All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.
The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
All Nepali Speaking women
with respectful salutation
It was in the year 2006, that my friend Narendra Raj Prasai, who is a compassionate and compulsive chronicler, spoke to me about his collection of notes on the lives and works of women writers of Nepal. He had invited me to come and see the manuscript. I could not take time to visit him then. It was only in the later part of the year, when he had compiled the text, and a young artist had made some portraits of a few litterateurs included in the text that I could go to his home-cum library-cum fresh manuscripts and paper store! Narendra showed to me a couple of artworks done by a new and young artist. The artwork was so good and the talent of the young artist so clearly manifested in his work that I remained glued to the portrait of Premrajeshwari Thapa (8), which he had completed. Narendra told me that he would like the artist to do facial portraits of all 52 litterateurs covered in his book but a financial crunch held back the work. I am grateful both to Narendra and the talented young artist Indra Khatri in allowing me to commission the work. This was my first tryst with the project. The pen and ink portrait of the ladies, which the committed artist completed in time, were so good, that they could be used in printing of Nari Chuli, a compendium of chronicles in Nepali by Narendra Raj Prasai, but they were also printed as a coffee table book.
These very works with the addition of two more pictures have been used in this compendium also.
In the summer of 2007, a five days long function was organised at the Art Council of Nepal (Kathmandu). All the 52 artworks of Indra were framed and displayed in the art gallery. The well timed and well organised release of the book Nari Chuli and the catalogue ‘Summit of Women Writers’ was held with great enthusiasm. The women litterateurs represented in the book who were living in Nepal were invited to the function, along with their spouses, children and friends. Quite a few literary writers and socialites attended the function with great excitement. When I saw animation, delight and satisfaction, painted on the faces of the lady writers and members of their family, I was overwhelmed. So many women litterateurs in a language, spoken by so few and with limited readership and in a literature yet so young and in a remote small nation! With these compassionate and elated feelings in mind and the newly published book in hand I went back to my mountain resort in Shimla (India) where I have my peaceful abode, conducive to contemplation and reading and writing. I started reading the published work of Narendra on the women of Nepal, devoted to literary writing. Believe me, the life of all the writers listed in the compendium and about the efforts they had made in giving expression in writing to their thoughts and emotion, read like fairy tales.
I was completely engrossed in reading the book and I got more and more convinced that the story of these sensitive and ardent writers, deserve wider readership. This was the genesis. And I contemplated in writing about these litterateurs in the English language.
I had been engaged so far in writing in the Nepali language and contributing to Nepali literature for sixty years. Poetry,
epical work, thematic essays, dissertations, commentaries and appreciations, work on conservation and development of traditional music and recently a work of fiction in ‘new’ prose, all were creative exercises. Now to write apparently a voluminous work necessarily evolved out of the data collected by a chronicler (“took eighteen years to collect”, writes Narendra) did not spur my creative interest. But the interest that I developed in reading through the chronicles presented by Narendra and the reverence towards the brave and devoted ladies who worked for and contributed to Nepali literature persuaded me to do something to project these litterateurs in a more universal language.
I spent many sleepless, yet contemplative nights and stimulating days, mulling over the method that I could follow to write on them. Large amount of details about the life of the women writers, collected arduously by Narendra was available to me. Almost all the writers in the list were contemporaneous to me. I knew and had contacted many of them personally and intimately. I had read their works, interacted with them and in many cases knew their families and their grounding. I am a student of history and art also. So, I did not have to compromise with my creative instinct, if I chose to chisel out their different profiles in words and also add historical, psychological and social perspectives to each account. In this way, I could give free expression to my creative impulses and side by side pay my homage to the large number of women writers of my time. By now my admiration for them had transformed into adoration. So I started penning down my words. The muse inspired me to work tirelessly and I also took time to personally contact and confer with a large number of writers living in Nepal and those living outside the country who could be contacted on phone.
