M: But do you not think that literature is not merely about reporting what happens in society, but also about being able to put forth an imagination for the kinds of worlds we hope to live in…?
U: That is true. In that sense, I make sure that all the women in my stories win. For instance, there is a character in one of my short stories who can’t have a child and she is blamed for it, but childlessness is not only a woman’s problem. So she gets impregnated by her husband’s friend. Her husband loves the child at first, but when he finds out it is not his, he shuns both the wife and the child. Instead of the woman folding in, she thinks of herself as the fullest person because she has a child, and so she leaves him.
M: I think literature is also about creating alternative realities – be it fiction or nonfiction. You are also one of the few Nepali writers who has written queer stories or stories with LGBTQ characters.
U: I think it is important to tell these stories whether we belong to that group or not. Also, homosexuality or transsexuality are not new concepts. Look at Shikhandi from the Mahabharat — he was a warrior but born a girl. We are all god’s creation, there is nothing wrong with us. My LGBTQ characters do not have a ‘choice’. Imagine some poor boy growing up confused, wondering why it is that he feels like a girl. They are naturally born that way so it is we, as a society, that must learn to accept them. But I know this is still not something we can digest easily. I do not need to go that far — in my own family it’s hard to make my own husband fully understand about these matters. But as a writer, I have to be different. I must be open.
M: Is there a cost to being open, I wonder, especially as a woman who writes?
U: The costs are high. Let us just say that I have been very lucky to never have to worry about money or space when it comes to nurturing my writing life. I know many women who have to think about that. But even though I have that privilege, my life is still attached directly to that of my husband’s and the larger family. What I say, write and do affects them all. That responsibility can get heavy, and I have to have all sorts of answers ready should I be interrogated. A long time back at a writers’ meet in Chitwan, author Neelam Karki Niharika asked me how I was doing. In that moment, I was compelled to tell the truth: I told her that I have arrived at the writers’ meet with only half my heart. In that way, all these literary engagements and even my own writing, I can tend to them carrying only half of my heart.
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M: Why write, then?
U: Because it is a beautiful excuse to live. It is a form of meditation for me, and even an antidepressant in many ways. When I write I am completely focused in the world of my story; I leave all other worlds behind. To write for fame, money or anything else other than for one’s own self-satisfaction is a mistake. At the end of the day, we just want to be happy. And to write to be remembered? I don’t know, who remembers anyone these days?
Lightroom Conversation is a monthly page in Nepali Times on interesting figures in Nepal’s literary scene. Muna Gurung is a writer, educator and translator based in Kathmandu (munagurung.com).
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