Belonging and Border in the Twentieth Century Nepali Novels
Can literary genres offer the corpus necessary for social scientists to explore alternative views on nationalism? This paper reads Nepali fiction and poetry to make sense of the histories of exclusion and inclusion on Nepali borders. What have poetry and fictions been saying about a transborder way of life? How are pre-national memories reconciled within nationalist discourses to make way for a post- or trans-national future? How can anthropology to borrow from and lend to these literary imaginations?
Although Nepal was unified as a nation-state over two and half a century ago, it underwent several national transitions questioning what it meant to be a Nepali. I try to make sense of such national dilemmas through an anthropological reading of a selected body of novels penned by two of Nepal’s most prominent writers – BP Koirala and Parijat. BP Koirala’s novels look at the ironies of life in the interstices of nation. He writes about rebellious and nomadic moments of everyday life that cannot be contained within the fixity of national boundaries and structures. Despite belonging to a political ideology different from Koirala’s, Parijat’s novels echo Koirala as her poetics invoke the banality of violence that is inherent in the idea of the nation state. A juxtaposition of Koirala and Parijat’s lives with their literary work points to the compartmental approach they have taken to fend the private from public concerns but also the poetic from the rational. Koirala penned most of his novels during his long incarceration in jail, following a conscious decision to end his political exile in India and face the brutalities back home. Parijat negotiated political Marxism in her self-exile in Nepal even as she remained deeply individualistic and anarchic in her search for the meanings of life against chronic illness and anguish. That their literary writings express so much of what remained unsaid in their political writings suggest the possibilities of using poetics as an anthropological tool to further queries on nations and borders.