However, many others believe that it is not just translation at fault here, but the overall quality of Nepali literature itself. “Nepali literature does not experiment so much with themes, techniques, structures,” said Narayan Wagle, whose book Palpasa Cafe was translated into English, French, Korean, and Sinhala. “We must first read literature from other languages, so that we know what the world is writing and where we stand in that spectrum. Translation is not such a respected profession here, and unless translators find their work rewarding, a two-way exchange cannot flourish.”
With the recent publication of the first professional, peer-reviewed journal in Nepal, and Nepal Academy’s ongoing effort to publish a translator’s directory, one has reason to hope translation will slowly become more professional and popular. However, it might take longer for Nepal’s 100 or so local languages to get even that exposure.
At another level, Nepal’s many languages have to struggle even harder. Maithili, the second most popular language in Nepal, is spoken by 11% of the people and is known to be one of the oldest Indo-European languages. The 14th century Maithili poet Vidyapati influenced later writers in many languages, but Maithili enjoys a far less exalted status today.
“Maithili continues to produce quality literature, but nobody gets to read it, sometimes not even Maithili readers,” noted Janakpur based writer Rajendra Bimal. “Nobody wants to invest in Maithili literature because the market is so small. That could change if we provided mother tongue instruction in primary schools so that children grow up to appreciate, create and invest in their own language.”
Experts of Newari, with 3% speakers and a prolific culture, agree that regional literature is losing out to modernity. “Newari writers have a problem finding publishers, and then finding readers,” said Yagya Ratna Dhakhwa, vice-chancellor of Nepal Bhasa Academy.
It may take a long time for Nepal to improve the quality and quantity of its translation and gain the world’s attention, but in the meantime Rita Chaudhury says intra-language translations have great potential.
Chaudhary is director of the National Book Trust of India which does translations of Indian books into other regional languages. She said: “This way, regional literatures enrich one another.”
Manjushree Thapa agreed that books in Nepal’s languages need to be translated into other Nepali languages, too: “Nepal’s literature in other languages like Maithili, Nepal Bhasa, must be translated into Nepali so that Nepal’s literature becomes more inclusive and diverse.”