Enemies of Nepal do not live outside: Prof. Subedi
Professor Dr Abhi Subedi is a creative giant. He is an essayist, critic, linguist, playwright and poet. Born in Terhathum of eastern Nepal, Subedi received his higher education in Nepal and Britain. He has over two dozen books on different subjects to his credit. Of his more than 10 plays, many have been performed in Nepal and abroad. He taught for 45 years at the TU Central Department of English. A founding former president of the International Theatre Institute (ITI), UNESCO, and member of the International Playwright’s Forum, he also became president and general secretary of the Linguistic Society of Nepal. Also former president of the Literary Association of Nepal, he is vice-president of the Nepal Folklore Society and member of the International Association of Theatre Critics. He is involved in a number of interdisciplinary study groups and a prolific writer on issues of freedom, culture, literature, arts and social transformation.
Dr Subedi spoke to Ritu Raj Subedi of The Rising Nepal on a wide range of issues – literature, philosophy, politics and social movement. His observation of Nepali society is sharp and realistic. Excerpts:
How do you want to identify yourself?
I am basically a teacher by profession and a literary writer. I have taught English at Tribhuvan University for more than four decades. After retirement also, I have continued to be associated with teaching and pedagogy one way or the other. As a literary writer, I have produced works of all genres—poetry, essays, literary criticism and drama. I am not a politician; I do not belong to any political group. I am a writer and an academic.
How do you define ‘life’ and ‘literature’?
It is a big subject. People have defined life from so many different perspectives. It is not possible even to mention here. But, basically, life is defined in realistic, aesthetic and religious terms. Life is a free subject that has inspired scholars, folklorists and philosophers to say something about it. I call life a free subject because there is no limit to its interpretation. Educated and uneducated, privileged and not-privileged people all have their ways of looking at life. Life triggers responses. Life is a quest, an odyssey. Literature precisely captures that very fluidity, the multiple perspectives of life. It is an aesthetic way of interpreting life—its simplicity and conundrums. Imagination and creation are two words that literature employs to describe life. Literature is concerned with the liberation that it achieves through ventures in writing. It is a venture, a perennial and creative exercise.
Is literature a means of emotional and intellectual satisfaction of its creators and readers? Or should it mirror society and contribute to change it?
It indeed is a means of satisfaction for its creators, and as the experience of the history of literary readership has shown, it is also a source of satisfaction for its readers. But this dialectics, or this dialogic relationship between the writer and the reader, has triggered discussions in the modern times, which is based on these questions--can we equate the writer’s satisfaction with the satisfaction of the readers? Can the writer claim to guarantee the nature of satisfaction among the readers by reading his or her works? The present findings, of course, they are theoretical questions in literature, say that the author and the reader may have different and independent ways of deriving satisfaction from writing and reading literature. But yes, satisfaction in the sense of consumption is inevitable in literary practice of writing and production.
Can an intellectual be fully independent? How can such an intellectual play a creative role in the country?
We should look at this question from two perspectives. One is, an intellectual is not an independent entity. An intellectual is the name of a person who has the critical and productive sense of looking at the society and the ways of the individuals. Events should always be the subject of such a person. ‘Events’ is history; ‘events’ is life. An intellectual should look at them consciously and critically. The second meaning is that such an intellectual should be free from prejudices. But it has been seen that intellectuals have shown their personal leanings, made their choices, personal choices, as the basis of their judgment of events, of history and ways of the society and individuals. But a true intellectual is a great practitioner of independent perception; a true intellectual can play an important role in the society.
As a social critic, how do you see the evolution of Nepali society from the political and social point of view?
Nepali society is uniquely evolutionary and creative. Scores of studies of this society have been published so far. They are written by native and foreign scholars alike. The essence of all these studies—anthropomorphic, historical and cultural—is that this uniquely diverse society is made up of diverse cultures and over a hundred languages. It has continued to evolve and function in different historical contexts. But in recent times, we look at the hegemonic and egalitarian aspects of the society. The question of how does the Nepali society function has dominated the discussion. This society that still carries the tradition of a feudal character has entered a new phase of challenge, resistance and restructuring. Politically, the egalitarian and resistant aspects form the subject of action. From the social point of view, this society, which is largely shaped by traditional values, should do a lot to change. Education and proper recognition of multiple identities of people are the best ways to do that.
Nepal has witnessed many movements and revolutions since the turn of the 20th century. Did they make the country stronger or weaker?
