‘Litterateurs, in the beginning, are writers, and in the end are themselves, readers’Sarubhakta reflects on the reading culture in Nepal from his four decades of experience as a celebrated writer in Nepali literature.
Litterateur Bhakta Raj Shrestha, who is known by his pen name Sarubhakta in the Nepali literature world, after a long hiatus recently unveiled his new novel Pratiganda at his hometown, Pokhara. His recent literary work is already being appreciated by many readers, for its true depiction of the contemporary culture of out-migration in Nepal.
Since he first began writing around four decades ago, the novelist, poet, playwright, lyricist and essayist has penned and published over four dozen literary works and one of them, Pagal Basti, was awarded the Madan Puraskar in 1990. In an interview with the Post’s Samuel Chhetri, Sarubhakta shares how creation and study of literary works are the foundation for the transformation of society. Excerpts:
What attracts you to read works of other writers and what inspires you to create your own?
I love reading because it broadens my knowledge of human history. This is true for any books, from literature, science or philosophy. The study of history, in turn, helps me understand our future. I believe that much of the transformation that any society goes through is achieved by reading books. As a person in the field of literature, I go by the idea that litterateurs, in the beginning, are writers, and in the end are themselves, readers.
When it comes to writing, I believe every individual has an innate desire to express their emotions. I draw my inspiration from our predecessors, whose writings presented natural emotions, evoking positive transformations in society by sharing their ideologies and philosophies for the betterment of humankind.
Could you tell us something about your new novel Pratigandha?
Pratigandha is my seventh novel and it revolves around the lives of people who have migrated abroad in search of jobs and higher education, in this case, New York, USA. The backdrop of the story deals with characters who live their lives following the fateful events of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the financial capital of the world’s most powerful nation. The novel talks about how migrating Nepalis are losing their primal racial and lingual essence which I have attributed to gandha (essence). And by leaving their motherland and living in a foreign land, Nepalis are losing that good gandha, hence the title Pratigandha which roughly translates to ‘anti-essence.’
You have been in this field for over four decades. Have there been any changes in the publication and distribution of literary works?
A lot has changed for publication and distribution of books after the introduction of democracy in 1951. Apart from some restrictions during the Panchayat era, the publication and distribution sectors have seen a significant boost. The establishment of new publishing houses, new technology and increasing literacy rates have added to the growth of the sector. However, the recent government policy to impose a tax on imported books is something that we don’t need now, especially when the readership is growing. The government must encourage the intellectual development of its citizens, which can be achieved through an uninterrupted supply of books. Adding the burden of additional tax has affected the distribution process and it may prove to be discouraging to the growing readership.
You talk about growing readership in Nepal. Do you think there is significant growth?
The growth in readership eventually happens with time; however, I don’t see the increase in Nepali readership culture as a significant achievement. Yes, we are doing great locally, but on an international level, we do not have the means and resources, including good translators of Nepali literature, to cater to readers’ need globally. However, keeping in mind that the significant growth of readers here, I would say that it is a good beginning for Nepali literature and as the adage goes—a good beginning is half the battle won.
Are there any new-age writers whom you follow? What message would you give to aspiring ones?
I have high regard for talent. Time gives birth to a writer, and in my view, as per the need of the society. I recently went through Tirtha Gurung’s Pathshala. His take on student life was extraordinary. Also, Saraswati Pratikshya’s Nathiya, which shed light on the discrimination against the Badi women of Nepal’s mid- and far-western regions. Ganesh Poudel’s surrealistic novel Paitala was also a good read, as it raised questions about science, religion, and spirituality.
My message to the new generation is, in order to become a good writer in this day and age of development and malpractices, one must be willing to sincerely study and do labour intense work. I feel that sincerity is the greatest wealth a writer can have.
Which five books would you advise everyone to read?
I read books that have left a mark across the world, as it helps me understand the transformations that were brought through those writings. One of my favourites is Mahabharata, written by Bed Byas. It is an epic saga and anyone who is a serious reader must read and study Mahabharata. Another book that I would suggest is the novel War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, who has been influential in my writing.
As a reader, one must not just look to read literary works but also writings from other sectors. One such book that comes to mind is On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin. Karl Marx’s Das Capital that helped shape various ideologies is another book I would recommend everyone to read. Also, for any avid reader, I would suggest The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud. I admit that some of the books I mentioned are difficult to comprehend, but they have had a significant impact on my journey towards becoming a writer.