Contemporary Nepali Literature: Fiction — the Short Story / Mukul Dahal
Nepali short story has achieved its present state of development in shorter time than other genres. This area of literature has already been enriched by a number of classic world-class short stories. The contribution of the figures such as Guru Prasad Mainali, Pushkar Samser Rana, Posan Pande, Indra Bahadur Rai, Biseswor Prasad Koirala, Bhimnidhi Tiwari, Bhawani Bhikshu, Paarizaat can hardly be exaggerated. The short story writers like Ramesh Bikal, Parashu Pradhan, Sanat Regmi, Dhruba Sapkota, Shailendra Sakar, Nayan Raj Pandey, Benju Sharma, Sita Pandey and their peers are those well esteemed writers who join the past with the present. These writers have written stories of artistic intent with themes related to Nepal and Nepali’s cultural life and have made short stories even popular among Nepali people.
In the ’60s Nepali stories saw a change in their characterization and tone. It was the most influential movement Teshro Aayam (The Third Dimension) that has its impact on short stories too. Indra Bahadur Rai, one of the trios to launch the movement is a very innovative short story writer. Although the Third Dimension triggered an intellectual debate in literary circles and provided a stimulus to Nepali literature, it could not produce a generation to follow it. So its impact gradually wore off. Indra Bahadur Rai has come up with Leela Lekhan (Leela Writing). It’s a literary theory to approach literary works and a philosophy in itself. His Kathputaliko Man (The Heart of a Puppet) is the first collection of short stories based on Leela Lekhan. Some writers are putting it into their works successfully.
Realism has been the sustained base of Nepali short stories from the past to the present. Other trends include progressive ideology, psychological realism and experimentalism. Leela lekhan and other post modernist experiments operative in the latest decade seem to shake realism. Writers are breaking away from the established norms and values and are seeking to explore new heights and new horizons. This group of writers has been providing Nepali readers with thoroughly new texts. Village life, life in Kathmandu and Darjeeling, the lives of women in a male-dominated society, caste, class, and ethnic relations, the Gurkha soldier, poverty, corruption and most recently the impact of technological development on life have been the recurring themes of Nepali short stories.
Contemporary Nepali Literature: A Bird’s Eye View — Historical Background
Having come through the history of over a century, Nepali literature stands by itself as a literature that offers distinct colors and tastes of this Shangri-La kingdom. It is a continuation from the past to the present. So, Nepali literature, like other areas of studies, cannot be viewed in isolation. The past has always influenced the present and the present has always sought to break away from the bondage of the past.
The first written literary work in Nepali was Bhanubhakta’s Ramayana (1883). The publication of the book created a stir in the Nepali society and marked the end of the ancient period and the beginning of the medieval. Because of the use of simple language and the rhythm easy to be picked by the common people, the Ramayana attained lasting popularity in Nepali society. The Medieval period to some extent was free from religious dominance of Bhaktikaal (Devotional Period). The period was so much bent on Shringaar (Romance). But the mythological tradition persisted through these times too. It saw an extreme of shringaar with the publication of Lekhnath Poudel’s Suktisindhu (1917) which was banned by the ruling Ranas. This was an important event that forced Nepali literature to turn to society and social life.
The modernists’ tone was most apparently set after the advent of democracy in 1951 although its sparks were already in view right from the beginning of 1920s. Writers began to study new trends of literature in the West and write under their influence. Various literary movements including Boot Polish Aandolan ( Boot Polish Movement), Sadak Kabita Kranti (Street Poetry Revolution), Aswikrit Jamaat Ko Kabita(Poetry of the Discarded Community), Ralpha Aandolan (Ralpha Movement), Bhok Kabita (Poetry out of Hunger) and Teshro Aayam (The Third Dimension) that appeared in the Nepali literary scene substantially contributed to the modern Nepali literature. All these literary movements together laid a concrete base for the literature of the postmodern times. In this write-up, I have made an attempt to cast a humble and hurried glance at the Nepali literature of the post modern times. So it offers only a superficial study, not an in-depth and erudite one.
