[Dr. Dhruba Chandra Gautam, highly revered as the ‘Akhyan Purush’ or the fiction man of Nepal, has several novels and stories to his credit. Author of Madan-Puraskar winning novel Alikheet and several other works of fiction including Tathakathit, Agnidatta+Agnidatta, Kattel Sir ko Chot Patak, Aakash Bibhajit Chha (10 co-authors), Swa. Hira Devi ko Khoji, Dhruba Chandra ka Ekaunna Katha (stories), Phulko Atanka, Tyo Euta Kura, Andhayaro Deepma, Gautamka Kehi Pratinidhi Katha (stories), etc. Formerly a teacher of literature, he abandoned teaching in the prime time of his life, and committed fully to writing. Dr. Gautam is most distinguishably recognized as a constant experimenter, and his fiction, against the mainstream of linear and realistic works, adopts an anti-current flow, meandering through several extra-realistic, surrealistic and absurdist patterns of experimentation, both in form and content. Mahesh Paudyal had an exclusive interview with Dr. Gautam, limiting the conversation to the story as a genre. Presented herewith is the edited excerpt of the interview.]
Greetings, Sir. A huge population of writers, including myself, is following you in writing fictions: both short and long. By that token, we are your successors, though time shall tell how worthy heirs are. In this context, what exactly is your conviction about the story as a genre?
Now that makes the question quite serious right in the beginning. In fact, this question can also have an old answer. Life and world come together in writing, and this is a fact writers have always conceived. But as time, society and people change and newer generations comes, we should accordingly try to bring ourselves as close to it as we can. To us, even the world means life; we use the fiction as a tool to look at the world. We also make ample use of imagination; only fact cannot represent us. It’s life we take up, be it our own, of our neighbors, or of the society. Society has life; life has society. There is an individual inside the society, and society inside the individual, and as they interact, they also exhibit paradoxes. All such things become the subjects of our stories.
We talks about change. A sort of stories talk about external changes, as observed on the road, out there in the world, in statistics, in figures etc. When I read your fiction, your interest appears in the change of the ‘internal man’, instead of the external changes. How would you react to that?
You are right. In fact, you are yourself a storywriter. When I talk about changes, I don’t only mean the physical change. I mean the change in the thought process too. How can that be adopted in the story? How can it be gauged? Different storywriters focus on different things. Some writers lend more primacy to physical development, which, in my view, is not enough. If I had followed Mainali and BP, I would have settled nowhere, though I admit, I am still much below their plane. But it is good to stand out. The change of the internal man, as you were hinting, is obvious. We, as writers, should try to look at that change from our vantage, and narrativize the same, so that life gets depicted as minutely as possible.
At a time when much of the stories your seniors and contemporaries wrote were realistic and moralizing, you adopted a different path, along existential, experimental or partly absurdist line. When these patterns were missing in Nepali story, you can also be credited to have pioneered this school. How did this new thing creep into your mind?
Writing itself is inventive and innovative. I always tried to make myself new. By saying that, I don’t mean I took up a different subject. Life itself was my subject too, but our approaches differed. If, in Mainali’s days, they believed in idealistic and moralistic messages, that was the need of their days. But, as we moved, we noticed evolutionary changes in man’s consciousness, and to catch up with that, we the writers also became innovative. We started exploring more. By exploring, I don’t only mean psychological writing; I mean everything an individual gathers while living life. As for example, if a character moves along the road, the writer who narrativizes his life may describe the road, but others may be interested in the thought process, or the newness appearing in the person’s life. Problems are not limited to sex or economy; there are several other problems plaguing the modern man. On top of that, we are executing multiple roles at the same time. In that case, our vantages to look at life differs, and that vantage appears on our writing. One thing, however, is true: storywriters never side with inhuman messages’ they also side with equality. In spite of that, while writing a story, contemporary storywriters do not moralize. They live it to the readers to infer the message.
Much of your writing is abstract, though you just claimed you are true to life. What necessitates such abstraction? Is it because life itself has become so subtle and complex that realistic writing cannot do ample justice to it?
Life itself is like that. A storywriter becomes most convincing, if he or she can catch life in the most intimate way. As thoughts changes in people’s life, writers change too. You know the idea of free association. Our stories are the outcomes of that. Even inside an apparently fragmented series, there is an order, a connectivity. Only that, when we write, we force a beginning at a point, or end it where we want, though the story has not ended. Take a babbler for example. The babbling doesn’t end, but the storywriter puts a full stops when he thinks, the babbling has become ample enough.
This is true not only for realistic writing but also to fantasy. There is, however, a difference in the way we look at fantasy today. In the past, people believed in fantasy. We don’t believe, but we write, using it as a tool. Free association still holds good, as do fantasy or absurdity. Apparently, a story may seem regular but the life it depicts is not. Writing should have grief with mirth as Cervantes once rightly said. Our undercurrent reality is grief. Mirth, is the wave, the apparent, the manifest part of life. When we reconcile all these, writing naturally assumes an abstract quality.
