‘Realism taught me how to express myself’Bairagi Kaila on the new age of Nepali literature and his best picks.
Til Bikram Nembang, also known as Bairagi Kaila, is one of the most revered poets in contemporary Nepali literature. He was recently felicitated with the Jagdamba Shree Award 2076 for his contribution in Nepali literature. In 1963, along with his stalwart literary contemporaries, Bairagi Kaila started a literary movement called ‘Tesro Aayam’, with Indra Bahadur Rai and Ishwar Ballav. He also served as a chancellor for the Nepal Academy in 2009 until 2013. In this interview with the Post's Alisha Sijapati, 80-year-old Bairagi Kaila shares some of the best books he’s read and recalls the beginning of his seven-decade long poetic journey. Excerpts:
How did you first come to love books?
In the 50s I was sent to Darjeeling for my education where I developed a reading habit and my literary interest got nurtured. In the beginning, my knowledge was only limited to reading and writing poems, but when I grew a little older, my interest developed in reading novels. I was always curious and interested in increasing my creative knowledge. I liked reading prose as well as poetry in different languages. It was after 1955 when my poems were printed in magazines, journals and papers that I wanted to write more.
What was the last book you read and did you like it? What would you recommend as a must-read?
It's been a while since I have read anything of others. I have only been re-reading and revising my old write-ups and poems. I cannot focus on my work and others simultaneously; maybe the age has kicked in too.
But if I have to recommend, I have liked reading Laxmi Prasad Devkota's poems, notably Muna Madan. I loved reading prose and dramas written by Balkrishna Sama. I like Bengali writers like Sharat Chandra Chatterjee and Rabindranath Tagore and English poets William Wordsworth and TS Eliot.
How do you compare Nepali literature then to now?
Everything has its time. Those were the days of romanticism. Our feet were never on the ground; we were flying without wings. During that time, it was easy to figure out who were the writers and poets. People used to be amazed by us, and similarly, we used to be amazed by them. The poets always looked sad, desperate to evoke creativity in their work through their emotions. However, society changed. Everything is different now.
How did the romanticism period end for you?
A lot happened in the world, and maybe those experiences changed the way writers expressed themselves too. All of us realised that we had to face reality one day. For how long could romanticism last when there was so much of discrimination and social injustice happening around the world? We had to express ourselves, revolt against such unfair rules, through our work.
When I started out, I, and other writers of our time, either wrote on patriotism or about love. After that, I slowly moved away from romanticism and towards realism. Realism taught me how to express myself, how to be careful with the language I use, what style should I use, and how to structure my sentences. I learnt to be expressive through crisp writing.
Most importantly, post-romanticism and modernism came in and changed all our ideologies.It was then that we realised that change is inevitable.
Why do you think reading and writing is essential?
The reason I haven't been able to write is that I hardly get to read now. If you read more, you write more, and that improves your skills. Right now, I write and read, but just my own work. I have been trying to give my work a final touch. That is why I haven't been able to catch up with new books and new 'literature'. I don't know new things so I can't write new poems or prose.
Who inspires your writing?
I believe TS Eliott and John Keats influenced me. In terms of Nepali writers, Devkota and Sama inspired me to write more. Madhav Prasad Ghimire inspired me to make my words powerful, short and crisp. Back then, there was hardly any medium for communications and my contemporaries and I often gathered in New Road's Peepal Bot. If it weren't for the usual chiya-paan and constant discourse session, I wouldn’t have evolved.
Over the years, I realised it is fun to read others' work and get inspired from them but there comes a time when one needs to draw a line between drawing inspiration from others and being true to yourself.