Contemporary Nepali literature has an increasing range of works in the English language, covering extensive topics. We are delighted to provide a seminal article on this important topic.
The invaluable brief introduction to contemporary Nepali literature in English, provided below, by Professor Devkota, has been kindly provided by the renowned Nepali writer and novelist, DB Gurung: NIAP team member and senior technical advisor for Nepali literature.
It provides a taste of the splendour, depth and not infrequently the passion that permeates Nepali literary genius and the inspiration it provides to scholars in the English-speaking world. It is intended, to be an ideal starting point for entering this very special world, and as with the other links and articles in this section of the NIAP website, to helping start a lifelong relationship with Nepal and its people through familiarity with its literary genius. Searches on the biographical details of the named writers and literature scholars are recommended, as well as directly for the works cited.
Nepali Literature in English
The bulk of Nepali literature in English consists of translations and original composition s in English. Obviously, we must not confuse writing in English with literature written in English. Anyone trying to get a glimpse of Nepali literature through medium in English will benefit from Abhi Subedi’s Nepalese Literature: background and History (Sajha 1978) which offers a general survey. I would also suggest other readings of Nepali literature in English.
Mahakavi Laxmi Prasad Devkota is the first significant writer of Nepali literature in English. Among his published works written originally in English are the The Ballad of Luni, Bapu (1991), and Shakuntala epic (1991). A collection of his sonnets in English awaits publication. Among other unpublished works in English are poems, essays and a play (Samyogita). In themselves, they carry good burden of traditional Nepali culture.
Devkota also translated Nepali literature into English and vice versa. He was employed by the Nepali Bhasha Prakashini Samiti to translate a book on the royal hunt in Chitwan into English. However, his maturity as a translator manifests itself in the fifth and the seventh bilingual issues of Indreni, a poetry magazine brought out by the Kavya- Prathistan of which he was the president. Besides these, he also translated many of his own poems which are yet unpublished: “The Vishumati in Flood,” “A Fling on the Past,” “To the Rain Storm”, “Rice, Pulse and Vegetable Green,” “The Bird’s Hymn,””lord, Make Me a Sheep,” “The Wish of Shah Jahan”nand many others.
Among his Nepali works translated into English by others, Muna Madan tops the lists. Ganga Singh Rai (West Bengal), Michael Hutt (England), A. M. Syangden (Darjeeling), Ananda P. Shrestha, and others have attempted translations of this best-selling Sajha list: Pallav Ranjan’s translation of Devkota’s The Pilgrims (1995), an early collection of poems, also deserves attention. In 1998, Murari Madhusudan Thakur’s English rendering of several important poems of Devkota appeared under the title Laxmi Prasad Devkota: Selected Poems.
Bala Krishna Sama, a well known dramatist, was also a scholar of English literature. Some of his translated shorter poems such as “You Are Not Dead,” “Nine Emotions,” and “Poetry and Painting” appear in the seventh issue of Indreni (1956). Expressions After Death is available in a book form. Madhusudan Devkota’s translation of Sama’s Prahlad is available in the Royal Nepal Academy bookstore.
The Royal Academy has published an English rendering of Madhav Prasad Ghimire ‘s Ashwatthama (1998). The translation is furnished with an introduction to the life and work of the poet and also useful notes for readers from a different culture. Early in 1997, Abhi Subedi’s collection of English poetry, Kathmandu Odessey, was experimentally staged as a post-modern experience at the Russian Cultural Center.
David Ruben’s Nepali Visions, Nepali Dreams (New York,1980), published by the Columbia UP, was reviewed in 1981 by Bonnie R. Crown in World Literature Today 55.He writes: “Though his roots are in the Nepalese tradition, Devkota is one of the contemporary poets in the world. “Ruben has translated a selection of Devkota’s poems and also covered the life and work of the poet. The book was also reviewed by Loenard Nathan in the The Journal of Asian Studies 40, pages 838-39. Another work that attempts to capture the best of contemporary Nepali poetry into modern English is Michael Hutt’s Himalayan Voices. This work contains a good introduction to contemporary Nepali literature as well.
Parijat’s novel, Blue Mimosa, has found a place in an American university syllabus. Diamond Shamsher’s The Wake of the White Tiger, a very well received historical novel, tells the story of the Rana court. Another interesting novel translated into English by Taranath Sharma is Bharat Jangam’s The Black Sun.
Paras Mani Pradhan’s Mahakavi Laxmi Prasad Devkota (1978) is only one of several volumes of Makers of Nepali Literature Series devoted to the life and work of various Nepali writers and poets. Page 135-50 of Gone Away: An Indian Journal by Dom Moreas describes the writer’s meeting with Bahadur Shrestha’s My Reminiscence of the Great Poet Laxmi Prasa Devkota gives us a glimpse of the poet’s life as a student in Varanasi, India. Twentieth- Century Literary Criticism 23 contains a full-fledged article (pages 46-52) on “Laxmi Prasad Devkota” based mostly on David Ruben’s book, but also on Devkota’s own discussion of his poetry (1978). Short notes on Bhanubhakta Acharya, Motiram Bhatta, Laxmi Prasad Devkota, Guru Prasad Mainali, Lekhnath Pouyal, Bala Krishna sama, Sidhicharan Shrestha, an Bhimnidhi Tiwari feature in the Dictionary of Oriental Literature 2 publishe by the Basic Books in New York in 1974.
In the 1950s, Chittadhar Hridaya brought out a collection of Newari poetry (New Poetry) in English. The Royal Nepal Academy published Modern Nepali Poetry several years ago. Selected Poetry of Nepal Bhasa (1997) edited by Krishna Chandra Singh Pradhan is in the market. A translated selection of poetry read at the SAARC Silver Jubilee Poetry Festival 1997 was suppose to have benn published, but has long been overdue.
Bandana Shrestha wrote Dawn Volumes I and II in to 1980s while she was yet a teenager. Arati Dahal’s A Rose for Mama (1997) is a very laudable attempt coming from a schoolgirl. Laxmi D. Rajbhandari, an invisible housewife in a little gender conscious society, has already published two volumes of poems written originally in English: Until the Ocean Bled (November 1997) and You My All (December 1997). All three are women writers. Among other collections of poetry are Raju Maharjan’s Harassment and Other Poems and D. B. Gurung’s Whisper. Dr. Navin Chhetri’s Zero Passion published by Ranchi based Writers Forum was reviewed in The Kathmandu Post by D. L. Bhandari on December 6, 1998. Tek B. Karki has also brought out two volumes of poems: Sweet Steeple (1966) and Anonymous Fathers and Other Poems (1998).
Around 1967, Vasuda, an English monthly, started publishing interesting creative writing in English among other miscellaneous articles. Several of Devkota’s sonnets on Bapu appear in this magazine. In 1981, another important bi-annual literary magazine, Literature, published several of Devkota’s English essays and poems, and also translations of Bhupi Sherchan an Madhav Prasad Ghimire. Nava-Kabita, though mainly a Nepali poetry magazine, has also regularly published English poetry. At present, the most specialized literary magazine is the annual publication of the Literary Association of Nepal, Literary Studies. This scholarly journal occasionally includes creative pieces.
The Literary Association of Nepal itself was established in 1981 with the objectives of disseminating Nepalese literature abroad, of providing a forum for the study of foreign literature in Nepal, and of promoting creative functions through the medium of English. In keeping with its goals, the association has made arrangements with The Kathmandu Post to publish an article to Nepali literature in this very space at regular intervals.
Professor. Dr. Padma P. Devkota.