For many, Govinda Bahadur Malla Gothale seemed to be a nonexistent writer who had been lost into oblivion in the later days of his life. And it was because he rarely appeared in public and seldom talked to media. Perhaps, he was most widely read but less publicly known writer.
Govinda Bahadur Malla, popularly known by his pen-name “Gothale” was a part of his family legacy. Inspired by father Riddhi Bahadur Malla, the founding editor of Sarada, the most prominent literary magazine of pre and post democracy era. Gothale entered the literary realm at the age of eighteen and kept on writing until he was forty.
During his childhood, Malla’s was the centre-point for litterateurs and it was here that he came in contact with some great literary figures including Laxmi Prasad Devkota, Bala Krishna Sama, Lekhnath Paudyal, Gopal Prasad Rimal, Bhim Nidhi Tiwari, Bhawani Bhiksu, Siddhi Charan Shrestha and many others.
As a son and grandson of Subha, a high-ranking official during the Rana regime, Gothale never went to the farmhouse for tilling land or herding cattle though he often visited his vast estate in Saptari. But he has an anecdote to tell us associated with his pen name.
“When I was arrested in 1940 in the wake of democratic movement, my first story ‘Tyasko Bhalay’ (His rooster) appeared in Sarada with my pen name Gothale given by Bhawani Bhiksu to avoid further execution. I think the credit goes to Bikshu for giving me a pen name,” he grins.
“Among the story writers, to name a few, I was inspired mostly by BP Koirala and Bhawani Bhiksu,” he says.
As a prominent story writer, Gothale gave a new dimension to psychoanalytical study of characters. Gothale’s stories show mental conflict of his abnormal characters. The conflict between desire and morality in ‘Ke Gareki, Shobha?’ (What are you doing, Shobha?), the sadism of the principal character in ‘Maile Sarita ko Hatya Gare’(I killed Sarita) and stories like “Adhar” (Lips), “Bhaaro” (Pot) and “Bichari Oo” are typical examples. In “Bhaaro”, Gothale shows how a woman neglects the presence of a poor boy by bathing in front of him exposing her body but draping herself the moment she sees her brother-in-law coming. He raises the question of morality of Nepali women in the story.
Earlier, he had also written on domestic and social subjects. In “Tyasko Bhal”’(His Rooster), “Mahapap” (A great sin), “Lakshimipuja” and “Nidra Aena”, (Could not sleep) his child characters are interesting.
“Sex is also a social subject. I write whatever I feel as part of our society,” he explains. “I try to write about the existing social problems,” he confesses.
“The writers used to be treatd as anti-Rana and whoever tried to experiment new things could be termed anti-establishment. So, it was obvious for us to be anti-Rana,” he explains.
There was no question that our creations went controversial because of low readership, he says.
His penchant for writing did not limit him to story writing. Pallo Ghar Ko Jhyal (The window of that house, 1959) is one of the naturalistic novels in Nepali. Its principal character Misri is tied in marriage physically unsatisfying for her. She keeps on watching a man who looks her through the window of the adjoining house and elopes with him ultimately. Gothale tries to explode the myth that Nepalese women remain firm and loyal towards their husband despite their husbands’ inability to sexually and emotionally satisfy her.
He was the first editor of Awaj daily which was first published in Falgun 7, 2007 BS, the day Nepal attained democracy. Later he also edited Sarada, a literary magazine run by his family.
“Nepali literature has not flourished as others have. So whatever evaluation they did for my works seems to be good,” he says. But the readership has not soared up as much as it should be, he adds.
The plays Chyateiko Parda (Torn curtain) and Bhus Ko ago (Fire of Chaff) present psychological dimensions. The first play by two men is about a girl who is wooed by two men. One is married and rich and is attracted more by her physical charm; the other is impoverished by his addiction to wine and gambling but respects the girl’s freedom and loves her sincerely. The girl chooses the latter and this freedom of choice is the confirmation of the freedom of feminine individuality. The second play develops around a married woman, Urmila. Detested by parents-in-law, she is not allowed to enter her husband’s home and they force her husband to marry again. Urmila chooses to live independently and joins a college. Fed up with his illiterate second wife, her husband wants to come closer to Urmila and she also responds positively. However, the sense of her independence prevails upon her and she refuses to go with him. Love and marriage, the status of women in a society dominated by men, and the necessities of an overhaul change in the conservative ideas about these matters are the principal subjects of Gothale. His two plays Chayatieko Parda and Yug Ko Sikar (Victim of the Era) have been staged, and also shown on Nepal Television.
The man behind the new trend in Nepali story, Govinda Bahadur Malla was rarely honored by the people and the government during his life time. As long as he lived, he received only Tribhuvan Award in 1989. And, apart from this, he was grossly neglected by literary institutions. Though he said the people recognized his contributions, he was not properly honored for what he did for Nepali literature.
“I did not write after 1964 due to lack of atmosphere or my weakness. Hardly one or two Nepali magazines used to publish from here,” he recalls. “For the publication of one thousand Sarada, we had to have paid only fifty or sixty rupees. It was very cheap then.”
After two decades of active life in writing, he stopped writing unexpectedly and switched over to business. In the later days of his life, he was free, following his retirement from business as well. In the last few years, he seemed to have gathered his old spirit and zeal for writing. Before he passed away, he contributed a long play, a few stories and recollections in a few magazines. He said whatever ideas were stored in his brain he would put them in creative writing.
(This is the edited and updated version of the article first published in the Kathmandu Post in 1996.)