Kumar Shrestha, an emerging Nepalese author, has a carved a niche in English short-story writing. His two collections of short-stories – Lonely Hearts and East Meets West have earned international recognition within months of their publication. The US-based publishing house Art Official Media LLC is going to make their international editions soon. In addition to that they are being translated into Nepali, Danish and Dutch languages. Born in Kailashnagar of Chitwan of Nepal, Kumar Shrestha is an MBA and an M Phil in English. Talking to The Rising Nepal, Shrestha reveals the mystery of his success and about his writing career.
You have been pursuing a diplomatic career for a long time. Now you have established yourself as a successful fiction writer with the publication of two short story collections in English. What made you choose a literary career?
Writing is in my blood. In my school days, I used to write short stories in Nepali; I have had some of them published as well. In college days, I quenched my thirst for writing with a lot of home assignments. As a professional, my job involves a lot of creative and specialized writing, besides editing. In a way, I have been pursuing writing with much interest for long. In early 2004, I obtained a Degree of Master of Philosophy in English from the Pokhara University. Thereafter, some other scholars including myself submitted our thesis proposals for a Doctoral Degree at the request of the University. The University kept the proposal pending for long for reasons unknown. As someone, who was so eager and energetic to accomplish a Ph D Degree, such an inordinate delay pushed me into a painful dilemma. I decided to switch over to storytelling to do away with the pain. I would like to thank the Pokhara University for turning me into a writer instead. Seriously.
Your first two anthologies of short stories are being published from the United States in addition to their being translated into Nepali, Danish and Dutch languages. What factors do you think would have led to this success?
There are several factors. Firstly, I use simple diction in stories with distinct style. Secondly, there is no ambiguity in my works. Thirdly, I write stories keeping the readers of all age groups in mind. Anyone can read and relish my short stories. Fourthly, I use popular language in my works. I don’t dwell upon extravagantly to add words and phrases to my stories. Rather, I leave tips-off all over my plots; some are hidden in between the lines! Fifth, I don’t dictate readers, nor do I impose my philosophies on them. Rather I allow readers’ creativity to play about to make their own judgments, thereby allowing them to add new meanings to the texts.
How do you feel about your books going international?
It is not a matter of pride and satisfaction for me alone, but for all the Nepalese, in general. That’s precisely why I want to dedicate this small feat to all the Nepalese through this newspaper.
Do you think this would help to take Nepali literature to global readership?
Yes. And this is just the beginning. My American publisher is not merely a publisher; he is a global distributor. So, besides the North American territories, my two works will be available in bookstores all over the world. They will also be sold globally by renowned online booksellers. In addition, my two anthologies are also being translated into Danish and Nepali by Kirsten Magdelene Schroder and Saurabh Ranjan Baral respectively. Since I last spoke to the media professionals on 11 July 2008, my Nepali publisher has finalized the deal to translate these works into Dutch; Prof. Ulla Musarra will undertake the Dutch translation. My Nepali publisher is currently exploring possibilities to translate these works into several other Asian and European languages. I think this is a good gesture for Nepali writers to go international.
Is Nepali literature not at par with international standard? What should Nepali writers do to make Nepali literature as a part of the world literature?
It would be a conservative estimate to say Nepali literature is not at par with international standard. Nepal did or does have very good writers. And there are some in the making already, with many more to come. The only obstacle Nepali writers confront is the language when we talk of the world literature. That almost all of us write in Nepali, our works are not exposed to the outer world. Nor there has been enough effort to translate them into English or even other languages. I, therefore, strongly encourage the new generation of Nepali writers to write in English. At the same time, every effort should be made to translate good works of Nepali writers into English and other languages of the world.
Do you see the prospect of the works of other Nepali writers to be welcomed by the foreign publishing houses?
Yes. The international edition of my two debut works indicates a good prospect for the Nepalese authors wanting to go global. With the news of my works going international, the global publishing houses and distributors will start showing interest in Nepali writers and their good works. It is just that we have to work very hard to meet the high expectations of global publishers and distributors.
Would you shed light on the themes and ideas that you have incorporated in your books?
Lonely Hearts and East Meets West abound with a compendium of subjects –prevailing superstitions and absurd traditional practices of the Nepalese society; sufferings of conflict-ridden youths and public at large; absurdities spurred by unemployment and youth culture; and hope and despair associated with the American Dream. Some of my stories try to expose hypocrisies and absurdities of the Nepalese society. Some voice against the absurd rituals and traditions of the Nepalese culture. Coming, as they are, in different flavors and palates, my stories try to bring to the fore the joys and miseries of human life in the most subtle and intelligent manner possible. Characteristic of microscopic descriptions of events of life, my ‘realistic’ works are a portrait of the present milieu to which all of us are the witness. My stories weave together facts, events and affairs of life into what makes interesting subjects for readers. On the whole, readers find my stories reflective of their own experiences of life. My stories attempt to transcend all castes, religions and boundaries. Although my stories are set in and around the environs of Kathmandu, my subjects are global. In essence, my stories try to illuminate the human condition in general.
Why do you write? Is it your hobby or a reflection of deep commitment to writing?
As I said in the very beginning, writing is in my blood. So, it is just not a mere hobby that I am toying with. And I am writing in English with a purpose.
What could that purpose be?
You see, as it is, Nepal is not known much to the international community. I have come across people who don’t even know about Nepal. I have encountered situations where people identify various other countries with Mt Everest. So is the case with the birthplace of Lord Buddha. I don’t know why people name different countries at different places. All these are glaring pointers to Nepal’s limited identity in the global arena. Nepali writers can further Nepal’s identity by writing in English. They can help spread a positive word about Nepal in the international community. They can help promote Nepal’s tourism. Through their creations, Nepali writers can introduce the unmatched natural beauty and the rich cultural heritage Nepal stands for. They can enlighten international readers on diverse ethnicities we represent, different languages we speak, and varied lifestyles, cultural and religious values we pursue.
Would you like to add anything that you think we have missed out?
I don’t tell stories myself; I try to show them. Some of my stories are ‘mainstream’ literary stories. Some are ‘experimental’ where I have blended ‘realism’ and ‘surrealism’ to tell astonishing tales. Some of my stories are ‘transcendental’ and go beyond the realm of human knowledge and experience. Some are ‘anti-novel’ where fiction-formulae are totally absent. My works do not cater to the elitist few only; they aim to reach out to a much, much wider audience and readership. My characters are popular. They speak a popular language; they share popular dreams and aspirations; and they fight popular problems and difficulties. The encouraging international responses speak for themselves regarding the growing popularity of Lonely Hearts and East Meets West. It is increasingly becoming evident that my stories are for the masses. I don’t mind if one calls my works ‘popular fiction.’
By Ritu Raj Subedi Interview in The Rising Nepal