Revolutions and movements have made the country stronger. These phenomena have made people conscious of their rights, their national identities and sense of communities. Very importantly, revolutions, especially those that freed them from the Rana oligarchy in 1950 and others like those of 1990 and 2006, have given Nepal a unique place as a free country with its own free history and values. Nepalis can speak with confidence and accentuate their originality in the world. Yes, revolutionary changes have given that confidence.
The rage of ethnic movement still reverberates in the country. Was it indigenous? Or was it inspired by the exported ‘deconstructionist’ theory and an inclination of some foreign powers to experiment it in this Himalayan nation?
The ethnic identity question is directly a product of people’s consciousness. It’s, as I said earlier, a historical evolutionary process. The movements I mentioned have brought such consciousness. It is a very indigenous outcome. Deconstruction is a philosophical perception of meaning. A philosophy mainly attributed to the French philosopher, Jacque Derrida. The term ‘deconstruction’ is not a disastrous concept. Deconstructive reading of history says that we should break some fixed meanings, fixed binaries like good and bad, upper and lower, pure and impure, man and woman, high caste and low caste, etc. It has been customary to attribute this consciousness to, what is called, the foreigners. If by foreigners you mean the colonial propagators who had ruled the region, yes they propagated their own values. But we should not give credit of all our achievements, our own sense of justice and egalitarianism to what is called foreign agencies. But if you mean vigilance, yes we should be vigilant about our freedom and sense of originality. But influences are a global phenomenon. They come like floods. We should be realists and conscious about how we use them in shaping our society and the ways of putting the house in order.
With the 2015 Indian blockade, the discourse of nationalism has swept the nation. In the present context, who is a nationalist and who is not? Would you highlight this concept in relation to the sovereignty and dignity of the nation and its citizens?
The oil embargo put by the Indian government in 2015 was not the first such blockade. It was experienced in the past also. But the blockade of 2015 from India came at such a time when Nepal was just going to declare the new republican constitution. The narratives of the Indian government secretaries visiting Nepal in the nick of time and the displeasure of the new Indian government about removing the Hindu status of the nation did shape the discourse then. But unfortunately, the blockade was linked to the political movements of the people of Madhes also. The hardships that it caused thus made the political discourse a very complex subject. The conundrum of this embargo was not spelt out neither by the Indian nor the Nepali governments in time. But the embargo crossed certain neighbourly ethical limits that were realised by all and was lifted.
There are many narratives. But the aftermath of the embargo did generate a sense of nationalism. But the governments did reach an understanding with India, which also saw its mistake after that. But the Nepali governments and political parties certainly saw in this unfortunate event a point of departure from the traditional relationship with India. China was evoked as the alternative neighbour who could help Nepal straight away. Agreements were signed. But nothing unusual was practiced. Signing agreements and soliciting help of neighbours have always been the modus operandi of Nepal. And that is precisely what is happening here. That is nothing new. It is very difficult to believe in the words of the political leaders in government and outside because what they advocate is not what they have been practicing without our knowledge.
A communication gap with the neighbours can invite trouble. That applies between India and China, too. We should be realistic about how we stoke the fire of nationalism or how the political parties stoke the fire. Those in the government have never sat with the Indian government even to discuss simple questions, let us say, like the border pillars and even a simple question of the export of ginger and sugarcane, let alone other deals. I am using this metaphorically to say there is a communication gap. Very simple questions. They have made agreements with India and China. But we the people should look at all these from a realist’s point of view. We cannot do without cooperation with the neighbours. We should see how thousands of citizens cross each other’s borders to earn some means of livelihood for themselves. But to feel proud about one’s national identity and be vigilant is a very natural and essential thing.
Nepal is practically entering a federal, democratic and republican setup following the three-tier elections. Optimists believe the nation will emerge stronger politically and economically with this experiment. There are also people who see the new political order as a poisoned chalice.
I see the shift, the transformation of Nepal as promulgated in the constitution as a great or unprecedented achievement of the Nepali people. The historical election that Nepal has just seen is a great achievement of the people of this land. With these elections we have entered a new era. This country will be free, prosperous and modern after this.
Would you like to add anything?
The enemies of Nepal do not live outside. Those who practice corruption, those who ignore the common people and exploit the miseries of the poor people, those who are against building hospitals and making medical services available to the people in remote regions, those who play politics to deliver help to the earthquake victims who are living without proper roofs even after two years of the earthquake, are the enemies. I wish the new political changes and governments will reform this and put things in order.