Writing English in Nepali Way

Hem Raj Kafle

Young English writers in Nepal are often confused. Their confusion comes from their seniors’ general advocacy of universality and standard in writings, both in language use and aesthetic productions. The advocacy, in other words, may be of writing English in the English way so that the ‘native’ reader finds it worth reading and appreciation. The confusion would mean there always is a tendency to dismiss the belief that Nepalis can claim some ownership of English by giving it a degree of Nepaliness through local themes and figures.

And this is something to ponder over. Some young writers may begin to wonder the logic of universality against their faith on originality and textual autonomy. They may try to locate their writings within the theoretical trends they are trained (or rather brainwashed) with. Their works may not appear unfit in the Romantic tradition for their touch of spontaneity; nor would they fail the New Critical, formalist, structuralist or poststructuralist/postmodernist ‘standards’ for their autonomy as texts. They would only come low in the strict (neo)classical norms of didacticism, decorum, sophistication and sublimity which the English using elders of Nepal passionately adhere to.

But would that matter much? To many new generation writers, writing in English has all the way been a search for identity and space among the existing Nepali English writers. The ‘established’ writers appear to belong to one or other of the following groups. First, there are literary writers — inspired professors and aspiring young thinkers. The second group comprises the academic and professional circle of researchers and textbook writers/ compilers.  The third includes the commercial group — the ‘writers’ of guides and guess papers, probably the most ‘academically’ sought-after people regardless of the quality of things they launch in the market. The fourth consists of independent contributors of newspapers and magazines, ‘widely’ read and usually forgotten. Many young writers, however, find themselves in the margin of any one the above groups though they may have the aspiration to belong to at least one or all.

The literary writers in English form a smaller group, probably for the same old reason that everybody does not become a poet or a writer of fiction. This group may occasionally meet and make reflections on the types of standard and gravity its individual members (should) maintain in their creations. In such cases, the inspired elders may have all the norms and standards to inculcate on the aspiring young people. One typical characteristic of such reflections, most of the times, is the adherence to either British or American way of thinking, writing and critiquing though from the margin the theoretically inspired young lot may be murmuring the upsurge of postmodernist thoughts and implications.

To put it other way, the (neo)classical ways often confuse the connoisseurs of contemporary English. To study and think in English today almost means to study and think anything irrespective of standards. At an age when postmodernism instructs the blurring of boundaries and standards and shows possibilities of alternative locations, new writers and critics are found at war with the discourse of decorum and didacticism. Our academia has already led the new generation towards study of margins and alternatives with such disciplines as non-Western studies, postcolonial studies and minority studies among others. The English Departments of Kathmandu are already full of ‘discourses’ on alternative literature including Nepali literature(s) in English. So, when the talk of western standards becomes vociferous at times, the attempts to study alternatives appear ironical and therefore problematic.

The old sense of originality is ambiguous. Whose originality? Is it the originality springing from writers’ consciences and contexts, or the one supposedly instilled by old norms and paradigms? Or is it the tendency to westernize thoughts at all costs?  When the writers of non-western locations (say postcolonial thinkers) have already used English as a tool to retort western discourses through realism and indigenousness, what are we doing by advocating western ways most of the times? Theory readers would call it a neocolonial tendency, a misfit for a time when English is no longer the language of a particular nation.

Authenticity is an equally problematic notion. Can there not be a specific way of using English in Nepal? We judge our English either in American or British standards, sometimes disregarding the adaptability of our native images and allusions into this ‘medium’. English, by history, is one of the most acquisitive languages and its power lies in being able to belong to wherever it travels. Nepali English writers need not all the time write for the native readers unless required by a context. Our main intention to write in English is probably not to look like English, but to tell the international readers how much we represent ourselves in this medium. It is also to popularize Nepaliness through a common connecting language. Emphasizing authenticity in western paradigms is therefore pedantic. If not, it is the resistance to originality.

There have always been talks of some kind of Nepali English from some energetic and inspired people, but Nepali English users are yet to see how it looks and sounds. The fact is the most strident advocates of Nepali English are usually the most unappreciative sticklers to classicism. Alternatively, a palatable course for Nepali English writers would be to respect the eclecticism and diversity in the content and readership of English. Can we do away with the changes, when English itself is more a concept, a theory and an encompassing discipline than a mere lingua franca, a confined category? Perhaps we are in need of more thoughts and interactions between the old and new generations. The time is to release oneself from the tendency of waving English and American flags from the location of our native academia. The time is rather to survey the stock of Nepali writings in English — to see whither we are moving, and which course is more appropriate for us in the day ahead.

[Updated from, “Nepali English: Confusions and Directions,” The Kathmandu  Post 23 Sept. 2007]

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