‘Writing is inherent, but needs nurturing’When she first came to Nepal from India in 1964, Maya Thakuri thought of herself as more of a singer than a writer.
When she first came to Nepal from India in 1964, Maya Thakuri thought of herself as more of a singer than a writer. She never thought that five decades down the line she would become a celebrated short story writer with seven anthologies published in Nepali, one in English, as well as a collection of songs, to her name. Many of her works are included in the curricula of universities, both in Nepal and India. In this conversation with the Post’s Abha Dhital, Thakuri talks of her journey, her love for reading, and what inspires her.
To be able to write, one needs to be acquainted with letters. But, you never had a formal education. How did you start writing and what were the challenges?
I never went to school, but there were always stories inside me that I needed to get out of my system. So, I got hold of all the resources available and educated myself. It was only at the age of 15 that I finally became comfortable forming sentences and was able to scribble a few stories down. Fortunately, around the same time, I also found
somebody who was willing to teach me how to read and write, for free. I don’t know where he is now, but the man coached me for two years and all I had to do in return was help him with his household chores, do his dishes, and sometimes cook for him. It was because of this informal education that I was able to sit for the Matriculation exams and pass too. Once I had the basics right, there was no looking back. I focused on creating as much as I could.
You were born and raised in India. What was your first exposure to Kathmandu?
I was always inclined towards music and arts. DB Gurung, my guardian at the time was a prominent member of Nepali Sangitkala Samiti in Shillong, India. Because he knew I sang, danced, and wrote, he had brought me on board in the organisation. It was through that organisation that I first travelled to Kathmandu in 1964.
I had arrived in Kathmandu to perform at the king’s birthday, an event where
dignitaries from all over the world travelled to the city to celebrate king Mahendra’s birthday. It was the first time that I stepped into the city, first time that I had ever encountered a royal event and first time that I ever met a king. After that, I visited Kathmandu a couple more times for work and eventually got married here.
When was it that people started recognising your work?
Honestly, I do not know. Fortunately, I belonged to a very generous generation where people recognised and promoted good work without expecting anything in return. I am who I am because there were good critics, that I didn’t even know personally at the time, who thought my works were worth reading and sharing. I gained recognition purely through word of mouth. There have been instances where I didn’t even know that some of my stories were being reviewed at colleges, while others had already been incorporated into textbooks. What I do remember is that my first ever collection of stories Najureko Jodi was published by Ratna Prakashan in 1974.
It might have been a generous generation, but it was also a generation that didn’t have many women writers. What were the challenges?
Injustice and inequality are things that I got taste of first-hand. Fortunately for me, the people who supported me and helped me rise have often been men. I have had good men for guardians, colleagues, friends, and of course my life partner. I have been through a lot of hardships in my life, but being a woman writer was fortunately never one of the biggest hurdles.
Is writing something that comes naturally or does it require work?
To be able to write is a quality that is inherent up to some extent; but if you want to be a good writer you have to put both love and effort into the process. You need
devotion and determination to create good work. You also have to invest your time and energy into study and research. It is true that not everyone can write, but it is also true that not everybody who writes can write well. I feel like only a really good reader makes a good writer. Reading is vital for a writer’s growth, it is important to help the writer expand her knowledge base.
How picky are you when it comes to reading?
I am not very picky. I mean of course, I have a list of writers that I love, but it’s a long list. I am a voracious reader and always up to date when it comes to the latest in literature. I read writers from all generations and it has been fundamental for my growth, even at this age. I particularly enjoy the works of the younger generation. Of course, there are prominent writers in my generation and the generations before me; but when I look at the younger writers, I realise that there is so much to learn. The young generation of writers has both the caliber and the resources that we didn’t have. Writers like Manisha Gauchan, Saraswati Pratikshya, Kamal Sangharsh and Nayan Raj Pandey write so honestly, so beautifully that they make me question my own quality of work and push me to do better.
You have written so many stories for both children and adults. Are you ever going to write a novel?
I am actually working on a novel right now. I have the vision; I just need to pen the story down. But, I want to read as many novels as I can before I finally settle down to write.