Rainbow journalOver the last 20 years, SINHAS has presented various facets of Nepal’s turbulent times
I have developed some methods to put personal narratives into textual spaces and share them if and when they merit that. As a literary writer I am given to turning writings that demand cool and methodologically well-defined structure into something that is little anarchic in nature.
I see virtue in that method, though some people do not agree with such an exercise.
But then I am a teacher who has to follow certain formats for pedagogic purposes. But there too I exercise certain freedom of experiment. My freedom is warranted by the field of liberal education. Some arguments made in defence of a liberal education embolden me. Some time ago, I read Fareed Zakaria’s excellent book In Defense of a Liberal Education. He says that in the age of technology, people tend to prefer skills-based learning. And the support for that comes from no other than the ‘’politicians, businesspeople, and even many educators” who “urge students to stop dreaming and start thinking practically about the skills they will need in the workplace”. Their prophetic vision is threatening, that is, “an open-ended exploration of knowledge is…a road to nowhere.”
Freedom with writing
The genre of writing for me was literary criticism, which I practised from the early 1960s. My collections were published by Sajha and others. I never gave up writing in this genre despite my free liberal exercise in creative writing like plays, poetry and essays. My additional interest lay in social commentary. Literary criticism was considered by my predecessors as a piece of creative albeit argumentative writing. The creative methodology they taught us did not require a bibliographical and reference system though we used it in idiosyncratic formats. I understand why my seniors said that, because they used literary criticism as a piece of creative personal essay. When literary critics like Krishnachandra Singh Pradhan, Taranath Sharma, Iswar Baral, Ramkrishna Sharma, Govinda Prasad Lohani clashed over the major issues of literature, they made their arguments quite personal, at times vituperative and even ideologically melodramatic, especially when they pretended to be the advocates of the cause of the poor and the disenfranchised.
I developed a method of combining academic writing with literary criticism, and this methodology was shaped by the type of magazines and journals that were known to publish the articles. Their requirement decided the format. At one point, I felt that I should write by choosing a different format, a methodology that would bring my two pursuits together. The Cambridge academic and writer George Steiner, in one of his brilliant comments, calls literary criticism a practice that is written for those elites who do not need it. That is what I began to realise in course of time. I was shifting my interest to a methodology that would combine my liberal, somewhat anarchic, literary critical format with a methodology of writing for a journal. I had published some articles in the journal of Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies (CNAS), but the efforts of the journal editors were limited.
History, politics, literature
Little over 20 years ago, some young scholars returned to Kathmandu after completing their studies in the US. Among them was Pratyoush Onta. His subject was history and his principal focus was on how history becomes eloquent in literary genres. He took up themes that were considered principal indicators of Nepali canons of history studies. He interacted with me about his ideas a number of times at Martin Chautari, an informal forum for exchange of ideas known by the Nepali word chautari.
Chautari’s Bengali equivalent is adda. Swati Chattopadhyay’s in-depth study of adda in her book Representing Calcutta has always fascinated me. Martin Chautari evolved informally as a space for
discussion for senior and junior scholars, writers and thinkers. I guess the idea of starting a journal under the title “Studies in Nepali History and Society” (SINHAS) was a wise step to give that informal centre, that cellular (Arjun Appadurai’s expression) energy, meaningful continuity. Madhablal Maharjan of Mandala Books agreed to publish that journal. The year was 1996. But publishing a journal, finding people to write, editing the writings and diversifying the subject matters are always great challenges.
When Pratyoush Onta asked me to contribute an article for the first issue of the journal, it was a unique
challenge. For me, as I said above, it was a challenge of merging my literary critical perception and practice with sociological studies. But I took a clue from the next category ‘history’. I found a versatile topic with the literary writings and politics of the great democratic leader and first elected prime minister Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala, alias BP, whose government was toppled by king Mahendra in December 1960. I especially used the court testimony that BP wrote himself during his trial from April 27 to May 17, 1977.
I found this testimony a powerful statement of freedom and democracy and a very important link between the history, politics and literature of this land. I had lost all hopes of finding this document because some characters of his own party, the Nepali Congress, did not even know that it existed. Krishna Khanal gave me the already fading copy in his possession. I used it and wrote an article entitled ‘Literary Response to Panchayat Utopia’, which was published in the first issue of SINHAS (77-96, June 1996) that came out under the editorship of Pratyoush Onta, Lazima Onta (Bhatta), and two American academics Mark Liechty and Mary de Chene. After many years, I used this document again in my play Sandaju (BP) ko Mahabharat published and staged in 2015.
SINHAS has, over the years, presented the rainbow of the turbulent times in Nepal. I am a regular reader of this journal. We have included materials published in this journal in the course for postgraduate studies in the humanities as well. But the
purpose of writing this essay has also been to review my own shift of writing and change in academic priorities in the 20 years since the launch of SINHAS. I see the spectrum of my own quests in these shifts.