Search for themes for booksNepali writers too have written about their experiences, but only a few merit attention.
I returned with an armful of Nepali books after attending what was called a "book launching" programme recently. They were supposed to be literary books basically. None of the books were written about the current themes that are rife today. That is a trend. Here I would like to briefly allude to this phenomenon of handling diverse themes for writing books in Nepali. I have in mind a selection of Nepali books published in contemporary times. They are said to be contemporary works. Anyway, the writers confidently declare the genre of their writings as literary though this subject demands some careful and informed discussions. Whatever may be the case, these books are eloquent about a number of things. Most important of them is the choice of themes for book writing. Elaborating on a particular subject in different chapters makes up a book. That is the simplest description of a book. In some of them, I also sensed an attempt to galvanise the current topics of discussions about Nepali social and political orientations. I could see an intelligent choice of themes for that kind of interdisciplinary endeavour by some of the writers. They were touching the contact zones of literature and opinions. But all of them have not done so successfully for various reasons not least the writer's limited range of study.
To dwell a little more on the theme of book, I want to recall what my favourite writer and theorist the late Italian Umberto Eco says about books in an interview with The Guardian in 2011. He says, "I think a book should be judged 10 years later, after reading and re-reading it." But the books I am trying to allude to do not need that description. I am only trying to see what kinds of themes and subjects have attracted book writers over the years. I am only shuffling through the themes and areas of interest. They show how the writers have chosen both introvert as well as social and cultural themes for their book writings. I want to briefly return to the history of the political change and book writing in Nepal. I am alluding to the period after the fall of the Panchayat system introduced by the late king Mahendra, in 1990.
The euphoria of the mood of victory opened up many fronts for expression. A review of history was the most dominant mood. Panchayat had so strongly dominated the thinking process and the psyche of interpreting history that writers, especially historians and political analysts, turned to the personas of the politicians or leaders of the democratic movements, living or dead. Writing about the lives of these leaders as well as making documentary films became the order of the day. I cannot discuss this topic in greater detail here. The oeuvres about BP Koirala, which included his own writings, Ganesh Man Singh and Pushpa Lal, that included his own writings, formed the main corpus of such books. BP's memoirs, diaries and fiction came out in droves, as it were.
During this euphoria, some of the Panchayat-time bureaucrats and soldiers too jumped on the bandwagon. A non-political person, I too was connected with the moments of the publication of some such books. A slim but important collection of Girija Prasad Koirala’s historical speeches entitled Simple Convictions (2007), nicely edited by Kanak Dixit, was published by Madhab Lal Maharjan of Mandala Book Point. I was invited by Kanak and Madhab to speak about the book at the Hotel Yak & Yeti on February 1, 2007. I freely interpreted Girijababu's works, his life and politics in a very informal manner that the audience greeted with ovation and laughter that I can see on the video today. By inviting a literary writer, not a political scientist, to speak about the oeuvre of a politician whose interest in literature is not recorded anywhere, they wanted to flaunt some established rules there. Prime Minister Koirala could not attend.
The following year, a similar pattern was repeated. I was invited by the publisher and the writer to give a keynote discourse at the launch of a book entitled Prachanda: The Unknown Revolutionary (2008) written by Anirban Roy, a Hindustan Times journalist and published by Mandala Book Point at the Hotel Himalaya on September 19, 2008. While waiting for the prime minister to come, I was alone with Prachanda's father, a simple farmer named Muktinath, on the dais. He was the first person to listen to my review of his son's book that morning. Prime Minister Prachanda could not attend. I am alluding to these two incidents for their interesting parallelism. I did not have to speak on such books after that. The political leaders themselves took up the task of speaking about any person in their party. No political scholar, let alone a literary writer, appear to be invited to speak on such books, if any.
New mode and mood
For lack of space, I do not want to review the literary works that were written after the second revolution and the time after that. But after all these years, a new mode and mood of writing and publication of books has become the order of the day. It has shifted from the mood of valorising the personas of the so-called big politicians. Perhaps people are disillusioned about them. It has yet to be established though. When you realise that there are no politicians or heroes to turn to, you would turn to yourself, to the memories of your own toil and moil. Most of the books today are written by the writer himself or herself. But some of them are written by ghostwriters that are openly mentioned in some books. Several books today are written about the experience of migrant workers.
One strong point of such writings is that people want to transfer the experience into text. Such practice has two advantages. The first advantage is that such an impersonal form of art heals your wounds and disturbing memories. I consider that a great achievement. The second advantage is that you are peeping into the present history by means of the metafictional accounts of your experience. A fuzzy line separates fiction from reality. There are examples of literary writings that have created the very power of the events of history. For that, your contemporaneity plays a role. Sadat Hassan Manto's stories are the most eloquent examples. He writes about the human condition created by the partition history of India. But he was moving around the periphery of such a historical experience. He himself suffered from that turbulent border experience for which reason, reluctantly, he had to leave Bombay where his creative engagements were flourishing. Nepali writers too have written about their experiences, albeit a few of them have produced works that merit the attention of avid literary readers. This theme needs elaborate discussions.