Creative Writing Transforms Any Child: Writer and Educator Keshari Amgai

Keshari Amgai is a dedicated name whose passion lies in helping children explore the realm of creative writing. Currently working as a Nepali teacher at Kathmandu-based Him Rashmi Secondary School, Amgai does not limit himself to the four walls of classroom but equally devotes his countless hours to nurturing the literary talents of young minds. Through engaging workshops and personalized guidance, he empowers children to unleash their creativity, encouraging them to express themselves through the written world.

Meanwhile, writer Amgai also has some creative works to his credit. His published works include novel Yoddha kshetra (2056), story collections Sukeko Mudo (2060), Sapanako Dahasanskar (2068), collaborative poetry anthology Aafar (2073), translated novel Lolita, and several folk story collections. His debuted in children literature with story collection Musako Durbar. Very recently, under Keshari’s guidance and constant efforts, his students have been able to release five books of children literature and he is gearing up for more children books. What Keshari strongly asserts is that he aims to create future authors! And he is very eager to embark on this ambitious journey.

Here, Shilash Thapa Tamang of English.Sahityapost had a conversation with the very author and teacher Keshari Amgai. Here follows the interview for our valued Sahityapost readers. 

At the time when children’s literature is placed at a corner, less penned and ignored for a long time, how did you think of working in the genre of children’s literature?

Today’s children have easier access to smart phones than books. Both private and government schools are after imparting education in English medium. This can pose a challenge to Nepali language in near future. If to preserve and promote Nepali language and literature, it is essential to attract new generation towards reading and writing culture. This should be done in the very foundational level that is school level.  This can be achieved, I believe, by encouraging our children to write, to express their feelings through writing and getting their works published. Doing this will not only generate future writers but will also instill love for Nepali language and make them responsible citizens towards the society. With this ambition, I have been guiding the children with creative writing, doing necessary editing and so. This gives me more satisfaction than writing my own.

Where do you see children’s literature at present scenario?

Basically, children literature could be seen from two ways in our context. The first one, directed by NGOs/INGOs, only seems to emphasize on how children literature should be, without including the literary works produced by children. We, the adults, tend to encroach upon their genre (children’s literature) by writing the issues of our interest, not of the children. As a result, a child’s authentic feelings, psychology and thoughts are missed out in children literature. We assume one thing for the children but in reality they might be experiencing something different. So, a gap is created here. That is why children should be highly encouraged to write to tell their own stories. Thus, I would say children literature today paves two approaches; adult writing for children and children writing for children.

When you say two approaches, which do you think sounds more credible or say, which one should be more emphasized while writing children’s literature?

Both are necessary. An adult writer can and should write children’s literature favorable to various age groups which children cannot do in general. Yet, more authentic literature comes when children themselves write based on their real life experience.  Although they might not have mastery over language but the expression of their feelings is worth reading.

Very recently, five books by your students were launched at once under your guidance. This was an exemplary effort in children’s literature. How were the immediate responses?

Confidence was pretty noticeable in the children writers after their books were published. And children themselves were amazed to see their work in a published form. Earlier, they used to regard a writer as god-like, unattainable being. But now they see their published works and have a great deal of confidence. No doubt, their parents were very much surprised to see their children as writers. Not only this, even the juniors were curious to know the author of the book and would often ask me, “Sir, can we become writers like brothers and sisters?” It shows we are in the course of generating creative writers for now and for the coming days. And more importantly, my experience says that encouraging children in creative writing has also helped to detach our children from electronic gadgets.

A teacher can do a lot of things if he has dedication and will power and you have been an example for this. But sadly, our educational institutions and teachers are less concerned about teaching creative writing to our students, let alone publishing their work.  Why is our educating surviving this situation keeping creative writing so neglected? Can you share your experience regarding this?   

