BP Koirala’s claims that we understand his literary persona as anarchist and his political persona as socialist has allowed for an easy location of his figure in Nepali historiography, often separately, within literature and within politics.[1] His insistence that we resolve any dilemma over his persona by bifurcating him into the literary and political is difficult to take unquestioningly. The lines of continuity between the literary and political beg further investigation. This paper asks whether it is possible to place BP squarely within self-claimed intellectual camps through an investigation of his treatment of the question of gender. It is over the question of gender, that the blurred boundaries between the political and the literary BP become evident. Revisiting BP’s writings, both fictional as well as autobiographical, in which he tells us the stories of women, real and fictional, this paper questions his self-made claims on particular intellectual traditions. The implications of this exploration are on how we understand modernity in South Asia.

Nepali historiography has taken Koirala’s modernity for granted. However, the question of what this modernity entails requires further investigation. Drawing on the conceptualization of literary modernity as the ability to draw from several locations and traditions, ideological positions and practices, a self-conscious mode of self-presentation, a reinterpretation of B.P Koirala’s modernity becomes possible1. Scholars working on the question of modernity in South Asia have suggested that we understand the instability of modernity as practice2. Rather than understanding modernity as a pre-constituted ideal to be located within Western intellectual traditions, they insist on seeing South Asian intellectuals, thinkers and litterateurs as having access to a variety of intellectual traditions to draw upon. The selective appropriation of such traditions by South Asians works, it has been suggested, to radically relativize intellectual and literary traditions3.

Through archival research and textual analysis, this paper makes an attempt to understand the aforementioned tensions of modernity within Koirala’s notions about gender. While the influence of French socialism, Indian nationalism and Freudian psychoanalysis, in his narrativization of the lives of women is evident, BP takes these different intellectual strands as points of departure and sites of experimentation. B.P’s treatment of the question of gender and sexuality, this paper suggests, is a reworking of the categories within these intellectual strands. Through the practice of writing about women, BP engaged in a rethinking and reconceptualization of fundamental premises of the ideologies of gender – those of the past and those of his present. At the same time, he also engaged in a reworking of gender ideologies at the national and international level. In conclusion, this paper suggests that we refrain from seeing BP’s notions about gender in terms a finished and stable set of ideas. It is the emergent quality of his narratives of the lives of women is a reminder of the wide range of possibilities open for South Asians engaged in the process of modernity, possibilities that multiplied modernity itself.

  1. Javed Majeed, “Literary Modernity in South Asia,” in India and the British Empire, Douglas M Peers and Nandini Gooptu, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).
  2. Feminist writers in India have explored the contestations in the colonial public sphere over the questions of gender and modernity. See Tanika Sarkar, Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation, (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2001).
  3. Majeed, “Literary Modernity in South Asia