The voice of the voiceless

Nayan Raj Pandey completed his shortest, and probably his most poignant novel, Ular, in just four days. “While writing Ular I was so completely engrossed into a ‘mood’; I stuck into it and then within four days I had the book written,” says the author of more than half a dozen books—including Sallipir, which hit the stores last month. Pandey is a big fan of books that narrate the human condition as it is—attested when he names Albert Camus’ existential classic The Plague as one of his favourites. Moreover, here is the writer who himself weaves his narratives out of the lives of marginalised Nepalis, whether it be the Madhes situation in Ular or the hills of Sallipir.

The author talks to Narendra Raule about his journey as a writer and about his love for books. Excerpts:

How has the reception for Sallipir been?

The book has been received very well and the second edition will be out soon. To be well-sold is great, of course, but that should not exclusively be the only measure to gauge the success of a book. I believe in passing what I know through words and I feel great when the readers get what I wanted to say, the interpretations may differ, however. I have previously weaved my narrative out of the condition in the Tarai; while this time around I have written about the hill lifestyle. The fact that Sallipir has been liked so well, is very satisfying.

It is obvious that you are a voracious reader judging from the range of topics you write about… Can you name some works or writers who have influenced your own writing or works that you love to read?

I am very much into Bengali fiction. After completing Sallipir, I read Ganadevata, which is a novel by the late Tarasankar Bandyopadhyay. The story of a famine that also evokes the lifestyle and plights of the people of the region—it is hailed as one of the most significant works of Bengali literature. I am currently still contemplating that novel; I like mulling over the aftereffects a good book brings in my mind.

I love the works by Mahasweta Devi. She writes the stories of Bengali people on the margins, their plights and their ways of life. I also love works by Chekov and Hemingway.  Regarding Nepali literature, I am influenced by writers like Dhanus Chandra Gotame, Lainsingh Bangdel and Dhruba Chandra Gautam.  The Chinese maestro of the short story form Lu Xun is also one of my favourites.

Your favourite books?

Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Gorky’s Mother—these two novels taught me how to write fiction. Albert Camus’ The Plague, which tells the story of the human condition—and the despair, struggle and fear one goes through in life. The City of Joy, by Dominique Lapierre, is also one of my favourites: It is a novel about labours plying their trade in Calcutta. Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is a short novel, but the rewards it generates is incomparable. Lu Xun’s poetry and fiction are beautiful and deep.

You seem very much into fiction.

Yes, I prefer fiction and particularly the realist works that gives us a glimpse into the real lives of real people. It’s fun to read the struggle people go through and the ways they employ to escape plights. Poetry is also my favourite genre but I feel I lack the patience to read poetry. By and large, I relish fiction.

Do you reread?

I have a few times. I have read Paarijat’s epic Shirish ko Phool five times. Based on the novel, I had had to write a script for a film. Also, I have reread Laxmi Prasad Devkota’s Munamadan and Orwell’s Animal Farm. Currently I am rereading Narayan Dhakal’s Pit Sambad.

How do you pick the books you read?

I read reviews and take recommendations from friends. I buy almost all Nepali books that are in hype.

Regarding your writing: what is it that you want to do with what you write?

I want to bring to the fore the issues that are there inside the multifaceted society of ours. I am concerned with making my storytelling as simple as possible so that it is accessible to a large number o readers. I, in fact, don’t know how to write complex prose; but then simple writing is not everyone’s cup of tea.

While I write, I am not concerned about any mission and there is no aim. I want to write about those characters who are unable to share their voices to the world at large. I want to bring their sufferings to the fore.

What books do you recommend to our readers?

Nepali classics: Alikhit, Gham ka Paahilaharu, Shirish ko Phool, Sotala, Khaireni Ghat. And then, The Old Man and the Sea, Mother and Anton Chekhov’s short stories.

Advice for aspiring writers?

You have to study what others have written. You have to read the society you live in. When you are on a tour, try to understand the culture, traditions and norms of the place you have visit. And most importantly, you have to write as an exercise. You have to write in excess to make what you write beautiful.

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