It’s always good to start with a personal story: Akanchha KarkiTheatre artist Akanchha Karki talks about her reading inspirations and her favourite books.
As a theatre artist and director, who has to her credit altogether 15 plays, Akanchha Karki is no stranger to theatre lovers in Kathmandu. But before she ventured into the realm of theatre, she was working as a psychological counsellor—which was her primary profession until 2015. But her passion for the art form eventually led her to pursue theatre full time. As the founder of Katha Ghera and director behind The Vagina Monologues series, Karki, through her plays, devotedly focuses on social justice, taboos, and feminism. Having co-written the recent iteration of the monologues series, Private is Political, Karki admires reading and taking inspiration from books for her plays. In an interview with the Post’s Abani Malla, Karki talks about her reading habits, her current reads, and more. Excerpts:
How did you get into reading books?
I thank my school for a lot of my positive traits. My parents mostly encouraged me to focus on academic books, and they didn’t really establish a reading culture at home.
But at school, we had access to the library and were encouraged to take up reading. When in grade three or four, I recall reading the Boxcar Children Series with my friends and getting hooked. I learned from a very young age that reading books can be very engaging.
You must read a lot to get inspired. How has the habit affected your profession?
As a theatre artist, I am required to carry out research for my stories and for character development. Understanding the subject before putting on a play is imperative for a robust and convincing presentation.
Although I haven’t been able to complete a book recently, due to my gruelling schedule, I keep myself updated through articles—even that helps me stay in touch with different cultures and lets me know what’s going on.
As a theatre person, whenever we read a story, we always have this thought in our mind: “I wish I could turn this into a play.” That has also been the same for me and I have a list of books that I wish I could bring to life on stage.
What are your favourite books or plays that you would recommend to readers?
I love content that is based on generosity, unconditional love, and the relation and understanding we have of pain. People say altruism doesn’t exist but I feel it does and that there are altruistic people. One of the books that is special to me is actually a children’s book called The Giving Tree, illustrated and written, by Shel Silverstein. Even growing up as a child, I could easily understand it. And even now, I can relate to it during different parts of my life: Sometimes I’ve been the boy and sometimes I’m the tree.
Other than that, I love how Room, by Emma Donoghue, sketches a perspective of a child to tell the story of a mother-son relationship. I could relate to the concept of “holding pain” in The Giver, by Lois Lowry, since childhood. I love Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns.
There are plenty of plays I admire. For now, I’d recommend Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.
The Giving Tree was banned from a Colorado public library for being a sexist children’s novel in 1988. As you’re vocal about feminism and have an intimate connection to the book, what do you think of that?
I read it when in grade six or seven, and honestly, I didn’t know it was considered a sexist story. Maybe I didn’t have any understanding about sexism during that age and I still can’t perceive it that way. It always felt more like a story on humanism to me.
Your most acclaimed plays are both intricately linked with feminism and breaking taboos. What were the takeaways that you went home with at the end of those plays?
Something I learned from these plays was that people’s diverse opinions on social political issues end up personally affecting you. Not everyone will agree or support it. Since those plays were passionately staged out of my personal concern for the subject, I feel emotionally vulnerable to negative comments. If the subject isn’t close for someone, it wouldn’t have been much of value or a good show, but once it is, it matters a lot.
What is the process of creating your plays?
I try to write. I have only co-written Private is Political so far. But I have been modifying, adapting and even translating plays. For instance, I’m currently reading The Patience Stone, by Atiq Rahimi. I’m already wishing I could make this into a play especially considering how theatre arts in Nepal aren’t based on Muslim protagonists and Islam. Like how movies have a storyboard, we also have a content board where we connect the
beginning and the end to draw a uniform path of the story.
What are the books currently on your wishlist?
I have been wanting to read No Friend But the Mountains, by Behrouz Boochani, and The Gurkha’s Daughter, by Prajwal Parajuly. They have been on my bookshelf for a while now, and I’m eager to read them soon.
What message would you like to impart to upcoming scriptwriters?
I’m not a scriptwriter yet but what I can let someone know is that they shouldn’t be too hard on themselves—like I am—and neither should they be too confident about their work. It’s always good to start with a personal story; your emotions will weigh your work. It should be something you want to read or see on stage. If you wouldn’t like to read or see it, you can’t expect your audience to love it.
What do you think?
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