Thanks to the patience of my wife Bhuvan Rana, who hardly grudged the insolence of a husband, passionately married, to impulsive and relentless writing and to my son Rajesh Rana and daughter-in-law Shalini, both of whom unflinchingly took on to themselves the task of correcting mistakes and typing the manuscripts with great dedication. Thus my first typed copy could be completed without delay. I would also like to thank my two little grand daughters, Shreya and Isha, whose infant minds silently accepted the predicament and let the old man work without disturbance.
Once the manuscript was ready, I had to face a different obstacle. I had composed all my literary works in the Nepali language. And I believe that a literary writer can write well only in the language in which he can easily pray or curse. So, in spite of having learnt to read and write in the English language and that too for three score and ten years, my literary work in English needed proper editing by a proficient editor. Luckily for me two of my close friends and well wishers, Ms Bhuvan Chandel, a scholar of philosophy with credit and renown, and Ms A.K Anand, a scholar and librarian, both of them presently associated with the renowned Centre for Studies in Civilisations at New Delhi, came to my rescue. They introduced me to Shri Surojit Banerjee, a man of culture, editor and production advisor ‘with sharp technical insight’.
The Genesis has thankfully come to its logical conclusion, thanks to the tireless efforts of my friend Surojit Banerjee, who has not only edited my work, but also helped me in getting the book printed. I am grateful to Mr. Sanjay Gupta of ‘Mindways Design’, New Delhi, for looking through the typesetting and compiling the book. The last and final act
of printing and binding the book and delivering it was done by ‘Tara Art Printers Pvt. Ltd.’ I am grateful to them for their dedicated work and good workmanship.
This book is a compendium of women writers of Nepal (born between 1860–1960 ad), who contributed to literature in the Nepali language. It contains profiles and perspectives of mainly fifty-four leading writers of that time. In the appendix there is a record of another one hundred and fifteen women writers, born in Nepal; of eleven more creative writers born in India and seventeen more, whose works have been found, but are not published. All of these belong to the same period.
Nepali is a comparatively very young language of the SAARC sub-continent, spoken by approximately thirty million (three crore) people. Among these two thirds are residing and working in the country of their birth. One-third are outside their country, working, learning and repatriating to their home land. About fifty lacs of Nepali speaking people, who are of Nepali origin, have taken citizenship of other nations.
Literacy among Nepali speaking people is very low. Nepal, a small country situated in a distant region, in the lap of the Himalayan ranges, is one of the least economically developed countries of the world. During the hundred years, prior to 1950 the country was in sordid isolation under the autocratic rulers, who ruled the country between 1846–1950 ad. They were more concerned with saving their
fiefdom from being eaten up by the British rulers, who had colonized the neighbouring sub-continent of India, than in working for the economic development and enlightenment of the people. In a traditionally feudal, and patriarchal society, women were under the absolute domination of men. Some enlightened fathers had started trying to defy the social pressure and had assisted their daughters to get some education. It was only after the great revolution, that is the second world war which ushered in refreshing winds of change throughout the world and specially in Asia and other countries, colonized by the imperial powers, that Nepal also came out of the century long isolation. The old autocratic rule of the Ranas was swept away and various cross currents of thoughts and ideas trickled into this remote state also. Even to prove oneself more liberal than their neighbour, men who had absolutely dominated society so far, started yielding to the rise of woman-power. Women started getting education in girls’ schools and also in a few institutions where co-education was started. The influence of British India, where women were more free and had taken leading role in fighting for freedom from the clutches of the British imperialists entered into this neighbouring country. In the field of literature and culture, the people of Nepalese origin, inhabiting the adjacent area of Darjeeling, a district of the state of Bengal in British India, had a more congenial and intense influence on Nepalese society. The open border, the common language, the composite literature of this adjoining area, brought in more liberal ideas and added new and egalitarian trends in the field of literature as well. So by 1950, when the isolation of the country ended and the flood-gates of liberal and revolutionary ideas entered Nepal, the status of women as well as the trends of literary writings, went
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through a sea change. Out of the 54 women writers whose profiles are compiled in this book, three of them, namely Queen Lalita Tripura Sundari (1793–1831), the loquacious Yoga Maya (1858–1941) and Ambalika Devi, writer of chronicles of Rajput luminaries (1894–1936), wrote before the change that was ushered into Nepal in 1950. About ten of the litterateurs started writing before 1950 and continued to write even after that. The rest, about forty of those in our compendium, started writing only after a democratic form of government took over in Nepal. Many are still living and continuing to write, but their prime contributions span the twentieth century.