We have a huge chunk of what we call realistic writing. Some writers, however, remove themselves from the plain realistic approach, and adopt extra-realistic, hyper-realistic or surrealistic approaches, as you have yourself done on many occasions. How do you explain that?
Realities are also conveyed though imaginations. To convey life of our own day, we adopt different approaches. If you ask me I always wanted to be different. When I started writing poetry seven decades ago, I already had the urge to sound different. Additionally, our reality itself is multifarious. Reality, as we live it, can be experienced in multiple ways, and while depicting the same, some adopt photographic approaches while others become experimental. We still have writers following the classical patterns. Their reality also matters, and is a part of the huge fictional space. As we all stand in the same line, we need a face of our own to identify us, and for the ease of that, we need an individuality. This is decided by what we read, how we grew, and what influences us, etc. This gets reflected in our stories. For example, when I wrote poetry, there was a huge influence of existentialism. This also crept into my initial stories, where there was a lot of brooding over death. We, the storywriters, carve a time together, and in it, many things are possible at once. When we write, how we do that determines our uniqueness. One aspect of reality explores the basic. If we do not evolve, we run the risk of being obsolete. If we react to a thing in the same way, our stories will have no difference. Our rendering should not only have a story, but should also depict multiple, subtle and complex realities. This explains the difference of our approaches.
You have lived ‘consciously’ for at least seven decades, though you are an octogenarian now. Times have changed over the decades, and so has man. Man, as we know, is the main subject of your writing. When everything else has changed, how much has man changed deep inside, as you see it?
No one had asked me this question before. This means, questions too have changed. You are asking as a young man, and I am answering as an old man, though we share the same time. The time I lived in the past was a different one; maybe you were not even born. But now, we share the same time, though our approaches to look at life and time different. So is writing. Writing itself is a lonely act. We, as individuals, share the same circumstances. During my childhood days, the society was different. Now it is different. Many things have changed though older values linger too. But we don’t side with outdated values. I have always been a rebel. I remember a time when we debated over an issue. I loved wear kharaus against the practice of my family. But they didn’t let me do that and I was reprimanded when I did. Though such pranks sublimated with time, I still retain that rebellious attitude. All such things enter my stories, and make all the difference. Being different doesn’t mean being inferior. It is always good for a story and a storywriter to be different. Even if a photographic description of reality touches, it should be allowed to flourish. After all, our society is like the ratnagarbha, having different gems in its domain. We must accept everything that. It is life that we write about. How we reflect or express it calls for a difference in our art, style and originality. This is acceptable.
Writes, who take up autobiographies should have the guts to write every truth boldly. Can an individual be so confessional? In that case, are all autobiographies published today honest? When we look at fictions, they are more honest, though they adopt fictional ways, and choose a fictional character to represent bare and bold facts about themselves. How would you react to this observation?
That is so true. I feel freer in fiction than in life writing. In fiction, I can draw in any character. I am also writing memoirs. But then, can I remember everything about my life? No. I hide things that might hurt others, and this, I adopt, even in my memoirs. I agree that we should be bold and true, but I claim that whenever I write, I shall write the truth, and if I have to write untruth, I don’t write at all.
Can we have stories that are ‘completely fictional’? People talk of fantasy, magic realism and things like that. They talked of fictional creations. However ‘fictional’ they are claimed to be, don’t you think they have a bearing on reality? Don’t they fall back upon experiences one has live through, read about, or heard of? If that is the case, isn’t the epithet ‘fictional’ a fabricated one?
I don’t believe that completely fictional things exist. Even in things written as fantasy or fiction, our real selves creep. This is why some people start with a disclaimer that if characters and incidents in a work of fiction overlaps with real people or incidents in the world, it is a mere coincidence. We must catch the undercurrent of reality, and as we do that, we can adopt any degree of fantasy. Reality gives us the anchor. Take swimming as a metaphor, for example. While swimming, we take the banks or shores as the anchors; we may assure ourselves either by touching, or by seeing the anchors. That feeds us the confidence to swim. Same is true for writing fiction.
In your early days, did you and your contemporaries often meet and discuss about stories?
We didn’t do that much. In fact, a storywriter writes from his own life; from his own world. Our story-worlds do not overlap. On top of that, many writers tend to consider others inferior. That makes meetings and collective discussion and discourses quite impossible. In our youthful days too, we didn’t often meet. Our writing, in a way, continued as lonely offices. I also continued as a laconic writer; I didn’t even show my drafts to my brother for, our opinions and creative viewed differed. Incidentally, a few people who worked so closely with me in my writing profession also are laconic people.
Thank you for your time. Wish you good health and more creative time ahead.
[Presentation: Mahesh Paudyal]