Redefining contemporaneity/ MAHESH PAUDYAL

Of late, serious urges to anthologise generic creations with limits of period and epoch are being detected in Nepali literature. Not long after Momila edited selected Nepali poems, and Archana Thapa brought together female voices in anthologies, Prabhati Kiran has edited Samakalin Nepali Kathaharu, a collection of stories by contemporary writers, most of whom are in their early forties or younger. While, for instance, initiatives to collect women’s writing—specifically those of renowned authors—have been many, attempts to incorporate evolving and yet-to-be published authors have practically been nil. Reference may be made to Byakul Pathak’s series of Nepali Katha to conclude that you can make an entry into his schema only if you have an attested repute as a published storywriter. Prabhati Kiran’s design appears not only different, but also unconventional. Hence, his work demands attention.

Published by Aakriti Prakriti Prakashan, the book anthologises contributions from 36 storywriters. Acclaimed storywriters like Anamol Mani, Abhaya Shrestha, Amar Neupane and Mani Lohani have been placed alongside young and evolving authors, most of whom are yet make their debut as published authors. Before making a comment on the stories themselves, it appears worthwhile to evaluate this editorial initiative, and estimate its worth in literary pursuit.

The book overtly challenges the conventional understanding that only published and famous authors can represent their age; it denounces the idea that good literature comes only from big names. The petty consideration that reputed authors find themselves debased when placed alongside the younger generation is proven wrong. A very explicit message aired by the anthology is that the younger generation has the gut and seriousness to shock—one only needs to give them a chance! Prabati Kiran appears to be announcing that honouring a young writer by benchmarking his or her potential can energise their creativity, and more promising literature can come out of that. I am personally very much convinced with this idea.

Coming to the stories, the collection shows some clear-cut departures from convention. First, the contemporary Nepali story is no longer endangered by the traditional moral agenda. Stories evolved either from weird experiences in the postmodern time, or pertain to deep personal psychological bases. Conflict and the doom it has foisted upon life forms the pivot of many stories, while some are personal musings about tough times ahead.

Most of the stories, in their make-up, are still traditional, while their contents are quite out of the ordinary. As far as the language is concerned, a tendency to use easy and more day-to-day speech is predominant, suggesting a latent war against the pedantic use of language that the earlier generation considered necessary for serious literature. This language powerfully suggests that stories, if not other genres, can reach out to the general readers without any lexical hindrance. Terminologies from technocratic world that have lately forced their way in our language too have amply appeared in the collection.

Attention to every individual story is not possible within the limitations of this review. To talk of a few representative ones, Anamol Mani’s Siddhantabadi is a sharp satire on the ‘foreign-fad’, a tendency to cherish the world abroad. The story lays bare the pressures without rather than the desires within, that force the character Binaydhawj to invite his own bankruptcy to go overseas. Amar Neupane’s Bhupiko Kavita evolves from a serious psychological plane, suggesting how affective fallacy can sometimes be fatal. A student, in her first menstrual period attends a teacher’s lecture on Bhupi’s poem Mainbattiko Sikha and conceives the notion that it is her tale, and suspects that the teacher has somehow learnt of her menstrual secrecies. The story forces the readership to contemplate on how devastating some neglected realities can be at times.  Anwika Giri’s Ma Mardina Comarade is a powerful denouncement of the fallacy and the grand-narrative that surrounded the ten-year conflict in Nepal. It chronicles the story of a cadre Saroj, who attains martyrdom in the war. The story features his mother, questioning the legitimacy of compensations at the cost of life. And Kartikeya Ghimire’s Unko Othma Naphapeko Muskan tackles the question of pent-up sexual passion of women whose husbands are either dead, or abroad. The story suggests that if not managed tactfully, such passions can even lead to fatal consequences.

I have picked up these instances to suggest the tendencies seen in contemporary Nepali stories and the promises they make to the posterity. The stories of the later generation are more intellectually informed, though they show a gradual simplification of language. As far as the structure is concerned, the traditional style still plagues almost all the stories, suggesting that our authors are less informed about the experimentations in style and structure that literature abroad is taking up.

A remark on the publication: The quality of paper and printing has done little justice to the quality of stories and the historical significance of the book. Different font sizes are seen within the same story and typographical errors are aplenty, as they always are.

[First appeared in The Kathmandu Post]