Literature from the outside, inside and wayside

Features Issue 137 Jun, 2013
Text by Kimiko Utsunomiya / Photo: ECS Media

Nepal's first literary magazine explores complex subjects subtly and makes hushed topics and perspectives heard.

La. Lit is the first literary magazine in Nepal that encompasses not only poetry and fiction, but non-fiction, long form journalism, translation and photography -- plus it’s in Nepali and English! The magazine not only wants to put Nepali Literature on the international radar but strives to share it with its own people and provide different perspectives. The originators behind this magazine are Editor Rabi Thapa, and Assistant Editor Prawin Adhikari. It all started after being involved with last year’s Lit Jatra and meeting other writers from all over. There is space “in order to express yourself in Nepal… if you want to do something, you can do it because it hasn’t been done before, or the way you want it to be done, and how you want to do it,” says Thapa. Thus, La. Lit was born.

The magazine is a project of their love for serious art and literature. For Thapa, “It was sort of a dream to run a magazine that didn’t focus on politics but literature and art itself… we’re deeply invested in the idea of literature.” They made it a sturdier magazine versus a tabloid format. They want these detailed, long form journal articles to “push government or whoever’s involved in the issue for a change.” The people behind the magazine are not afraid to push the buttons of literature, art and new ideas; in fact, they want to. The culture and ideas in Nepal are changing and much of this is reflected in the magazine’s writing and visual work.
The magazine speaks of racism, cohabitation, environmentalism, hypocrisy of religion, studying abroad, menstruation, poverty and the caste system, sexual attraction, death, land issues and territory disputes, losing faith in the monarchy, corruption, youth and drugs. Many times, both sides are presented and the reader can form their own conclusion. Many of these stories tell of local, familiar places in this city, instantly connecting you to it and drawing you in. Some are written so beautifully, so subtly that you are prodded on to dig a little deeper in understanding and analyzing the problems in their larger context, in how the author is not only commenting about local issues, but worldwide issues that we must address.

Reading through the magazine, you can feel the conflict, the emotion and things left unsaid, the struggle in the clash of opposing ideas. The struggles begin to feel like your own; you want to change things for the better. Many stories are a satire about society and hypocrisy, how a person can twist religion for their own purposes and shows the blind faith that people have.

The magazine is unique in its determination to bridge the gap between literature in Nepali, English and other ethnic languages. They are “essentially trying to get the Nepali stuff out there which is totally inaccessible to people who don’t read Nepali… and the other way around, if you can’t speak English fluently… [It’s] not only taking Nepali writers to an international audience, it’s also bringing Nepali writers to their own people who just happen to speak a different language because they’re a different ethnicity,” says Thapa, emphasizing that translation is “not just a gimmick.” They hope that their next issue will include translations of other ethnic languages in Nepal. Presently, even if translations come out, they are done on a very small scale and don’t get much publicity. They want to open doors to new translations. Thapa says, “If we can even present just a fraction of that… not like we’re pioneering exactly… but we want to be a part of that.”

La. Lit wants to draw in an audience for writers in Nepal and don’t want them to be limited in their international following just because of language barriers. Thapa states, “There is a gulf between people who write in English and people who write in Nepali.” The magazine hopes to provide a space where writers in English, Nepali and other languages can come together and discuss ideas and writing. “Someday, there’ll be this amazing, brilliant, hybrid come out in Nepal that will incorporate [Western and Nepali Literature],” says Thapa.
People who want to pursue their love of writing have been limited in Nepal. Adhikari says, “[It’s] interesting to see how many people have gone through MFA programs in the recent years and how much literature actually comes out.” Most writers end up working for magazines, newspapers or INGOs for their livelihood.

This is also true with visual arts. Kanchan Burathoki, illustrator for La. Lit, hopes that future magazines will have more “fresh writers and a collaboration between writers and artists” since this was difficult for the first issue because it was so rushed. Adhikari says, “Well, 60 years ago [literacy] was only 1%.” For many, reading is restricted to textbooks or newspapers and general readership is low. Literature in Nepal has been slow to emerge and get an audience.

There are indeed a lot of obstacles to overcome. Yet, it’s all worth it. “My favorite part was also the hardest. I loved the multiple layers of challenges. You have to be a good reader to give good feedback. But you also have to give feedback in a certain way…. And after the process you hope that the final product is far better than the beginning,” says Adhikari. “La. Lit I think touches on many relevant social and political themes of Nepal and South Asian society. It seems like the first anthology published in Kathmandu of its kind,” says one reader, Amrita Shakya.

So how can we support such a brilliant, new literary magazine? “Buy the magazine to support the mission! We have to pay the writers and that’s the best support you can give us to commission the stories,” Adhikari says. Rabi adds, “If you’ve already got a copy, go to the website.” Or tell your friends. For the sake of original Nepali literature, it is definitely worth spreading the word.n