‘A new literary culture does not permeate in Nepal unless it comes bundled with flashing lights’

A candid conversation with Rabi Thapa, Nepali writer in English.

Although literature in Nepal has a long history, Nepali writing in English (NWE) only caught international attention in the early 2000s, after the publication of Manjushree Thapa’s The Tutor of History and Samrat Upadhyay’s Arresting God in Kathmandu. Today, NWE has moved beyond just books – there is a burgeoning slam poetry scene, as well as an effort by international publishers to bring in new translations and writers.

In an interview to, writer Rabi Thapa, whose most recent work Thamel: Dark Star of Kathmandu, reveals how Kathmandu’s famed tourist district has changed over the years, about how NWE is placed today, and where it goes from here. Excerpts from the interview:

Despite a history of literature tracing back to antiquity, English writing in Nepal is a more recent phenomenon. How far have we come?
We’ve got to where we are with stops and starts, beginning with sub-par self-translations by poets in the 1950s and peaking, so to speak, with the vanity projects of the ’80s and ’90s. With a few exceptions (the academic and essayist Kamal P Malla for example), this is primordial, non-edited (and largely non-read) Nepali writing in English.

The scene got a shot in the arm with the publication of Samrat’s and Manjushree’s fiction outside Nepal, circa 2001. But it lost steam, perhaps because Nepali writing in English was a niche market and simply didn’t have enough readers. This, despite the phenomenal parallel growth of Nepali-language publishing, driven by media-savvy private companies.

The last few years have seen significant additions to non-fiction from Nepal (in English), Indian publishers such as Speaking Tiger are commissioning new work, and publications like La.Lit and The Record are doing all they can to encourage Nepali writing in English. Ask me again in a few years and we’ll see if this is just another blip or a massing of energies.

How can it be ensured it’s not just a blip? Are there any institutional support systems for writers?
Yes, Nepali language writers do get some support and validation from the Nepal Academy, though this is orientated towards the canon, as represented by the topi-wearing old school. This is not applicable to us for the moment. As for the government’s investing in Nepali writers in English, they’re hidebound. New culture does not permeate unless it comes bundled with flashing lights.

There is a lot of energy visible in Nepali writing today, with slam poets, feminist writings and the Book Bus Library’s focus on writing and reading among schools and colleges. How do you see things moving ahead? And where do you think this energy is coming from?
There is a lot more of youth involvement in writing and performing poetry, in both Nepali and English. The Book Bus (run by Quixote’s Cove), by travelling to towns along the highways, tries to ensure that this energy is not limited to Kathmandu. The themes cover the personal as much as the political. So a slam poetry contest will veer from heartfelt odes to the body, love and teenage rebellion to weary satires on society and politics. Political instability – or stagnation, if you will, in the sense of enduring corruption – clearly frustrates the Nepali youth, who refuse to accept the dysfunction that warps their futures. Writing/performing is one way to express this anger, and search for solutions.

Slam poets Ujjwala Maharjan and Yukta Bajracharya performing

Several translations of Nepali writings, including two of IB Rai’s by Manjushree Thapa and Prawin Adhikari, are on their way. How important are these translations to Nepali writing? Do you think a focus on translations may result in fewer original works?

IB Rai’s is a special case, as he is writing from Darjeeling. Translations of his work are important for the Indian mainstream and to project a Nepali sensibility into the wider world. More translations are needed, to reach Nepalis in Nepal and across the world who prefer to read in English, as much as to allow those writing in Nepal’s languages to be part of a global conversation. Yes, there are not many of us working in English, and spending time on translations means less time on original work – but we’ll get there eventually!

Any particular writers whose works you’d like to see being translated?
There’s so little that’s been done at an acceptable level that it’s all fair game, keeping in mind the limited resources we have in terms of translators (and paying for their time). All the classics need redoing, but newer writing – especially the literary bestselling fiction of the last decade – deserves to be thrust on the world stage.

Your most recent work was an acclaimed historical memoir about Thamel. La.Lit, the literary magazine you edit, dedicated a full issue to translations. What do you think is the role of the writer in modern Nepal?
Writers may be engaged in hand-to-hand combat on a number of fronts – writing, editing, translating, interacting with peers and audiences, and, often, a tedious job as well, to pay the bills. That’s my experience, but it may not be another’s, and I would never suggest that a writer has to occupy a certain role in society – she does what she needs to do for herself, and if that revs up the literary scene and contributes to positive social change, fine. I’m a bit wary of social(ist) realism and worthy themes as ends in themselves.

Why? Wouldn’t a writer be as affected by the stagnation within the socio-political sphere?
What I mean is I can’t stand the sanctimony of those who feel writing about the state of the nation in terms of a class struggle is inherently more elevated than writing about, say, falling asleep.

And finally, what can publishers of Nepali writers do better to make their works reach a larger audience?
To a great extent, Nepali publishers have succeeded in this through marketing ploys and promoting the cult of the celebrity writer. What they could do better is on the editorial side, to ensure the works are of better quality (don’t get me started on celebrity autobiographies) – they owe it to the readers. International publishers of Nepali writers need to work harder to market and distribute the books – they owe it to the authors.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Get ready for an 80-hour shopping marathon

Here are some tips that’ll help you take the lead.

Starting 16th July at 4:00pm, Flipkart will be hosting its Big Shopping Days sale over 3 days (till 19th July). This mega online shopping event is just what a sale should be, promising not just the best discounts but also buying options such as no cost EMIs, buyback guarantee and product exchanges. A shopping festival this big, packed with deals that you can’t get yourself to refuse, can get overwhelming. So don’t worry, we’re here to tell you why Big Shopping Days is the only sale you need, with these helpful hints and highlights.

Samsung Galaxy On Nxt (64 GB)

A host of entertainment options, latest security features and a 13 MP rear camera that has mastered light come packed in sleek metal unibody. The sale offers an almost 40% discount on the price. Moreover, there is a buyback guarantee which is part of the deal.

Original price: Rs. 17,900

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 10,900

Samsung 32 inches HD Ready LED TV

Another blockbuster deal in the sale catalogue is this audio and visual delight. Apart from a discount of 41%, the deal promises no-cost EMIs up to 12 months.

Original price: Rs. 28,890

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 10,900

Intel Core I3 equipped laptops

These laptops will make a thoughtful college send-off gift or any gift for that matter. Since the festive season is around the corner, you might want to make use of this sale to bring your A-game to family festivities.

Original price: Rs. 25,590

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 21,900


If you’ve been planning a mid-year wardrobe refresh, Flipkart’s got you covered. The Big Shopping Days offer 50% to 80% discount on men’s clothing. You can pick from a host of top brands including Adidas and Wrangler.

With more sale hours, Flipkart’s Big Shopping Days sale ensures we can spend more time perusing and purchasing these deals. Apart from the above-mentioned products, you can expect up to 80% discount across categories including mobiles, appliances, electronics, fashion, beauty, home and furniture.

Features like blockbuster deals that are refreshed every 8 hours along with a price crash, rush hour deals from 4-6 PM on the starting day and first-time product discounts makes this a shopping experience that will have you exclaiming “Sale ho to aisi! (warna na ho)”

Set your reminders and mark your calendar, Flipkart’s Big Shopping Days starts 16th July, 4 PM and end on 19th July. To participate in 80 hours of shopping madness, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Flipkart and not by the Scroll editorial team.