(Mr. Ram Prasad Prasain and his colleague Mr. Keshar Bahadur Balampaki met and talked about various facades of Nepalis Writing in English with D. B. Gurung. They prepared the questionnaires and emailed them to the novelist; and he answered them. It is written and personal interview. – Editor)
Balampaki: Sir, could you share with me when and how did you start to leave marks in writing literature in English?
DBG: The story of my writing career, or perhaps, more aptly, the birth of my passion in writing goes back to more than three decades. And, of course, I started in English language, and certainly will continue and end up with the very language. Well, my mother tongue is undeniably Nepali, but I feel more comfortable with English language, which is owing to my schooling background. I went to English medium school. So far as I remember, I had my first poem published when I was in the fifth grade in the school magazine, and my principal highly appreciated it. That was the turning point: and I published my first poetry anthology in 1992, which was inspiring for me. But I wanted go for a full length novel in some secret chamber of my heart. And then I made the mark in 1998.
Balampaki: How do you usually find your ideas in writing? Do they come spontaneously or well planned?
DBG: Doing creative writing is not like running a news article based on a fact. There can’t be a swaying of leaves without breeze or smoke without fire; initially, you have to have some inspirations—a tug in the heart. You have the alpha ideas jutted down, which is not the same thing as you have completed a piece of art (writing), you have a rigorous task awaiting you in store in brushing it up to give the final shape, looking from different dimensions, like a sculptor does. As many a writer in Nepal, especially poets claim, I don’t believe in spontaneity; it’s a total bunk. I, perhaps, like every writer, do a lot of re-writing. It took seven long years to complete my twelve-page verse titled ‘Sleepwalk’. Certainly in longer works, you have plans; you have strategy to get along to get the right stuff you want.
Balampaki: What are the major challenges you have encountered in your writing career?
DBG: First and the foremost, you have to manage the time since you are not completely banking on your writing career for your livelihood. Second, your are concerned about the theme, subject, building blocks, plots, and of the characters in your book. And of course, language and researching on relevant issues are the pivotal elements in your creative endeavor, which means you have to read a lot of books.
Balampaki: Could you mention some names of any other writers (living or dead) that have shaped and influenced your writings and philosophy in your life?
DBG: Well, in fact, I don’t have great influence from any of the Nepalis writers, but when talk about the international writers, I’ve the following favorite writers to recall for now, they are: Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Hermen Hesse, Kazuo Ishiguro, Martin Amis, Czslaw Miloz, Joseph Brodsky, Pablo Neruda, James Baldwin, Kenzaburo Oe, Saul Below, James Baldwin, Walt Whitman, Donald Hall, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Alex Helley, Yukio Mishima, Yasunari Kawabata, Anita Desai, Rohinton Mistry, Vikran Seth, J.M. Coetzee, V.S. Naipaul, Nadine Gordimer,Gabrial Garcia Marquez, Ben Okri.
Balampaki: Roland Barthes has already declared “The Death of the Author”. You have mentioned some where The Echoes of the Himalayas is your partial autobiography. Do you agree with the Barthean ethos of writer’s death? What is your role as a novelist in it?
DBG: Barthes’ declaration of ‘The death of the author’ is not always acceptable. Yes, a writer is a lonely being; he has to be alone and all by himself, which is not the same thing as he has to necessarily tell his own tale all the way. Most of V.S. Naipaul’s books look very autobiographical, but this is not the truth, he invents things based on his personal experiences; fiction tells the lies to tell the truth, which is a circus of human existence. Each of us goes through varieties of events in life, sometimes, even miraculous! Certainly, it’s not necessary every reader to know or feel about what sort of ethos a writer has gone through while penning his book; a reader’s ultimate concern is with the book not the writer. So, I disagree with Barthes in this sense. In fact, critics are liars, they don’t buy or write a book but make lots of noise about the book—and perhaps for them an author is dead. Echoes of the Himalayas is not an autobiography but a fiction based on many sizzling facts about Nepal and the Nepalis.
Balampaki: There are Nepali writers in English like: Smarat Upadhyay, Manjushree Thapa, Sheeba Shah, M. K. Limbu, Rabi Thapa and D. B. Gurung. So, I’d like to consolidate all of you as contemporary voices. Then, could you tell me what are the similarities among all of you? And, what are the features that differentiate you from them?
DBG: Well, in creative work, it matters what background an artist has come from: A white writer cannot explore into the heart of the problems of the black folks; a bahun writer cannot fathom into the core of a dalit’s or janajati’s plight. The only thing we share together is we write in English. We don’t have similarities; we have our own sound track. And it’s good we have to go this way. I cannot write like Sheeba’s aristocracy or Samrat’s sex, or Rabi’s homos, and they certainly can’t write like I do deeply dyed in ethno-identity issues.
