Bonds with Indian writersLiterary writers in South Asia have always created a bond of creative sharing and communication—no matter what the politicians do.
Nepali and Indian literary writers have a tradition of bonding that spans centuries. But when it comes to contemporary times, we have to develop a historical and pragmatic sense to unveil it. Recently, politics and politicians have appeared to dominate the stage. But they push aside the important subject of creative, human and cultural bonding long created and fostered by writers. Stoking fires is a speciality of the politicians because through that method they create jingoistic and religious fervour. The objectives are to continue to sit in power and create confusion among the people about the relationship between the countries. Nepal and India have a unique relationship, one with significant modes. But by the same token, they can be easily made worse by establishing a culture of non-communication.
Before putting my own experiences about the nature of the bonds between Nepali and Indian writers, I want to mention one important subject that has been discussed for a long time. The political history of South Asia now reveals what Shashi Tharoor calls An Era of Darkness (2016). The legacies of border conundrums, state formations and bloodshed have haunted the history of this area. But strong literary, artistic, musical, folkloristic, architectonic and cultural traditions have offered strong resistance to these forces of destruction. Despite serious challenges, they have continued to forge bonds among the writers and artists of this region.
The bonds I speak of are founded upon the free spirit of creativity and freedom. It is the relationship of writers who know the power of freedom, creative values and the spread of that culture across the boundaries by using a great tradition of linguistic and artistic connectivity. They understand each other; this has a long history. Its creative power finds expression in the later poetry, both in Nepali and English, of Laxmi Prasad Devkota and in the earlier poetry of Maithil poet Vidyapati, to cite just two major poets for the reason of space. The impact of Rabindranath Tagore on the culture of promoting writers' relations, and the bonding of the Nepali poets with the Indian Chayavadi, or romantic poets, have a historical significance. Nepali writers' personal connections and sharing with their Indian counterparts are so strong that such connectivity can be evoked when politics and politicians are discouraging the culture of interactions.
At this stage I want to recall one important experience. At the invitation of Dr Kavita Sharma, president of South Asian University in New Delhi, I participated at a colloquium with Ashok Vajpayee, a prominent Indian writer, poet, and a friend, on May 21, 2017. Ashok is also a champion of writers' freedom. For the 25 years that I have known him, Ashok has always worked for making poetic culture as strength and power to fight with the adverse forces that work to limit freedom. To Ashok Vajpayee, poetic imaginings and freedom have a symbiotic relationship. I spoke on the theme of sharing and creativity between Nepali and Indian writers. I said, 'a unique tradition of blending and the appeal of dialogic form is seen in art genres in South Asia today. I would like to stress today, that very element can shape the imagination to work in difficult times’.
A sudden correspondence that came from prominent Indian writer and novelist Ajeet Cour shook me deeply. In this mail from June 23, 2020, she writes, ‘I am baffled! There is no one else whom I can ask the most baffling question about whatever are the latest development between Nepal and India. What will happen now?’ Her questions were answers to me. Literary writers have always created a bond of creative sharing and communication no matter what the politicians do. And there is no reason why that should change. After my mail, she wrote how it is time to turn to the wisdom of the body and 'the guidance of the heart' and rely on the inner capacity that generates love, peace and balance. She foresees how we will overcome the difficult times ‘and how we will be altered too’.
This message and mission of this writer, who is physically frail but alert and creative, reminds me of the genesis of her endeavour to bring the writers of South Asia together. I have quoted her recollections of some quarter of a century ago about the opening of the Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature (FOSWAL) where I too was a participant, in my article ‘The South Asian narrative’ (The Kathmandu Post, October 28, 2018). ‘When we look back, way back in 1986, the launching of a mad dream of catching that elusive golden sparrow called Peace in a rather turbulent region, through a meeting of creative and sensitive minds, seemed really mad to everybody in power … I launched my rickety boat in the turbulent sea with a Writers' Conference in 1987, which became a milestone’.
Peace, as Ajeet Cour had rightly predicted, has become an ‘elusive golden sparrow’ in what she rightly calls ‘a rather turbulent region’. But writers should share a hope that peace can be established through a ‘meeting of creative and sensitive minds’. This applies strongly in the case of the culture of non-communication that is developing among some countries in South Asia.
The relationship between Nepali and Indian writers that is based on the value of democracy should be the guiding principle of relationships between the countries during turbulent times. The message of the writers is that the communication between the creative minds of the region has always transcended the restricted borders of space and time. As a witness to the meetings between writers of this region in different cities that Ajeet Cour organised in the past, and also other meetings and seminars that brought the writers of the region together, I can say with confidence that the writers of Nepal and India can open new avenues of communication and engagement that should be a model for the governments and political leaders to follow.
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