‘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.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

What hospitals can do to drive entrepreneurship and enhance patient experience

Hospitals can perform better by partnering with entrepreneurs and encouraging a culture of intrapreneurship focused on customer centricity.

At the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, visitors don’t have to worry about navigating their way across the complex hospital premises. All they need to do is download wayfinding tools from the installed digital signage onto their smartphone and get step by step directions. Other hospitals have digital signage in surgical waiting rooms that share surgery updates with the anxious families waiting outside, or offer general information to visitors in waiting rooms. Many others use digital registration tools to reduce check-in time or have Smart TVs in patient rooms that serve educational and anxiety alleviating content.

Most of these tech enabled solutions have emerged as hospitals look for better ways to enhance patient experience – one of the top criteria in evaluating hospital performance. Patient experience accounts for 25% of a hospital’s Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) score as per the US government’s Centres for Medicare and Mediaid Services (CMS) programme. As a Mckinsey report says, hospitals need to break down a patient’s journey into various aspects, clinical and non-clinical, and seek ways of improving every touch point in the journey. As hospitals also need to focus on delivering quality healthcare, they are increasingly collaborating with entrepreneurs who offer such patient centric solutions or encouraging innovative intrapreneurship within the organization.

At the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott, some of the speakers from diverse industry backgrounds brought up the role of entrepreneurship in order to deliver on patient experience.

Getting the best from collaborations

Speakers such as Dr Naresh Trehan, Chairman and Managing Director - Medanta Hospitals, and Meena Ganesh, CEO and MD - Portea Medical, who spoke at the panel discussion on “Are we fit for the world of new consumers?”, highlighted the importance of collaborating with entrepreneurs to fill the gaps in the patient experience eco system. As Dr Trehan says, “As healthcare service providers we are too steeped in our own work. So even though we may realize there are gaps in customer experience delivery, we don’t want to get distracted from our core job, which is healthcare delivery. We would rather leave the job of filling those gaps to an outsider who can do it well.”

Meena Ganesh shares a similar view when she says that entrepreneurs offer an outsider’s fresh perspective on the existing gaps in healthcare. They are therefore better equipped to offer disruptive technology solutions that put the customer right at the center. Her own venture, Portea Medical, was born out of a need in the hitherto unaddressed area of patient experience – quality home care.

There are enough examples of hospitals that have gained significantly by partnering with or investing in such ventures. For example, the Children’s Medical Centre in Dallas actively invests in tech startups to offer better care to its patients. One such startup produces sensors smaller than a grain of sand, that can be embedded in pills to alert caregivers if a medication has been taken or not. Another app delivers care givers at customers’ door step for check-ups. Providence St Joseph’s Health, that has medical centres across the U.S., has invested in a range of startups that address different patient needs – from patient feedback and wearable monitoring devices to remote video interpretation and surgical blood loss monitoring. UNC Hospital in North Carolina uses a change management platform developed by a startup in order to improve patient experience at its Emergency and Dermatology departments. The platform essentially comes with a friendly and non-intrusive way to gather patient feedback.

When intrapreneurship can lead to patient centric innovation

Hospitals can also encourage a culture of intrapreneurship within the organization. According to Meena Ganesh, this would mean building a ‘listening organization’ because as she says, listening and being open to new ideas leads to innovation. Santosh Desai, MD& CEO - Future Brands Ltd, who was also part of the panel discussion, feels that most innovations are a result of looking at “large cultural shifts, outside the frame of narrow business”. So hospitals will need to encourage enterprising professionals in the organization to observe behavior trends as part of the ideation process. Also, as Dr Ram Narain, Executive Director, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, points out, they will need to tell the employees who have the potential to drive innovative initiatives, “Do not fail, but if you fail, we still back you.” Innovative companies such as Google actively follow this practice, allowing employees to pick projects they are passionate about and work on them to deliver fresh solutions.

Realizing the need to encourage new ideas among employees to enhance patient experience, many healthcare enterprises are instituting innovative strategies. Henry Ford System, for example, began a system of rewarding great employee ideas. One internal contest was around clinical applications for wearable technology. The incentive was particularly attractive – a cash prize of $ 10,000 to the winners. Not surprisingly, the employees came up with some very innovative ideas that included: a system to record mobility of acute care patients through wearable trackers, health reminder system for elderly patients and mobile game interface with activity trackers to encourage children towards exercising. The employees admitted later that the exercise was so interesting that they would have participated in it even without a cash prize incentive.

Another example is Penn Medicine in Philadelphia which launched an ‘innovation tournament’ across the organization as part of its efforts to improve patient care. Participants worked with professors from Wharton Business School to prepare for the ideas challenge. More than 1,750 ideas were submitted by 1,400 participants, out of which 10 were selected. The focus was on getting ideas around the front end and some of the submitted ideas included:

  • Check-out management: Exclusive waiting rooms with TV, Internet and other facilities for patients waiting to be discharged so as to reduce space congestion and make their waiting time more comfortable.
  • Space for emotional privacy: An exclusive and friendly space for individuals and families to mourn the loss of dear ones in private.
  • Online patient organizer: A web based app that helps first time patients prepare better for their appointment by providing check lists for documents, medicines, etc to be carried and giving information regarding the hospital navigation, the consulting doctor etc.
  • Help for non-English speakers: Iconography cards to help non-English speaking patients express themselves and seek help in case of emergencies or other situations.

As Arlen Meyers, MD, President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, says in a report, although many good ideas come from the front line, physicians must also be encouraged to think innovatively about patient experience. An academic study also builds a strong case to encourage intrapreneurship among nurses. Given they comprise a large part of the front-line staff for healthcare delivery, nurses should also be given the freedom to create and design innovative systems for improving patient experience.

According to a Harvard Business Review article quoted in a university study, employees who have the potential to be intrapreneurs, show some marked characteristics. These include a sense of ownership, perseverance, emotional intelligence and the ability to look at the big picture along with the desire, and ideas, to improve it. But trust and support of the management is essential to bringing out and taking the ideas forward.

Creating an environment conducive to innovation is the first step to bringing about innovation-driven outcomes. These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott, which is among the top 100 global innovator companies, is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the marketing team and not by the editorial staff.