M: Your husband or his family never stopped you from writing.
A: My mother-in-law was the kindest person and my husband’s brothers ran a printing press in Nyokha called Yak. It was here that Katuwal dai and other writers such as Upendra Shrestha, Ashesh Malla, Bishnu Bibhu Ghimire got together. Yak published papers and magazines, including Katuwal dai’s Banki, a small pocket-sized monthly literary magazine which was so small it fit in the palm of your hand, and filled with what was called mini short-stories, poems, essays. The idea for these pocket magazines came from Japan where people are very busy and do not have time to read long stories. Anyway, I would do housework, and at that time, I already had a daughter, but she mostly stayed at my parents’ home in New Road. So, whenever I had some free time, I hung around at the press. Katuwal dai encouraged me to write for Banki and I learned how to write mini short stories.
M: They are like flash fiction, or micro stories?
A: Yes, but I had to learn how to write this kind of story. I didn’t understand the format before. I thought a mini short story was a summary of a longer story. I did just that with one of my stories and submitted it to Banki, but Katuwal dai saw that I had misunderstood the form. Slowly I read more mini stories, and found out that each mini story is complete and whole, it is a story that may be small in format but able to stand independently on its own. It is very difficult to write one.
M: This reminds me of the well-traveled quote that has been attributed to many writers. Goes something like, I’m sorry this note is so long, I didn’t have time to write a short one.
A: It is true. It takes longer to write something short. It might be easier for the reader to consume, but so much harder for the writer to create it. But I also think these small formats touch people faster, and leave a stronger impact. For instance, I am writing about load shedding right now and what a pain it is for so many people. But instead of recounting all the troubles that each character has with load shedding, it is more effective to depict the story of one specific person’s troubles. And instead of having many characters in a long drawn out scene, it’s better to say a lot with one single dialogue. Now for that to happen, as a writer you have to think 3, 4, or 5 times or more. You only get one shot to touch the reader. Word choice becomes crucial. You do not have the luxury of a novel to write lengthy, winding details. These days, people have begun to write stories in three words. There’s one that goes: Huncha, hundaina, hola (Yes, no, maybe). That is a complete story in some way.
M: It is like that over told Ernest Hemingway six-word story: For sale: baby shoes, never worn. It is an ad, and the reader can imagine what might have happened to that baby or to that family.
A: Exactly. You leave a lot to the reader and they have to think. I guess I came to writing because of Katuwal dai, and also because of the environment that was built around me. We ran a printing press, we had writers gather at home all the time. In 1977, I came out with my own collection of mini short stories and we printed that at Yak. And I also edited my own literary magazine, Jureli. I hung out with other writers daily, like Toya Gurung, who was working at Nepal Bank in Bhugol Park then. I would go to her office and read all the magazines and newspapers that came to her for free. And then we would go eat samosas at Indra Chowk. The time was right for me to be a writer.
Then in 1987, my husband and I left the family in Nyokha with our children. Brothers got into arguments as they tend to do, and when the time came to divide the Nyokha property, there was little left for us. Anyway, it was not a good time for the family and I sold whatever gold jewelry I had, bought this piece of land and built this house. We left the printing press and had to start from scratch. Once we moved to this house, I stopped writing. I did not write for 9 or 10 years.
Read more: Maya Thakuri: Writing between the lines