Himalayan voices provides admirers of Nepal and lovers of literature with their first glimpse of the vibrant literary scene in Nepal today.
An introduction to the two most developed genres of modern Nepali literature-poetry and the short story-this work profiles eleven of Nepal’s most distinguished poets and offers translations of more than eighty poems written from 1916 to 1986. Twenty of themost interesting and best-known examples of the Nepali short story are translated into English for the first time by Michael Hutt. All provide vivid descriptions of Life in twentieth-century Nepal.
While the Nepali short story adapted its present form only during the early 1930s, it has developed a surprisingly high degree of sophistication. These stories offer insights into the workings of Nepali society: into caste, agrarian relations, social change, the status of women, and so on. Such insights are more immediate than those offered by scholarly works and are conveyed by implication and assumption rather than analysis and exposition.
This book should appeal not only to admirers of Nepal, but to all readers with an interest in non-Western literatures.
Michael James Hutt is a lecturer in Nepali Studies at the school of Oriental and African Studies in the University of London.
Nepal is a Hindu kingdom, approximately equal in size to England with Wales, that lies along a 500-mile stretch of the eastern Himalaya between India and Tibet. The most striking feature of the country is its spectacular landscape, and the region's dramatic topography has been a crucial factor in its historical and cultural development since the most ancient times. From a strip of fertile lowland known as the Tara' in the south, Nepal rises in range after range of hills to the snow-covered crest of the main Himalayan range. Nepal's location between two great cultures and its previous isolation from the outside world have produced a rich and variegated mixture of ethnic groups, languages, and cultures. Because communication and travel in such mountainous country present enormous problems, the region remained politically fragmented until the recent historical past. In the south, the jungles and malarial swamps of the Taal prevented both settlement and foreign military incursions, whereas the far north was cold, lofty, and inhospitable. The heartlands of Nepal have therefore always been the hill areas between these two extremes and, • more particularly, the intermontane valleys with their fertile soils and equable climate.
Since the early medieval period, the Kathmandu Valley (often still known simply as Nepal) has been the most prosperous and sophisticated part of this region, and it is still famous for the distinctive arts and architecture of its most ancient inhabitants, the Newars. The hill regions are the home of an enormous variety of different ethnic groups, each with its own language. Although Hinduism predominates, Buddhism and minor local cults are strong. A large number of petty states existed within the present-day borders of Nepal until the mid-eighteenth century (within the central valley alone, there were three separate Newar kingdoms); but all of these were overcome by the tiny principality of Gorkha within only a few decades. Gorkha's campaign of conquest and unification was inspired and led by the remarkable king, Prithvinarayan Shah, whose forces finally took the Kathmandu Valley in 1769. Prithvinarayan is now revered as the father of the modern nation-state. Nepal assumed its present proportions early in the nineteenth century after a series of battles with the British East India Company in 1815. and 1816. A treaty imposed on the Nepalis and signed at Sagauli, now in Bihar, India, was a severe blow to national pride.
As a Hindu kingdom, Nepal has been ruled since its "unification" by a series of Gorkhali monarchs—the Shah dynasty—who claim a lineage that stretches back to ancient origins in the Rajput states of western In-dia. For most of the time between the conquest of Kathmandu, the new nation's capital, and the mid-nineteenth century, however, a minor occupied the throne. This led to an almost continual and often bloody struggle for power among a number of rival families. An abrupt end was brought to this period of political chaos in 1846, when Jang Bahadur, head of the powerful Kunwar family, contrived to have most of his rivals killed off in an event now known as the Kot Massacre, the ko(being a courtyard of the royal palace in which it took place. He subsequently became a virtual dictator, and the massacre inaugurated more than a century of rule by a succession of "prime ministers" who styled them-selves Rana.
Jang Bahadur laid down the foundations of the Rana regime during his thirty-one years in power: the Ranas' primary concern was political stability, and they were generally supported by the British in India. Foreigners were barred almost totally during the nineteenth century, the kings were made virtual prisoners in their palaces, the office of prime minister became hereditary, and all foreign ideologies were viewed with considerable suspicion. Although it can be argued that the Rana governments saved Nepal from the threat of annexation to British India, it is quite evident that their conservative policies severely retarded the development of the kingdom. Educational policy is an important case in point. Until after World War I, education was provided only for the children of the elite in Kathmandu, and the national literacy rate remained abysmally low. The sons of high-caste families followed traditional modes of education: they studied the Hindu scriptures and the Sanskrit language and often traveled to the ancient centers of learning in India for their studies. For most of the people, however, social and educational advancement remained an impossibility, and subsistence farming was the only means of support.