Balampaki: Our times have been filled with the various –isms and schools of thought in literature. The political issues on identity, ethnicity, nationality, diasporas and globalization have overlapped our writings whatever the genres. Are these issues associated with your acclaimed novel, The Echoes of the Himalayas? And,how have you addressed the issues of ‘identity politics’ and ‘politics of resistance’ in it?
DBG: Before all, I must clarify that I’ve no penchant for any particular –ism or school of thought. A writer reflects the ethos of the society. Sure, my novel is associated with the issues on identity, ethnicity, nationality, diasporas, and, of course, politics of resistance. When my protagonist Gagan is denied the citizenship of the country of his birth and origin, he goes through an identity crisis. He ultimately joins an ethnic political organization to resist against the injustice and discrimination drilled against him and the others of his kind. The novel ends with a political note of resistance, beckoning a civil war, which seems almost inevitable in the ethnic line unlike ideological-oriented Maoist People’s war.
Balampaki: How do you associate philosophy and creative writing? Where do you categorize your novel, a work of art or philosophy? What’s your philosophy to give birth many more Gagans on your creative journey?
DBG: It’s always an intrinsic tendency of an artist to spill the beans through creative endeavors—of your set of original beliefs, your perception, your comprehension of the outside world and your inner self—all that complex matrix of life. This’s how they intertwine together as comfortable bed partners. My novel is a work of art with ingrained philosophical undercurrents. The creation of Gagan is the demand of time; more Gagans may born in different avatars in the subsequent works.
Balampaki: Gagan has been an archetype of our times. We are at the circumstance of disillusionment. Has he achieved a deferred dream? If not, when will have that dream been fulfilled? Does it explode? Or prolong as a festering wound?
DBG: The Maoist insurgency has shown us some glints of hopes that even ordinary citizens of ethnic backgrounds can hold high government posts; the situation has been visibly changed. A very inspiring example is the appointment of CoAS Chatraman Singh Gurung, which is, of course, not a positive impact garnered from the insurgency; he soared up to the top position because of his caliber and qualification. Another instance is the appointment of a farmer’s son of the Madhesi origin Ram Baran Yadav to become the first President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. Things are looking up; however, for millions their dreams are still deferred, not fulfilled or even festering like a wound, or even may explode if the ground realities are not realized by the state authorities.
Balampaki: What is the position of Gagan—of a rebel or a victim or an anarchist—in your mind during its writing?
DBG: Gagan is neither a rebel nor an anarchist, he is the victim of circumstantial compulsion. Circumstance has made him a crusader but not a rebel. Wait a minute, when one suffers injustice, why not he resorts to intellectual resistance against those who are not gods?
Balampaki: Eventually, could you give some genuine suggestions to this interviewer (researcher) and message to the common readers to enhance their creativity and reading culture?
DBG: There isn’t any hard and fast theory to enhance your creativity. First of all, you should have enthusiasm, strong will and conviction to put your thoughts into writing; and of course, a good command is language is paramount. Keep writing over and again until a voice from inside tells you ‘what not to write’. Reading is always a most. Read so much until your ears ring. Set a habit of reading over the breakfast, during break, before bed time—and even in the restroom. Ultimately, you have something unexpected, your hard-earned creative piece.
Balampaki: Sir, could you share your literary plans and creative journeys in the days to come?
DBG: I’m currently working on a novel, and I don’t have any specific plans for the future.
Balampaki: It is said that man is a political animal by nature. And, your protagonist Gagan finally has been affiliated and associated to an ethnic political organization in your novel. Do you have any affiliation or affinity to any political block? If not, are writers and poets always alien to active politics? Shouldn’t they voice for the voiceless? Shouldn’t they empower them? Shouldn’t they advocate on behalf of them? Don’t they have social responsibility to safeguard equality, justice and human dignity?
DBG: As I said already, I’ve no affiliation with any political party. This is the gross truth. Many great writers were (and are) active in politics, for example Nehru was, Vaclav Havel was, our own BP Koirala was. But I for one have always believed in the alienation of a writer from politics—because he has a tendency to become bias. A bias writer is as bad as a crook politician. He sees a tiny squeaky mouse running in the opposition party’s chamber, but he refuses to see a predatory beast roaming (the rot that has set) in his own party. So what intellectual honesty do you expect from such writer? A writer should be apolitical, non-partisan and unbiased so he can tell the truth, bash the evils and praise the good ones, and advocate for the voiceless for equality, justice and human dignity. Last but not least, when I sense if a particular political party really wants to do good for the people and needs my help, I may support it, which is my moral and intellectual right as a citizen of the country.
Balampaki: Let’s have a hypothetical question, where will be the position of writer D. B. Gurung at next 10 years in the literary domain of Nepali writers in English?
DBG: Who’ll decide my position and confer accolades? This lame duck Nepali-language-centric intelligentsia or these bias literary foundations? We English language writers have no room here. I write to placate my own creative thirst and keep writing as always. I don’t care about my position.
Balampaki: Thanks for your precious time for this interview.