Rajan Mukarung: Literature should explore the richness of all the cultures we live inWriter Mukarung talks about his love for literature and the need for the Nepali literature scene to accept diversity.
When Rajan Mukarung enters Mandala theatre, everyone is waving at him and asking, ‘K cha dai?’ (How are you?) He dons a long blue blazer and looks like he is attending a reception. And there’s so much he wants to say to the familiar faces. But his time is taken, so he quickly shakes hands, wraps his conversation with people and settles down on a bench at the parking lot. “This should be okay for us to sit and chat, right?” he says.
It is evident he is a people person. “In my younger days, I spent my time in chiya pasals, with my friends. After leaving home at 7am, my days just went by in conversations,” he says.
Mukarung is a writer and novelist, known for Damini Bhir, which won him a Madan Puraskar in 2012. He has published nine books and earned many honours. He is also one of the initiators of Srijanshil Arajakta, a literary movement that questioned mainstream Nepali literature’s inclusivity. In an interview with the Post’s Srizu Bajracharya, Mukarung talks about his love for books, and the importance of Nepali works of literature being diverse and inclusive.
Growing up, were you always surrounded by books? Did you love to read?
I started writing from a very remote place in Bhojpur. Growing up, we weren’t really exposed to a good collection of books. The books that made to our home were usually songbooks, but we also read a lot of romance novels.
In your early days, what book or story do you remember reading and feeling moved by?
In fifth grade, I remember reading Chamkilo Rato Tara, a Chinese novel translated in Nepali; it was a children’s book. But something in me changed when I was reading it. The main character, ‘Tungcha’, wants to be part of the military during the Chinese movement, but because of his background and his age, he isn’t allowed to enlist. But the character struggles and works his way up to wear the three red star cap on his head. That made me realise that, as humans, it’s essential for us to dream. We need to be purposeful, and not just that, we need to work hard to accomplish those dreams. The book made me realise that although there’s a lot of pain and struggle in the world, a person can achieve whatever they wish.
Did you always want to be a writer?
I started writing on my own, filling up pages for my own sake. I think that was at the same time I read that book. At first, I was embarrassed to share my work. I guess I was still a teenager at the time, and later I participated in a poetry competition at school, where I recited my poem and won. That experience ignited courage in me and validated me as a writer. After that, I remember writing and participating in many college programmes as well. But as I wrote more, I felt I should be well-versed in Nepali grammar. I read Ramro Rachana Mitho Nepali, a book about Nepali grammar, many times.
Later I also started teaching Nepali and I also worked for four years as an editor at Gorkha Sainik Aawaj, a monthly magazine. During those days, when I used to go around looking for jobs, I never saw myself working in government offices. But when I used to attend literary events, there too, I used to feel alone, as people never talked about our culture and ethnic identity. That’s when I felt, ‘it is we ourselves who have to write our stories for people to understand our culture and identity.’
You were also involved with a literary movement. How did you come to be one of the initiators of that campaign?
Around the same time, I started writing professionally; I teamed with Upendra Subba and Hangyug Agyat to start a literary movement in Nepali literature, which we called Srijanshil Arajakta. This was in 1999. We aimed to bring the culture, philosophy and lifestyle of Rai, Limbu and Janajatis to mainstream literature. Because, as readers, even in academic books and popular literature books that people recommended as must-reads to each other, our identities’ narratives were missing in those stories, our experiences had no mentions—the result was a generalised Nepali identity, pushing our community further down. And this wasn’t just about our representation; it was about the need to work on literary works that accepted diversity. Much of the work published represented identities and culture in Hinduism, and at the time our movement was questioning our representation in the stories that were coming out.
We are all different, and we all have our struggles, but I also believe that to live life, everyone pictures a different type of heroism, and that was not being reflected in the stories that were being published. In Nepali literature, people from smaller communities are usually playing the villain, but that shouldn’t always be the case. Our writing should explore the rich cultures we have in our country. But I think our literature is still one-sided.
Why do you think we are still struggling to explore that diversity?
I believe it’s because our academic institutions are still very conservative. When students want to write a thesis about Rai and Limbu literature, their ideas are still questioned, whereas when students pitch ideas on writing about Laxmi Prasad Devkota, teachers are more supportive. The institutional system itself refrains from exploring our diverse communities richness—it fails to give opportunities to people who want to explore anything beyond the mainstream.
But I believe things are about to change. The internet has globalised the world, and today people believe that an individual can themselves be an institution. Today, the country’s youth are living in a better, information-rich world. We are no longer dependent on just one institution; everyone now has a voice.
Of course, we still need to train our aggression and work towards inclusiveness. Although the youth have the technology, there is also the threat of them being swayed by more popular trends. They need to be in touch with their roots, as I think that allows our creativity to be more original.
Why do you think ‘Damini Bhir’ received the recognition of Madan Puraskar?
Damini Bhir I think is a different type of novel. I think it broke the structure of the one-line story, where the main character either wins or fails in the climax. The story followed multiple stories together, and there was no main character. The storytelling acknowledges ordinary life and uses a lot of metaphors. I don’t know if readers noticed it or not, but there was meaning to even minute events in the story. You can say I weaved a spider web, which made the story more interesting. It was also written in our Mundhun rhythmic style, where the storytelling used concise sentences, and, if you see, that is how we speak.
What is your writing process like?
I usually think of the content before starting to write, and I think about it a lot and sometimes to the extent that it’s even hard to write anything down. Many of my ideas have died just like that during the process. After that, I start weaving the setting, and character details. I also work on my language a lot to fit the need of the story. But I believe writing takes a lot of discipline. It needs research and needs to be immersive. It needs to be visual, and that’s why I take my time to write.
But I also think Nepali literature writers mainly struggle with describing body language and giving visuals to their story. Writers touch upon stories very superficially sometimes, and this is also because they fail to work on the visuals of their story.
What works of literature would you recommend people to read?
From the literary movement point of view, I would recommend Indra Bahadur Rai’s Aaja Ramita Cha. I would also recommend Parijat’s Sirish ko Phool, for the way its male character, ‘Suyog Bir’, has been designed. Then there’s Mohapath by Lalit Bista, for the way he presents life in the Far West. I also suggest reading Shrawan Mukarung’s Bise Nagarchi ko Bayan and Naveen Pyasi’s Anuhar ko Bhid—both are poetry collections. And Itar Kavita, which is also a poem collection, that brings together poems from various ethnic communities.