I would primarily say it is the school administration and the subject teacher; particularly language based subject teacher who are responsible for encouraging children in creative writing. First, the subject teacher should realize that literature is inseparable part of life. Second, they should have the confidence, at least, to guide the students to perform creative writing. Teachers might not be necessarily a regular writer but they could always encourage and show the students the different techniques of writing. Third, remember that children might not immediately begin to write, so a teacher should always put unceasing efforts to make them write. Children require constant motivation. They should be guided to write not once but time and again until they produce something of their own. Fourth, the guardian’s role always remains decisive when it comes to publishing their children’s creation. They should be in a ready position to offer any kind of assistance when the school needs for publishing the book. So only through the collective efforts of school administration, subject teacher and guardians, will we be able to foster the literary potentials in our students. I call this- a campaign of engaging our students in creative writing should go nationwide.

Sir, you have been guiding students in creative writing and minutely editing their work.  What sorts of plots and characters do you find that our children generally create? What subjects fascinate them for writing?

Well, usually they pick characters from their own surrounding. Their characters range variously from a mischievous boy to a good, hard-wording student, and sometimes a lazy one yet blessed with unique talent. I think they are exhibiting their psychological situation through these characters. They are found to be expressing their inner thoughts and feelings in a creative way.

Reading for pleasure is rare among the students and their study heavily relies on traditional route learning. They have developed a pre-occupied concept that study means either reading only prescribed text books or solving some technical questions. What led them to carry this understanding?

Let’s say, I am a teacher, but if I don’t study a single book, how I can encourage my students to read books?  99 percent of our school teacher shares this same story. I might sound bitter and harsh but this is the fact. Very few teachers survive who additionally study books along with the text books. So a teacher is a primary responsible regarding this. For a teacher, there is no choice but he himself must become a good reader first and then encourage the students. When he is a good reader, he influences his students. Besides, our guardians are also responsible as well. Whenever there is any occasion to buy gift for the children, parents usually buy sweets and alike. Buying literary books is not preferred or it might not even come as a conscious choice. As a result, a child, who needs to be served with the bread of knowledge, is served with things (sweets) harmful for their brain. At such, can we expect our children to be enthusiasts of reading books? Certainly not! Parents should buy a book at least every month for their children in order to develop reading habit. If possible, they should try reading sitting next to their children.

Now, let’s briefly talk about the selection of literary texts prescribed for our students. How are the literary texts in our curriculum? Are these texts congenial to our children?

Let’s avoid discussing privately published materials where nepotism and favoritism can be commonly observed. Regarding government materials, I don’t think they are so friendly with the student’s interest. Our curriculum is so designed that it is likely to assume our students as having known nothing. But, with the technological advancements, students have excelled in many ways but the curriculum doesn’t address this. Our evaluation system is also such that it is less oriented to instigate the creative faculty of the children. Children today are exceptionally gifted. They are more accustomed to technology and AI than their teachers.  But our curriculum and evaluation system fails to unearth that talent. If this gap between the children and the curriculum continues and is not abridged on time, then the future will be very tough.

How have creative writing helped in shaping the character of a child?

I can cite an example of a child (let’s not mention her name), who was often complained about for not studying well. But as she began to write and by the time she had her work published, she was drastically changed. My point is creative writing transforms any child, no matter how notorious or neglectful a child may be. Reading can also transform children. When a child identifies himself with the character in the story, he gets the inspiration to change.  Now, let me bring my own daughter as an example. My daughter, who always proved to be a competent student, suddenly failed her exam at grade six. To this, I had my own treatment for her. What I did was, I composed a story that narrated her own story, her psychology, and her failure and then I let her read it. After reading the story, she cried the whole night and as a result of this, she has never failed in any exam since then. Literature can change any mischievous child if it reflects the story of that child.

Thank you sir! It was a fruitful discussion on various aspects of children literature. Finally, any message, any appeal or anything you would like to add for our readers and to the stakeholders of children literature?

Somebody had to initiate this task for children’s literature, and I did that. But this has to be carried out collectively as a campaign. Every school, concerned authority, stake holders should devote to flourish the creative ability of the children through writing. Especially Nepal Academy and Nepalese Society for Children’s Literature should take ownership of this project. Only then we can hope for a better tomorrow.

Lastly, I am thankful towards Mahesh Sir and Sahityapost for granting me this opportunity to share my experience regarding children literature. I am always ready to assist with my ideas and knowledge for the development of children literature. Thank you!