Nepali Literature Making it Known to the World

Capable and notable writers are getting lost in the crowds of less talented writers with connections.

The growth of indigenous publishing and writing in recent years is a good sign. With the spread of education, a social and cultural change is happening and one instrument of cause for this change is the book. However, the growth of the reading-public has not increased with the pace of literacy and the educated mass. The book continues to remain a luxury for the vast majority of the population. Considering the important role played by literature in building up traditions, the field of literature has been sadly neglected. And the secular religion of the times, free-market capitalism has been winning the battle in all areas, including literature.

Literature with explicit sexual content is a common item among the books and magazines on the pavements of main streets and corners of every flyover in the valley, as well as in big bookstores, aimed at tapping the urban teenage market. The question is, what will happen when mainstream literature, supposed to be the most valued representative of people’s sentiments, experiences and cultural values, merges with this type of cheap literature? Unnecessary sexual content, meant for erotic thrills, has taken roots in Nepali literature as well as in some English literature written by Nepali writers. The other question is, could the coffee-table gossip, influenced by alien consumer culture in the name of Nepali writing, truly represent the spirit and genius of mainstream Nepali literature?

There has been some tendency among Nepali writers to produce literature to meet the tastes of European and American readers, with discourse on sex, jealousy, feminism, fidelity, and marriage phenomena. This does not truly represent Nepali society. There is a danger, however, of taking the literary works seriously in the wrong way. So literature must stand in a recognisable relation to life, and these relations are various. Thus any superficial depiction of Nepali society would deprive such literature of any indigenous flavour. Nepali literature, art and culture is complex and of vital importance. The culture of different races existing in the world is also found in Nepal. We do have some literary geniuses whose work may not be far behind the standard of contemporary world literature, but lack of translation of such works blocks their access to international market. Thanks to the modern communication technology and increasing international exposure, many websites of literature, some translation works of Nepali literature in English and other languages and a new breed of Nepali writers originally writing in English and other foreign languages have revealed the life of Nepali society in the international arena.

The need for Nepali literature to be translated into other languages to make it available to the world’s readers has been ignored by the state and publishers. However, some critics claim that Nepali literature today is comparable at an international level, but for lack of translation into other languages, it has hardly transcended the national boundaries. There is a good market too for quality Nepali literature abroad; but we have not been able to exploit it so far.

The Royal Nepal Academy and Sajha Prakashan have not given enough attention to the need to translate quality Nepali literary productions into other languages. These publishers have so far published only a very limited number of translated English versions of Nepali works. The Academy has published Munamadan, some poems of Laxmi Prasad Devkota, Balakrishna Sama’s Prahlad, Aswattahma by Madhav Prasad Ghimire, Saat Surya: Ek Phanko written by Ramesh Vikal, as well as Seven Nepali poets and Modern Nepali Poems in English. Likewise Selected Stories from Nepal, Devkota's Munamadan, and Sama's Expression after Death have been published by Sajha Prakashan. Some other works published by private publishers are: Seto Bagh by Dimond Sumsher, Selected Short Stories of Ramesh Vikal, Seiko Lag by M B B Shah, The Dream Assembled by Manuj Babu Mishra and Selected Nepali Lyrical Poems by Jiwa Lamichhane. Some Nepali works have also been translated into German, Chinese, Urdu, Japanese, French, Russian and Hindi.

Enlistment of Nepali literature for translation purposes is really an appraisal task. If it could get its continuity, it would be an important contribution to Nepali literature. However, the selected titles and names should cover the diversity of subjects and should represent high quality works. The present scale of translation is not sufficient to represent Nepali literature properly. Even the translated anthologies 'Modern Nepali Poems and Selected Stories' do not represent contemporary writing in a fair and objective manner. This shows an urgent need for a systematic approach to translating and publicising Nepali literature and writers. In such a situation, capable and notable writers in Nepali are getting lost in the crowds of writers often less talented but with an international access. Likewise, recently some Nepali writers are making a name and a fortune writing literature in English. That is commendable. These works by Nepalis writing in English, who have access to the multinational publishing houses, have received an international audience. But unfortunately and wrongly, they are being considered the true representatives of the contemporary Nepali literature. This exaggerated view is likely to present a wrong picture of Nepali literary scene to the outside world.

First appeared in The Himalayan Times