.
Paitala doesn’t come with the purpose of answering any sort of questions. Instead, it intends on creating situations that will enable the readers to raise questions about science, religion, and spirituality. Every experience is mystical and gives birth to curiosity. Unlike realism which tries to answer questions, surrealism tries to raise them—and that’s what my novel does as well.
In other interviews, you have said that Paitala raises questions on the nature of storytelling itself and how stories are told. Can you elaborate on this?
Questions like what, who, when and where are the operational questions not only in real life but also in storytelling; and are always easy to answer. For example, if I asked you what you ate today and added other questions with who, when or when; you will be able to answer them quickly. It is because human knowledge is bound to incidents (what), characters (who), time (when) and place (where). But if I asked why you ate or how you ate, certain difficulties would arise. ‘Why’ is a mystery question. ‘How’ is a class question. ‘How’ divides people; ‘why’ mystifies.
In storytelling too, when we ignore what, who, when and where, and magnify how and why aspects, it becomes mystical. It becomes unfathomable. It becomes sugar without sweetness.
The storytelling in Paitala, makes a reader raise and stumble on the how and why questions.
Tragedy of Nepali fiction lies in the narrative which is very ritualistic, traditional and singular. Any writer can play with tools, devices, and techniques of narrating a story. My concern is to disrupt the existing style of narration.
Why was now the right time to publish your first novel?
A debut novel at 37 years old and you ask why it was the right time!
I took self-retirement from teaching three years ago to delve into the world of writing. I had been teaching for about 15 years before I took the decision. Back then I was only participating in the world of writing via casual write-ups in print-media. These, occasional writings only made me restless. I started thinking that newspaper write-ups can’t gratify my need and hunger for expression. I wanted to tell more, show more and do more with words.
Tell us a bit more about Random Readers’ society. Why are reading clubs like these important for Nepali literature?
Random Readers’ Society (RRS) is a small group of avid readers who aspire to promote reading culture in Nepal. And to attain its goal, the group organises book discussion programmes, helps to establish community libraries, trains teachers and parents on imparting reading habits to the kids, among others. It also designs creative promotional campaigns for a published book.
It might be because of the literacy rate or our educational system, reading culture is not huge in Nepal. A book that crosses the sales of five thousand pieces is considered to be a bestseller. In Nepal, the major concern for a writer is livelihood. If only we could sell 500 pieces in an average in all districts; writing would certainly be an attractive profession. I think reading clubs’ most important job is widening the arena of readership and boosting the writers’ confidence.
Nepali literature lacks constructive and creative criticism. Criticism is limited to the monotonous ‘thesis’ writing in universities; that promote citation over innovation. Reading clubs like RRS are important to break this cycle. They are important for the promotion of healthy criticism from readers which ultimately help a writer grow.
Do you think Nepali literature is too Kathmandu-centric?
I actually don’t think so. Any 1true and promising writer, at least, nowadays, dhouldn’t be and aren’t Kathmandu-centric.
You can live and write from anywhere to get published in Kathmandu. Kathmandu might have centralised publication industry, but not creativity.