This morning I was very happy to read the news that Manjushree Thapa’s Forget Kathmandu: An Elegy for Democracy has been nominated for Lettre Ulysses Award , an international award for extraordinary reportage literature.
The book is one of my favorites and Manjushree Thapa is one of my best writers.
The first thing that I read of Manjushree Thapa was an analysis of Nepali literature published in Himal magazine. I was caught by her great style that was informative and interesting, analytical and illuminating, succinct and sophisticated, intelligent and passionate. That was a short article and yet successfully portrayed the overall scenario of Nepali literature and made intelligent analysis.
I was so happy to feel that she had brought a youthful and modern approach in Nepali writing.
She is among the few who write beautifully and smartly in both Nepali and English.
I have since then tried to read her whenever possible.
I had wanted to read the book “Forget Kathmandu” since long but there was an undeclared ban on the book during Gyanendra’s rule. So I only got a chance to read it recently when a friend lent it to me. It was very interesting and hard to put down and I finished it within two days.
It is a skilful mixture of history, reportage, and travel memoir. For any outsider with little knowledge of the history and politics of Nepal, this small book gives an insightful glimpse.
Unlike the usual boring analysis, the book is written in a personal style with sensitivity and passion. While reading the book I felt connection. I share her dissatisfaction over our history books that are more like royal chronology and the feeling of rage and helplessness after the royal massacre. Moreover, the royal massacre came as an awakening to me as it had been for her.
Her travelogue of Maoist held territories in West Nepal is very interesting filled with curiosity, concern and compassion. She has put light on the harsh reality of the rural Nepal and the irresponsible villainous conduct of the government that are making the Maoist problem worse.
Her deep dislike for violence but compassion and understanding of the reality that has converted simple amicable Nepalis into violent guerrillas makes her judgments balanced and rational.
Her scorn for bully Maoists, compassion for innocent ones and cynicism over Maoist top brass reflects the attitude of common Nepali people.
In an incident she retells, a Maoist motivator comes to motivate Manjushree and her team. Manjushree, an educated one, has her shield but her ‘variya’ , ignorant and initially distasteful of Maoists is brainwashed by the Maoist ideologies and instantly converts into a Maoist supporter.
This is a subtle picture how natural and extensive the Maoist influence has been on the ignorant disadvantaged poor Nepali people though the ideology has been a history.
She is greatly concerned over the plight of Maoist women and their role in the party. I loved the part she compares herself, an urban radical feminist, with a rebellious Maoist village girl and confesses that her rebellious spirit would too have gone violent if she had also been in that scenario. The book has a very powerful and symbolic ending.
Manjushree Thapa had an advantaged upbringing by Nepali standards. But the concern of her book will be fulfilled only when we have such great books written by a rural girl from a rural perspective.
I deeply appreciate her fabulous writing and admire her courageous voice for democracy and human rights.
As a Nepali woman, I am proud of her and wish her all the best.