‘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 

“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.