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Professor of English, Tribhuwan University, Kirtipur, Kathmandu, Nepal

Friday, April 1, 2011

Bookworm Babbles for The Kathmandu Post

 1.      What was the last book that you read?
The last book I read is Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum.

2.      What is your favorite genre?
When I think of writing I enjoy being in  novel and essay. But time has compelled me to do criticism more than anything, against my desire.
For reading I prefer classics, philosophy and literary theory.

3.      Many writers as well as critics say that we have a very weak culture of criticism. What is your observation?
The present is the weakest of all points in an history of about one hundred years of modern Nepali literature. All dimensions of time and space have changed and our creations have changed tremendously but our principles of evaluation, that is criticism, has remained constant, stagnant and too conservative. This cannot do full justice, not even half  to contemporary writing. It’s three decades now that critical theories are at a standstill. They are either extremely polluted or too outdated.

4.      What is the current state of translation in Nepal? Have the Nepali literature, which are translated into English, reached to the wider audiences?
It is very encouraging. Our Universities have introduced Translation Studies courses in most Degree level language literature syllabuses; some Departments have even introduced it in the Bachelor’s level. Now it is not the translation people generally perceive; it is the theory on par with contemporary researches and advanced studies in translation worldwide. Secondly, the Central Departments have started giving due importance to texts in translation for research and dissertation writings; this has also promoted Nepali literature, translation theory and Nepali variety of English simultaneously because naturally translation is a bilingual as well as bicultural activity.
Thirdly, the newly formed Nepal Academy has set up Department of Translation and World Literature. It is a most commendable decision though it is too  young to envisage   works  like History of translation in  Nepal,  Nepali theory of  translation, Translation and translators in Nepal etc. without which we cannot present  our picture of translation.
Yes, that is a crucial question and I feel hesitant to say yes, however, if we visit  shops like Pilgrims at Thamel you can find many titles on translation. They say there are a good number of            ( foreign ) readers too, but two points are worth considering — firstly, the titles are scanty and there is no channel to inform readers about Nepali novels, for example, which titles  are regarded best and which ones  are available in translation.
Secondly and most importantly, so long as we have this one-way book traffic between Nepal and India, all our publication, including translation, will never see a wider world, not even India; it reverses, Nepal has ever  been India’s  largest book market. Its uneven and unjust principle which  has arrested our growth in the book world as a whole, including translation.
There is still another point of which I should make a mention — the total titles on translation is within one thousand. Ideally they say every literature should see that some 20 per cent of it goes on translation. It is a two-way traffic — giving and taking. As we are lacking  in Nepali theory of translation, what we have gained is for a labor of love, randomly, haphazardly, mostly  carried out by novice hands and dilettantes. All titles are not worth reading so more quantity and better quality should be our goal of translation at present  I hope Translation Studies courses will help improve this situation and establish this as a popular discipline.  Wee need translation expertise in growing number.
5.      How did you inculcate the habit of reading?
My high school library of Adarsha Vidya Mandir, Ghailadubba, Jhapa,  those great teachers and later on a wider world to which one is lured through the magic of letters. Actually reading had turned into a passion before I could feel what I liked most. Time paved my way.

6.      Books you want to recommend to others?
I don’t like to furnish a long list — but start with great works in Nepali first   then move to English or world literature in translation. One’s life will change with the Siddhartha or An Autobiography of a Yogi or The Good Earth. It is power of language, style and theme and the message. Though a world made up of imagination is true to life. Choose genres of your liking and start and continue until it grows into an irresistible passion. A tremendous world reveals itself.
Shall I recommend? Not titles but areas only. First one should love, honor and have faith in the Oriental world, the immense height that they gained in the fields of knowledge, art, science and wisdom  in  antiquity. I wish I should not have wasted my life by reading the West, I deceived myself by pretending to earn knowledge this way  whereas the root of all knowledge is the East; the Oriental knowledge of the past. I have still ample time to repeat to have missed the path to ultimate reality, and the greatest treasure in the world. I will turn rootless if I don’t  have love for my own root.

7.      Any overrated and underrated books?
It is only the perspectives of  the viewers. Some writers and even publishers try to advertise books like any consumers good of new brand or a nutrient health drink through life size hoarding  boards or the powerful  media in the affluent urban centers , whereas many in the moffusil are silent quiet and  hesitant to show up.
But time not water,  find its own level. It  took some three hundred years for  John Donne  to be honored. He was  almost buried in oblivion till TS Eliot  revisited the glorious past. I say you are creating literature,  a thing of perennial value, no unnecessary ad please.

Interview by Ujjwal Prasain


  1. It is really too mournful to explain how dilapidated and confined the culture of criticism in our country has been thrown aside to gather rust in rest. Such an act may be gravely responsible for the learners and new comers to feel that developing critical thinking is too hard a nut to crack significantly.
    Sir, would it be all right if I bore some different thought in regard to LITERARY ADVERTISEMENT?
    Several writers on the ground of advertisement are able to promote their creations no matter what they actually deserve. And, several genuine creations are beyond the sight of true readers, and deprived of the value they deserve in the lack of publicity. Does NO AD do justice to the readers, as well as the creators who have invested countless hours in the field?
    What about forming a BENCH OF INTELLECTUALS to do the fair justice to get the real treasures of the Nepalese literature translated and authoritatively publicized to bridge the gap between the true readers in the international markets and the genuine creations?
    Isn't it too hard and discouraging to be a John Donne? Isn't it high time someone came up as an TS Eliot of 21st century so that several Nepalese John Donnes won't have to wait for three hundred years to be honored?
    I hope conscious Nepalese intellectuals and experts will take a remarkable initiative so soon!

  2. Dear Suresh
    I am truly moved by your genuine comments and even suggestions

    Your deep concern asked me to write a few words
    A few clarifications or appreciations only

    If they go on producing life size hording boards on chowks and full page ads in dailies and sell books by just luring people they are taking advantage sonly not doing justice to the total picture or simultaneous growth

    what will those poor who cant even publish a book for years I came across one Narad Gautam of Gulmi has 9 manuscripts and and cannot afford to publish one
    There is Sangeet Ayam of Chitwan too frustrated

    Its unfair and the publishers and writers should not promote such a disparity in book world

    secondly as you have proposed a fair committee that decides and controls that controls the quality of books to be translated would be great

    I fully agree and with your idea and feel happy someone is worried about the present state of Nepali criticism

    lets join all worrieds like us

  3. Sir,
    I heartily thank you for finding my words worth replying to. I feel highly honoured.
    It is most generous of you to take my curiosities (Suggestions? Do I deserve to place them?) in such an encouragingly positive way. Your caring response has appeased my curiosities to a greater extent. And, I feel sorry to have heard about the frustrated writers seeing no light at the end of the tunnel to get their manuscripts published. How pathetic! How would their intellectual investment come to light? Wouldn't the new comers get compelled to think countless times before making an effort of contribution?
    After all, everyone has to keep their body and soul together.
    Publishers- they are obliged to make profit to survive longer and better. How could they get convinced on those manuscripts? Who would appear as a reliable link or promoter or fund generator?
    At least, may such worth-promoting creations not be left uncared-for to get infested with termites!

    High Regards
    Suresh Shrestha