Many cooks sweeten the brothHouse of Snow presents a well-curated sliver of works that highlight the richness and variety of Nepal’s literary contribution
If one of the reasons of writing is to shed light on things that are ignored, unnoticed or even unknown and to bring them to the knowledge of readers, then Nepali writing has had little success. It barely catches the attention of the world. Like the drowning hero in the painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, even a monumental achievement on part of Nepali men and women of letters hardly shakes the world out of its somnolent routine—people go about with their lives while the one who dared to reach the sun dives head first into the sea.
This, despite the fact that its towering peaks, exotic, Shangri-Laesque cultures and rich artistic heritage going back to antiquity have made Nepal a haven for explorers, travelers, scholars and artists from around the world.
Many blame this anonymity to geography, to Nepal’s fate of being squeezed between two large neighbours that hog the limelight and, because of their outsized influence over the country, co-opt our voice to fit into their larger narrative (more often than not, we blame India for this).
Others go further and add number to the play, equating our literary invisibility with numerical inferiority, and argue that the gurgling stream of readership interested in Nepal is no match for the gushing rivers of literary consumers happily lapping up everything Chinese and Indian. Simply put, they say that we do not have enough cheerleaders to advertise our literary products the way our neighbours can.
Whatever the reasons might be, one thing is clear: Nepali writers are yet to receive the respect and attention they deserve. And the same often applies for the likes of Elizabeth Hawley and the late Barbara Adams—foreigners who were inspired by this country and wrote about it.
Anyone who associates the lack of interest for their works with the perceived lack of quality literary output in Nepal would do well to read House of Snow: An Anthology of the Greatest Writing about Nepal. With a foreword by the English explorer and writer Sir Ranulph Fiennes and an introduction by writer and journalist Ed Douglas, this bulky book presents a well-curated sliver of works that highlight the richness and variety of Nepal’s literary contribution.
The book crisscrosses genres, straddles ages and dissolves the boundaries of nations and cultures to bring together those who are bonded by the common desire to talk about their Nepali experiences. Alongside the works by the gems of Nepali literature (Bhupi Sherchan, Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala, Lakshmiprasad Devkota, and Lil Bahadur Chettri) and popular Nepali authors writing in English (Manjushree Thapa, Sushma Joshi, Samrat Upadhyay) are the accounts of foreigners writing about the country. There is Michel Peissel with his story of Boris Lissanevitch, the Russian émigré who opened the first hotel in Nepal; an excerpt of Jon Krakauer’s bestselling personal account about the 1996 Mount Everest disaster; and Michael Palin with his trekking diaries.
But House of Snow is more than just a lousy cherry picking of a handful of star writers who frequently feature in newspapers, textbooks and glossy tourist magazines.
It also features select works by the younger generation of Nepali writers like Jemima Diki Sherpa, Weena Pun and Itisha Giri.
The anthology also gives space to views and arguments that challenge the widely accepted currents of thought and, in doing so, reveals the fissures that exist in Nepali society. Jemima Diki Sherpa’s Three Springs is a classic account of the perils of those working in the trekking industry (considered one of the highest paying in this impoverished country of ours), where a single misstep means death of the person and immense troubles for the family. The excerpt in the anthology from Prashant Jha’s widely acclaimed Battles of the New Republic deals with the experiences of being a Nepali Madhesi, while Pratyoush Onta’s Dukha During the World War challenges the accounts of stoic heroism and unflinching bravery of the Gurkhas and presents them as sensitive people who feel pain, mourn loss and are afraid of death.
A smorgasbord of writing on Nepal in English and and eye-opening collection of works by Nepali writers, House of Snow is a feast for those wanting to know more about the country, its people and history and an excellent guide for scholars, students and readers interested in different facets of Nepali literature.