Literary expression, while at once individual and personal, is often impacted by external forces — societal, cultural, political, and national. In this collection of writings by 49 writers and poets of Nepal, the impact of the external on the life and consciousness of the average Nepali is rather powerful and vivid, and it is difficult to separate the inner life from the external.
The poem ‘Aasyaang’ is so reflective of the spirit of this collection, “Your tireless hands which shove load carts/must raise your own culture and people/…The country is yours as well/The Universe is yours as well/…And so/search for your missing self/….”
Modern Nepali literature took off only in the 1930s and 1940s. The royal coup of 1960 and the establishment of absolute monarchy thereafter affected Nepali literary freedom. The stories and poems in this collection were written in the period leading up to, and following, the re-establishment of democracy in 1990.
Manjushree Thapa, who has put together and translated these writings says the works “capture the spirit of our times: in them we glimpse the immense volatility — and the many struggles and gains — of Nepal’s past fifteen years.” She makes it clear that the selection was purely personal and does not offer an “authoritative overview of the literature of this period.”
The selected works are grouped thematically under four heads. Those under ‘The Perplexity of Living’ express the travails of living and the ills afflicting the Nepali society — hunger, poverty, and so on. “It touches me with shame to say/my children/my children/my children are hungry…” (‘An unconsenting verse’). But amidst all the strife of life , there is also the cry of courage: “I cry…but I’m proud – I stand alone in the field/I’m eager to meet/young men who brave storms/young women who brave attacks/…” (‘The undefeated person’).
The section ‘The Right to Desire’, which has the least number of entries, talks about love and sexual desire. The right to love and be loved beyond external identity comes out sharply in ‘Flesh Trade’ by Kundan Sharma.
Desire satiated finds its voice in Manju Kanchuli’s lines — “Had you not looked at her/she might never have blossomed/Had you not touched her/she might not have taken flight…”
The political upheavals and the campaigns for democracy, empowerment of women, and the minority groups are looked at under the theme, ‘The Imminent Liberation.’ Buddha Sayami writes, “Yes [double space between ‘yes’ and ‘in’] in me lies a rebellion/against our way of staying silent/of pretending not to notice/all that is plain to see”. And Momila: “The young girl draws a boundary/in the transformed gales of conflict/This is my life, father!” Words forceful and poignant at the same time.
Quite a few of the changes the section on ‘Visions’ envisages in the social, political and personal arenas are radical and defiant in nature.
Despite the pervasive darkness within and without, there is hope in the power of light. “Brightness may yet emerge somewhere/one might discover the way to a path…” writes Ishwar Ballav.
Some of the writings are in part a little naïve and simplistic. But for the most part, the writing is forthright and moving. Since these writings are specific to the Nepali context, one outside of it may find this tedious reading at times.
A collection which captures the many struggles and gains of Nepal’s past fifteen years
THE COUNTRY IS YOURS: Translated and Introduced by Manjushree Thapa; Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110017. Rs. 250.