After each world war, thousands of young, men returned to Nepal from the British and Indian armies, bringing with them a much wider perspective on the world. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Nepal lagged behind even India in every aspect of development; roads, hospitals, schools, and industries were conspicuous by their absence: The nation's backward condition was readily apparent to the returnees, and the Ranas' hold on power became vulnerable to criticism from a growing class of educated and disaffected Nepalis. Despite a number of palliative measures taken to assuage political opposition, and despite periods of harsh repression exemplified by the 1941 execution of members of an illegal political organization, the Praja Parishad, the government's position became precarious after the departure of the British from India. By 1950 the main opposition group, the Nepali Congress, had begun to mount an armed insurrection, and early in 1951 the king, Tribhuvan, was restored to power in a series of events now called the "revolution" of 1950-1951. These events marked the advent of democracy in Nepal, and most Nepali historians regard 1950 as the beginning of the modern period of their history.
Since this revolution, Nepal has sought to enhance its national unity and identity and to establish viable political institutions and processes. The first decade of Nepali democracy was a troubled period characterized by vacillatory policies, the collapse of several short-lived administrations, and obstructive factionalism. In 1959 the Nepali Congress achieved a sweeping victory in the nation's first ever general election, but the Congress's program of radical reforms met with stiff opposition. In 1960 King Mahendra revoked the constitution, dismissed the government, and imprisoned its leaders, alleging that the Congress had failed to provide national leadership or maintain law and order. King Mahendra and his supporters also argued that the country's recent political instability had proved that parliamentary democracy was an alien system unsuited to Nepal. After 1960 Mahendra and his son and successor, Birendra, developed and refined a new system of Pancheiyal democracy based on a formal structure of representation from the "grass roots" up to national level. For most of this time all political parties were banned. Muted dissent flared up into student riots in the late 1970s, and a national referendum was conducted in 1980 to ascertain the people's will with regard to the national political system. The Panchayat system was vindicated by a slim majority in this referendum, but rumbles of unrest continued to recur from time to time.
Toward the end of 1989 the banned Nepali Congress Party joined with other opposition groupings to launch the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD). The situation seemed ripe for change. A dispute with India concerning trade and transit agreements had caused severe shortages of basic commodities in Nepal. The continued ban on political parties meant that opposition activists faced increasingly harsh repression. Educated Nepalis found the pace of development frustratingly slow, particularly in view of the massive sums of foreign aid that they knew had poured into Nepal since the 1950s. Strong rumors circulated of corruption in high places, and many of these rumors implicated members of the royal family. Initially, the government responded harshly to the strikes and demonstrations the MRD had organized. Thousands were arrested and many newspapers were censored or banned. Dozens of demonstrators died in police actions during February and March 1990. On April 6, police fired on a large crowd of unarmed demonstrators who were marching on the royal palace in Kathmandu, and scores of marchers died. After this tragedy, the government capitulated. A curfew was declared to restore public order, the ban on political parties was lifted for the first time in thirty years, and a general amnesty was declared. After a brief period of intense negotiation, the king accepted a constitutional role, and an interim government was set up to redraft the country's constitution and to supervise elections in 1991.
The compiler of any literary anthology is always liable to be accused of sins of omission and commission, and I do not expect to be spared. I began work on this project with the idea of producing two separate books: a much larger ,and more comprehensive selection of poems in English translation, including works by as many as forty poets, and an anthology of some thirty short stories. These objectives were modified for a number of reasons. It gradually became clear to me that the poetry of another culture can rarely be appreciated or understood fully if its authors are not properly introduced or presented in the context of their own historical and literary traditions. The approach I subsequently adopted was to provide an introduction to the works of a fairly limited number of important Nepali poets. At a later stage it dawned on me that although Nepali short stories contain a wealth of interesting material, many are simply less compelling in a strictly literary sense than are the more highly developed poetic genres.
