From the Himalayas to the Banks of Thames

In Conversation with Sangita Swechcha, a writer from Nepal

Dr Sangita Swechcha

Nepal conjures up images of Himalayas, Mount Everest, Kathmandu and unique cultures. From Nepal, a writer called Sangita Swechcha, moved to United Kingdom. With her she took the flavour of the hills, the stories, the breeze, coloured them with Western veneer to create more literature that mingles the two lores.

Swechha has published a novel, Pakhalieko Siundo (Washed Vermillion), authored Gulafsanga ko Prem (The Rose: An Unusual Love Story),  and co-authored Asahamatika Pailaharu (Hoofmark of Discord) – both collections of short stories. Her short stories, poems, and articles have appeared in various international journals and online portals. She was the guest editor for the ‘Nepali Literature Month – Nov 2019’ held at Global Literature in Libraries Initiative (GLLI), a US-based organisation working towards the visibility of world literature. Two of Sangita’s latest literary works are The Himalayan Sunrise: Exploring Nepal’s Literary Horizon and A Glimpse Into My Country, published by Bookhill International in London. Swechcha, who is now located in London, has been working in the international development sector for more than fifteen years as a Communications Expert outside of her literary commitments.

In her interview, she tells us about her life in the UK and introduces us to the newly-fledged Nepali literature.

Since when have you been writing?

I started writing when I was in school and used to be quite active during college days as well. However, I could not keep pace with everything. Juggling between family life, studies as well as career, I slowly left creative writing. At some point, I stopped. Then it took several years to get back to writing again. Now, I am here to follow my passion once again.

What languages do you write in? Why?

I love writing both in Nepali and English. Nepali, being a native language, I am emotionally connected to it. On the other hand, writing in English gives me wider audience and helps broaden literary landscape where my emotions and words traverse.

I have published a novel, a collection of short stories and several other literary articles and poetry in Nepali. Short stories and many literary write-ups in English have been published in various international portals and journals. I recently edited two anthologies in English and they have been published from London.

You live in England now. How long have you been living here? Does this impact your writing?

I have been living in England since 2007. Living in here has given me more exposure to different cultures and people of diverse backgrounds. It has helped me in my writing as I have learnt more about languages and cultures living outside my country.    

Is life different here from the life you led in Nepal? How?

It is not very different. I live with my family, work as I did in an international development organisation. My work is pretty much the same as it was in Nepal. Yes, I do miss my parents, close friends, family and being surrounded by beautiful mountains. That is something I find different here.

What are the themes you favour while writing? Why? Expand on that.

My writings flow in different directions, and I have written on various themes. My poetry, stories and novels focus on love, friendships, women, individualism, social identity, revenge, power imbalance and struggle, death and dying, family conflicts, trusts etc. In this sense, there is no specific theme I favour. I love exploring different themes and my writings try to capture various aspects of people’s lives.

There seems to be some amount of writing about women in Nepal, including your own. What kind of issues do women face when it comes to education, career as well as other areas?

I think women not just in Nepal but around the world have more responsibilities when they have family, mainly children. Time management becomes the main issue while one tries to balance between family life, career, and other interests. Therefore, prioritising things in life is a challenge.

What is the literary community like in Nepal? Tell us a bit about literature from Nepal.

There are many literary communities, groups, and societies in Nepal. They promote Nepali literature within the country through various programmes, publications, literary awards, workshops, conferences, etc. Some of these groups also host literary festivals where writers from other countries also participate. In today’s globalised world, Nepali writers are spread around the world and various literary circles have been formed in different countries too. In order to bring Nepali writers around the world onto one common platform, an institution like the International Nepali Literature Society (INLS) was established, which has chapters in over 80 countries.

Bhanubhakta’s Ramayana. First Nepali book published in 1887

Literary writing in the Nepali language only began in the 19th century. Prior to this period, Nepali literature was in Sanskrit. The first written literary work in Nepali was Bhanubhakta’s Ramayana (1887). As such, our literature has a history of more than a hundred years. During this time, literature from different genres has been published and proliferated rapidly. Since most of these are written in Nepali, the world outside of the country doesn’t know much about the richness of our literature, although through translation to other languages, we slowly hope to transmit our stories to the world and join the global community.

We see mainly translations in English from Nepal. Do you have major writers who write directly in English like we have English and anglophone writers in other countries?

Not only are the number of Nepali writers who write in English slowly growing, but the translation of literary works from Nepali to other languages is gaining momentum too. Yes, there are several writers in Nepal who directly write in English and contributed to publications of novels, collection of short stories, poetry books, travelogues etc. Especially, the past decade has also seen a significant rise in the number of writers outside Nepal too.

Perhaps the Last Kiss’ by Bhupeen, spoke of how Nepalis went to Chennai to study. Is it a norm that Nepalis go to another country to study? Or is that true only for some?

The trend of going abroad for studies is ever growing in Nepal. Just like people’s movement and migration for better employment opportunities around the world, for better education too, you can see Nepalis moving from villages to cities or to Kathmandu valley or from different parts of Nepal to other countries.

You have published two anthologies in English recently. Tell us a bit about these anthologies.

The Himalayan Sunrise: Exploring Nepal’s Literary Horizon co-edited with Karen Van Drie and A Glimpse Into My Country co-edited with Andrée Roby are my two recent publications.

The Himalayan Sunrise: Exploring Nepal’s Literary Horizon is a unique collection of interviews, book reviews, features on literary books, poetries and artworks that will take you on a virtual trip to Nepal’s literary landscape of indigenous flavours.

A Glimpse Into My Country is a collection of international short stories by writers from Nepal, India, Bangladesh, England, France, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. Both the books have been brought out by Book Hill International.

What are your future projects?

I recently completed a novel. I am revising it to get it published this year or the next. A translated collection of poetry is getting ready too. Hopefully, I can get this printed too.   

Thank you for the time and the interview.    

Click here to read an excerpt from A Glimpse into my Country

(This is an online interview conducted by Mitali Chakravarty.)


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