Contemporary Nepali Literature: Poetry
A distinction can be made between the group of writers and poets who were the noted figures of the modern times and still active in their literary output and another group of emerging new generation who are striving to establish a new trend of writing poetry. Nepali poetry has come a long way since Gopal Prasad Rimal (1918-1973) rescued it from the bondage of the past, writing prose poems dealing with contemporary problems and his successor Bhupi Sherchan made prose poetry popular among the masses. A few poets around their time led Nepali poetry to obscurity in the and distanced it from Nepali social life. Poets like Bashu Shashi, Krishna Bhusan Bal, Shailendra Sakar, Parizat, Sharada Sharma, Bishnu Bibhu Ghimire, Jeevan Aacharya, Meen Bahadur Bista, Manju Kanchuli, Shyamal and Bibas Pokhrel pulled Nepali poetry from the quagmire of obscurity and proved it a beautiful creation with subtle human feelings and concern towards social unrest. Some poets among them are actively creative till the date. So the contemporary scene of Nepali poetry is the continuation of the past on the one hand while on the other a journey to the new direction.
The newly emerging generation of poets includes Ramesh Shrestha, Bhisma Upreti, Shrawan Mukarung, Biplov Dhakal, Ramesh Kshitiz, Momila, Manu Manjil, Upendra Subba, Hangyung Agyat, Jyoti Jungle, R. M. Dangol, Byakul Pathak, Mukul Dahal and the like. They have several challenges in front of them. First they are trying to find, stylistically as well as thematically, a new trend of expression in their poetry. Next they are attempting to combat and break away from the hypocritical tradition that has eclipsed the literary sky. A host of literary artists are after so called power and have begun to believe more in the amount of sycophancy they render than in the quality of their writing. This has been rather negative enforcement and has misled new writers. The new generation of genuine poets and writers has to fight it tooth and nail.
The contemporary poets draw themes of poetry from their wounded sensibility caused by bloody insurgency at home. Their voice is that of discontentment, depression, hopelessness and satire and an ultimate desire for peace. Stylistically today’s poetry has departed radically from the trend of the 60s that was full of mythological references and apparently meaningless imagery. The contemporary poets explore and use personal imagery and symbols picked up from the world around them.
Contemporary Nepali Literature: Lyrical Poems (Ghazals and Lyrics)
Lyric as a distinct genre has a history of about five decades whereas ghazal has a history of over a century. Lyric existed as folk lore and religious hymns in the first half of the century. Lyric emerged as a literary genre in the fifties. Today’s lyrics sing not only of love and betrayal but also of social life and human suffering. Lyricists are conscious enough to imbue their lyrics with literary colors and contents. A trend of writing lyrics not only to be sung but also to be read has evolved in Nepali literature. Publication of the anthology of lyrics is on the rise. The noted contemporary lyricists are Kiran Kharel, Ratnashamser Thapa, Prem Binod Nandan, Yadav Kharel, Ishwor Ballaw, Kali Prasad Rijal, Kshetra Pratap Adhikari, Ram Man Trishit, Rajendra Thapa, Ganesh Rasik, Hiraya Bhojpure, Daibagya raj Neupane, Bhim Birag, Krishna Prasad Parajuli, Shrawan Mukarung, Sashwat Parajuli, Suman Pokhrel etc.
Ghazal has been the most vibrant area of contemporary literary scene. This genre has attracted an amazing number of literary artists from the new generation although certain structural rules are to be observed while composing it. This is quite positive sign for Nepali ghazal. Having made a long journey from Motiram Bhatta to Upendra Bahadur Jigar to Bund Rana, Gyanuwakar Poudel, Manu Brajaki, Lalijan Rawal and from them to the new generation, Nepali ghazal has gained a shape and artistry. Love and praise of beauty of the beloved and also of nature are the classic and most suited themes of ghazal. Apart from them ghazal writers today also use ghazal as a vehicle for satire on and criticism of the evil side of human nature and society. One most important aspect to be noted here is that ghazals are pouring into this field but majority of those trying hand at it lack consciousness to impart quality that includes choice of soft words and musicality in their ghazals. This quality is essentially sought in the genre like this. There are some established names who have been writing ghazals with this sense in mind. Such writers are Bund Rana, Lalizan Rawal, Gyanuwakar Poudel, Mun Poudel, Pramod Snehi, Manu Brajaki, Shrestha Piya Patthar, Dhruba Madhikarmi, Jainendra Jeewan, Manu Manjil, Bibas Pokhrel, Shreedhar Kattel etc.
There are other equally important and popular genres of prose one should not skip while discussing Nepali literature. Travel writing, which is one of them, is very popular and widely written in Nepal. Writers like Taranath Sharma, Ramesh Vikal, Ghanashyam Rajkarnikar, Madan Mani Dikshit, Shreekrishna Gautam and Manjul have written great works of travelogue. Bhisma Upreti, Yubaraj Nayaghare, Rashmishekhar, Gyanendra Bibas are some names from the younger generation.