While writing on the life and work of the women litterateurs, I felt the need of adding the physical or socio-economic and historical perspectives to the narrative. Otherwise, I felt, the mere profiling of the life and work of a writer would amount to undermining the psychosomatic structure which is a basic functional connector between the physical and the beyond. The complexity of physical nature, and particularly, the human mind, is so enormous that it is futile to follow a single method for comprehending all the aspects of the world in which we are situated. Therefore it is understandable that those writing on the works of appreciation of literature and aesthetics, approach their subject with certain discernible traits or emphatic assumptions of their work. Some writers are primarily interested in discovering the general rules or law that govern all literary or aesthetic works spread over different genres and categories. They tend to underplay what they call or think the noisy local events of the external world and peculiarities of different languages, genres, litterateurs and historical trends. Their assent is on aesthetic or structural unity decided by literary theories (Kavya
Introductory Note xvii
Siddhanta, Saundarya Shashtra, principles of criticism etc.) and unity of all literary aesthetic works. The other group of critics, unlike the generalists or transcendentalists, attach prime importance to the distinctiveness of every writer or even individual work of the writers. To these critics freedom of the writer and their creativity are extremely important and basic in character. Social institutions and cultural articulations of the human consciousness, they argue, are bound to be expressive of the concerned people’s consciousness. By implication they tend to reject concepts like archetypal or collective consciousness, universal mind and contemporary events. Another group of writers offer a composite picture of a writer’s work, drawing elements both from their local and common characteristics. To isolate a writer and his work from the physical and psychosomatic, would amount to denials of the logico-mathematical, musical and other capacities of the creator. The very availability of aesthetic experience and creation proves that the supposed distinction is somewhat overcome by what may be called the bodily self or embodied mind. The writers or the subject dealt in this work are connected not only conceptually and synchronically but also historically and sociologically.
The fundamental intention of this publication is to acquaint the reader with the women litterateurs and their contribution to Nepali literature, even beyond the parameters of the Nepali language knowing world. I think it relevant to present a brief review of elements of social, political and economic forces that were out there in the world, specially in the environment in which the writers were brought up, educated and engaged in creative writing.
The women writers who are represented in this book wrote mainly during the 20th century. So it would be
xviii Introductory Note
contextual to refer to the political, social and economic forces that were at play in the kingdom of Nepal in the 20th century. In doing so we can divide the period into two equal parts. The first half of the era before 1950 was covered by the Rana regime, when the Rana family ruled the country. In 1950 there was a revolution in the country and the Rana regime and their autocratic rule were overthrown. For the next fifty years the Saha Kings ruled the country, sometimes under their direct rule, sometimes in a sort of guided or controlled democracy and in the last decade of the century, through elected governments, under what is generally called constitutional monarchy and parliament elected by the people.