Each poet who is the subject of a separate chapter in Part One of this book has been chosen for reasons of significance, and the importance of the contribution each has made to Nepali poetry is explained in an introductory preamble to the selection of translated poems. The farther back into the historical past one ventures, the easier it becomes to assess the importance of individual poets. Thus, it is unlikely that any Nepali will wish to quarrel with my choice of the first six poets. It is inevitably more difficult to predict who will come to be regarded in future years as the most important Nepali poets of the more recent past. In general, however, I have relied on the assessments of Nepali critics and anthologists in my choice of both poets and poems. If a poet appears regularly in the four anthologies published by the Royal Nepal Academy and Sajha Prakashan, it seems safe to assume that he or she is considered significant. I have adopted a similar rule with regard to the selection of poems for translation, although it must be admitted that personal taste and the extent to which I have felt satisfied with my translations have also played a part in this process. Thus, some poems are translated here because Nepali critics agree that they are important; others appear simply because I have enjoyed them.
My aim in Part Two has been to present translations of some of the most interesting and best-known examples of the short story in Nepali, to demonstrate the extent to which they describe life in Nepal, and to give some indication of the way in which the genre has developed. This selection has been "boiled down" from my original collection of more than thirty translated stories and is presented as far as possible in order of first publication. Obviously, each story was originally written by a Nepali for a Nepali readership. It should also be borne in mind that the authors are from a particular section of Nepali society—the educated urban middle class—and that these stories therefore inevitably reflect the prejudices, perceptions, and preoccupations of members of that class. It is part of a translator's duty to explain and interpret, and I have tried to do this as unobtrusively as possible with a fairly brief introduction to the genre and its themes and with an explanation of Nepali terms and cultural references in brief footnotes to the texts. A number of Nepali words have been retained in these translations because no single English word could adequately translate them. More detailed explanations of such terms may be found in the glossary at the end of the book.
In selecting these stories for translation, I consulted with a number of scholars, critics, and authors in Kathmandu in the summer of 1988 and compiled a list of more than fifty important Nepali short story writers. Obviously, this list had to be shortened because the inclusion of one story by each writer would have produced a book of unmanageable and unpublishable proportions. It soon became clear that certain writers could be represented adequately by one story apiece but that justice would not be done to others if only one story of theirs was translated. Thus, an initial selection was made of thirty stories by twenty-two authors, of whom six were represented by two stories and one (Bishwesh-war Prasad Koirala) by three. Once the authors had been selected, the problem of which stories to translate was solved with reference to critical opinion in Kathmandu and to the choices of the editors of the five important Nepali anthologies. These are Katha KUSUM (Story Flower, 1938), the first anthology of short stories ever published in Nepali; Jhyalbata (From a Window, 1949), an anthology of twenty-five stories; Sajha Kasha (Sajha Stories, 1968), which includes twenty-six of the most famous Nepali stories; Pachhis Varshaka Nepali Katha (25 Years. of Nepali Stories, 1983), a collection of thirty-five of the best stories published between the establishment of the Royal Nepal Academy in 1957 and 1983; and Samsamayik Sajha Kathy (Contemporary Sajha Stories, 1984), a supplement to Sajha Katha that contains thirty-seven more recent stories. My original intention had been to publish all thirty stories as a separate anthology, but, as I have explained, I later cut down the number of stories to what I consider an irreducible minimum. I hope that those that remain will serve to give a flavor of modern Nepali fiction.
I regret that stories by such noted Nepali authors as Pushkar Shamsher, Govindabahadur Malla Gothale, Shankar Koirala, Shailendra Sakar, Dhruba Sapkota, Pushkar Lohani, Jainendra Jivan, Jagdish Ghimire, Kumar Nepal, Keshavraj Pindali, Ishwar Ballabh, Somadhwaja Bishta, Bhaupanthi, Devkumari Thapa, Anita Tuladhar, and Bhimnidhi Tiwari have not found their way into this collection. Some readers may also be surprised by the absence of two of Nepal's greatest writers—Lakshmiprasad Devkota and Balkrishna Sama—who both wrote a number of short stories. My opinion, shared by many Nepalis, is that Devkota's and Sama's greatest contributions were to the fields of poetry and drama in Nepali, not to fiction. This book might also be accused of ignoring to some extent the enormous contribution made by Nepali writers from India because most of the research on which the book is based was conducted in Nepal. Such, however, are the limitations inherent in a work of this nature. Let me conclude by saying that I hope that others will continue to investigate and translate Nepali literature, so that the gaps I have left may be filled and Nepal's rich literary heritage may be appreciated more fully in the world beyond the hills.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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