Biography and literature for children demand separate space. I have not incorporated them in this brief write up. It is better to cover them in separate writing.
Contemporary Nepali Literature: Fiction — Postmodern Consciousness in the Contemporary Novel
Today’s Age is the age of unrestrained consciousness and endless experimentations. The world today is a globalize village. Human civilization has seen an unimaginable development of information technology and human consciousness has experienced unforeseen changes in spheres of various activities. The impact of this all is obviously apparent in contemporary Nepali novels There is a discrepancy between the new culture that has evolved out of new changes and the culture that has been in the society for long. A group of people are in favor of new techno-culture and another group of people are worried about their long standing indigenous culture. Shova Bhattarai’s novel Antahin Anta (The Endless End) has been set against such mongrelized culture. Swapna Sammelan (An Assembly in a Dream) is another novel worth mentioning in this connection. This is quite a fresh attempt to erase boundaries of time and collect characters from history, from cultural anecdotes and religious books and depict them as the live characters of cyber village. Peter J Karthak’s Pratyek Thau, Pryatyek Manchhe (Each Place: A Man), Taranath Sharma’s Nepal Dekhi Americasamma (From Nepal to America), Saru Bhakta’s Samaya Trasadi (Temporal Tragedy) andTathakathit (So-Called) too bring to light this cultural displacement.
Deconstructing or rewriting of the successful novels in the past has been another trend. It is believed that a text is never complete. There are numerous gaps to be filled or there are numberless possibilities to develop it into a new form. This notion has come into play in the area of Nepali fiction. Krishna Dharabasi’s Sharanarthee (Refugee) is one of the most successful novels to represent this trend. In SharanartheeKrishna Dahrabasi has drawn a corpus of characters from various sources: characters of different novels and short stories, the writers themselves in the guise of fictitious characters, the charecters drawn from the society and fictitious charecters in true sense. An echo of Roland Barthes’s declaration of the death of the author too is heard in it. The characters themselves are conscious that they are being written by the author. They meet and put question to the author. Apart from the play of the characters, there are other experiments too in it. Existence of plural genres in the same work is one of them. A reader comes across various genres in Sharanarthee. History, essay, story and interviews all appear there. Characters appear and disappear throughout the novel. The author has deliberately planned it in order to display Leela (a game). Krishna Dharabasi has become a major Leela writher since the literary movement Leela Lekhan (Leela Writing) was founded by Indra Bahadur Rai some decades ago. The movement uses a queer mixture of oriental philosophy and most recently developed literary theories and principles in other areas of knowledge. Dharabasi’s another novel Aadha Baato (Half Way) has opened up new horizon of literary discourse. The volume can traditionally be called his autobiography but he has chosen to call it a novel. Aadha Baato is the story of his own life and the characters are all real people active members of society: poets, artists, politicians, teachers, professors, peasants, businessmen and so on.
A kind of pastiche art can be seen in Dhruba Chandra Gautam’s Agnidatta+Agnidatta, one chivalric Agnidatta of the age of Chivalry and the other his modern incarnation. Dhruba Chandra Gautam’s colossal output and ceaseless experimentation to come up with something new each time has placed him in the center stage of Nepali fiction. There is an ample blend of fact and fantasy in his novels. Banira Giri’s Shabdateet saantanu (Santanu Beyond Words) is not in the prose fit for a novel as such. It is very much like a prose poem.
Nepali novelists are also attempting to explore and establish new centres. They no longer depict the stereotypic characters such as an ideal protagonist, a landlord, a bourgeoisie or a pretty damsel or a protagonist essentially from high caste group. People are not troubled by such elements but by the consumerized culture or some conscious dark force. Khagendra Sangraula’s Junkiriko Sangeet (Music of the Fireflies) and Pradeep Nepal’s Ekkaisau Shataabdiki Sumnima (Twenty First Century Sumnima ) seek to delve into such collapsing social institutions and emerging new values. Saru Bhakta’s Paagal Basti (Lunatics’ Colony), Taruni Kheti (Maid Farming), Samaya Trasadi and Chuli (The Peak) explore new centers.
Contemporary Nepali Literature: Fiction — the Essay
Modern trends in Nepali essay, like short story and poetry, began sixty years ago. Laxmi Prasad Devkota was the first true writer of modern essays. Later Shankar Lamichhane enriched Nepali essays with completely new style, feeling and strength. Krishna Chandra Singh Pradhan and Taranath Sharma too contributed substantially to this field. Another trend that became equally popular was a trend of writing humorous and satirical essays. Keshab Raj Pindali and Bhairab Aryal wrote many successful essays. They were witty enough in their writing to maintain balance between humor and their attack on social evils.