During the Rana times, the country was virtually in isolation, protected as far as possible from any foreign influence. The society was dominated by feudal forces. The rulers kept the people under their strict rule. Caste system was used as a means, manner and method of creating divisions in the society and establishing the so-called high caste domination over the lower caste. The ruling clan dominating the other tribal clans and the people of the Terai, or lower regions. The law of the land was tilted in favour of the upper castes and restrictive in many aspects. In such a society, where polygamy was the accepted system, and women had little right over property, the status of women in society was, to say the least, dismal and pathetic. It was only in the last decade of the Rana regime, that doors of educational institutions were opened to women. To add to all this, the country was economically undeveloped. Let alone the people of the middle class, even those who were supposed to be belonging to the higher middle class, could not afford to live a comfortable life. Except for the poorly
Introductory Note xix
paid government jobs, there were hardly any jobs in the private sector. Agriculture was primitive. It was only the ruling class and some priestly classes and officers attached to the Rana household who could live a comparatively comfortable life. The ruling class and commoner dichotomy was clearly pronounced. The life and work of our women writers who contributed to Nepali literature during the Rana times are clear examples of how even under the stress of social suppression, limited scope of expression or complete isolation, aesthetic aspirations emerged and found their outlets. Yoga Maya (2) did not tire from verbally and fluently expressing her feelings in verse, in spite of social alienation, political persecution and compulsion to lead the life of a wandering mendicant. Lok Priya Devi (4) was born in a family where men were educated and life was economically comfortable, but it was only after the fall of the Rana regime that she could come out openly in society and indulge in literary activities. Ambalika Devi (3) could give expression to her aesthetic feelings only because her affluent husband was devoted to her and she lived outside Nepal and regaled in writing. In spite of this, well educated people near her spread rumours that the book she wrote was authored by her husband, only because in a male dominated society it was difficult to believe that women could write. Chandra Kanta Devi (5) had to lead the life of an exile along with her father in her early years. She managed to please the Rana Maharaja, come back to Nepal and start writing and even run a school, but when her brother was martyred by the ruling Ranas for his democratic utterances, Chandra Kanta was rendered homeless and persecuted. Even under such circumstances, the fire in our lady-writer did not extinguish and when circumstances changed she rose like
xx Introductory Note
the phoenix. Writers like Vidya Devi Dikshit (6) and Prem Rajeshwari Thapa (8), both of whom belonged to the families holding high positions during the Rana days, had to keep their literary talent and writings in virtual hibernation till the autocratic regime was overthrown.
In 1950 when a sort of monarchical democracy ensued in Nepal, British Colonialism withered away and Nepal’s big neighbours achieved independence from their colonial rulers. Visible change in the political and social atmosphere was evident in Nepal. Our literary writers were now free to express their feelings in words, they could move about freely in society, doors of educational institutions were open to women, and women’s colleges were started. Women writers were honoured, respected and sought after by media and magazines. To quote just a few example of the early years after the winds of change swept Nepal. Lok Priya Devi (4) who was till then almost within the walls of her house, started organizing, literary meets and seminars; Chandrakanta Devi (5) who had to hide and save herself from the wrath of the Rana rulers, was eulogized by the government, and her writings were published in magazines and in book form; Prem Rajeshwari Thapa (8) who could till then only get her poetry published in Sarada Magazine and Goma (12) who was till then suppressed under the unimaginable burden of poverty, found a job in schools and the trio of Lok Priya, Prem Rajeshwari and Goma could meet and interact and attend literary meets, which they were not permitted to do so far. Without quoting many other such examples I hasten to say that with the advent of a free society and outburst of literary activities, women litterateurs started contributing to Nepali literature both from inside the country as also from outside Nepal, specifically from the Nepali speaking areas
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of India. Since 1950 to the end of the 20th century a large number of women writers contributed to Nepali literature. Considering the size of the country, the number of Nepali speaking people, the small number of readership and the limited economic resources and widespread illiteracy of an underdeveloped country, the mere number of women writers in the Nepali language is overwhelming. That in this short period of say fifty odd years quite a few of our women litterateurs produced literary works of international standards, speaks a volume. Placed between two mighty nations of Asia and till recent times, a country counted among the least developed nations of the world, the socio-political situation of the country changed dramatically during the second half of the 20th century. Women started entering the political, social, economic and cultural institutions in growing numbers. To speak freely or write freely and even be recipients of awards, women writers did not lag behind. Separate organizations of women-litterateurs were formed. Women writers started writing on topics ranging from social reforms, women’s rights, aesthetics, sex et al. To the generation born before 1960 were added new generations of writers, who contributed to literature with undiminished vigour. But under this dazzling, vibrant and extensive cosmetic change, the pressure of chronic feudalism and persistent male chauvinism prevailing in the socio-political and economic system of this nation was affecting the psyche as well as functioning of our women writers. Instead of theorizing on this seamy aspect of our society I would advice my readers to read the text and make their own judgments on how the changing situations affected the position of women in society and also assess the predicament which women in general and women writers in particular have to face even today.