Contemporary Nepali essays, like other genres, are not aloof from the trends of the time. There is an eagerness to grasp new sentiment and novelty and to add new dimension in this area too. These essays reflect the uncertainty and chaos prevailing in the country. As per the number of essayists the number is not as big as that of the poets and short story writers. Yet there are a number of writers who have written great essays. Most of today’s essays have happened to be satiric. The satire comes up in the writer’s mind because he is bitterly hurt by the bizarre anomaly that exists in the socio political scenario of our country. It is natural for the writers to be affected by it because politics influences every part of state. Besides, there are some writers who explore other ever fresh subtle aspects of life. The names of these essayists include Ram Mani Rshal, Kishor Nepal, Banira Giri, Durga Prasad Bhandari, Lila Singh Darna, Abhi Subedi, Manuj Babu Mishra, Dhanus Chandra Gautam, Madhav Pokhrel, Manjul, Rajendra subedi, Sri Om Shrestha Rodan, Krishna Dharabasi, Gyanendra Biwas, Yubraj Nayaghare, Bhishma Upreti etc.
Contemporary Nepali Literature: Drama and Theater
Drama is an old genre both in the West and the East. Dramas used to be written in Sanskrit in ancient times in the East and in Greek in the West. But in Nepali literature dramas appeared quite late. During Bir Shamser’s reign Darbar theatre was established in 1893, and dramas had an opportunity to open its eyes. Balkrishna Sama (1902-1981), who wrote 17 plays in Shakespearean style, breathed life into Nepali drama. He lifted Nepali dramas to new height with social background, philosophical depth, logicality and poetic dialogues. Bhim Nidhi Tiwari used commoners’ language and Gopal Prasad Rimal provided a focus on realism. The element that makes modern dramas different from the earlier ones is their use of psychoanalysis.
In contemporary times the pace of drama writing has slackened. A small number of writers are committed to dramatic writing. There may be many reasons behind it. One most apparent reason is the lack of an established culture of theatre. A few plays were staged successfully in the past but they did not produce a dramkatic culture in Nepal. Staging of Dr. Abhi Subedi’s drama last year was a welcome success. It was a remarkable event and has instilled hope in the direction of renovation of drama and culture of theatre.
Yet there are writers who have been actively involved in it and contributing powerful plays for years. The dramas of the present times are simple and at the same time full of intellect, experimental and at the same time purposeful and conscious. Sometimes the themes are conveyed in realistic and satiric way and at other times through the use of humanized fantasy. Experiment in expression has been the latest trend of the Nepali drama. Mohan Raj Sharma, Ashesh Mala, Saru Bhakta, Gopal Pariajuli, Abinash Shrestha, Dhruba Chandra Gautam, Abhi Subedi, Roshan thapa Nirab etc. are some of the major writers of contemporary Nepali Drama.
Contemporary Nepali Literature: A Bibliography
1. Preface to Himalayan Voices (1993) translated and edited by Michael James Hutt.
2. Introduction: Stories From Nepal (2002) published by Royal Nepal Academy
3. Nepali Sahityako Samchhipta Itihas (A Brief History Of Nepali Literature, fifth edition, 1999) by Dr.Dayaram Shrestha and Prof. Mohan Raj Sharma
4. Bagar: Asian Poetry (1990) edited by Yuyutsu R.D. Sharma and Nakul Silwal
5. Kabita (Issue 78) Guest edited by Govinda Raj Bhattarai and published by Royal Nepal Academy
6. “Nepali Upanyasma Uttar Aadhunik Chetana (Postmodern Consciousness in Nepali Fiction)” a paper presented by Govinda Raj Bhattarai in Biratnagar at Brihat Kabi Gosthi, Dec 26-27, 2003
7. “Nepali Sahitya Itihasko Ruprekha : Uttar Aadhunik Prastuti (An Outline of the History of Nepali Literature: A Postmodern Presentation)” by Prof. Shanti Raj Sharma
8. Madhuparka, Samalochana Bisheshanka (Criticism Special Issue 350), 1998
9. Samakalin Sahitya (Issue 48, 2003)
This essay is part four of the author’s “Contemporary Nepali Literature: A Bird’s Eye View.”