The Writer's Prerogative: In Conversation With Ajit Baral (Director, Ncell Nepal Literature Festival)
1) How was the response to this year's Literature Festival as compared to when it started?
"The response to and appreciation of the Festival has grown exponentially - this year the turnout was lower than expected due to the rains. With the high-level of prep work that is required, an engaged audience like the one this year is very heartening. The original idea was a pitch for a book promotion by Fineprint. Happily, Ncell took it to the next level and wanted a full-fledged festival to promote Nepali literature.
We are a small group of organizers but over time, there are plans to institutionalize the event. The Festival is a first for and in Nepal. We were unsure how it would be received and how the public would respond."
2) How has it contributed to and/ or spurred the literary sphere in Nepal?
"The Festival is a celebration of books: a forum to meet writers, for fans and readers to engage in dialogue. The relationship between the writer and the audience is crucial - increased popularity and exposure is vital to the success of the Festival. It is also imperative to encompass the concerns and preoccupations of foreign writers so as to build an understanding of what literature is and can be.
To be able to live and sustain one's life through writing and literature is still difficult. A few talented writers are able to do that now."
3) What is the primary achievement of the Literature Festival since it began?
"It is difficult to pinpoint an exact achievement with certitude. Thousands of people attend the Festival which means that it has helped broaden their understanding of literature and refined their taste in books and helped develop "a sense of discernment on what is worth reading." We wanted to project the idea of literature as glamorous and a part of popular culture too. There is, certainly, a heightened interest in writing and literary pursuits and, thus, more and more people are taking up writing. Hopefully, the same can be said of people who can and will survive on their writing."
4) How do you see the role of participation and the public imagination in the Literature Festival?
"We were careful not to limit the event as a purely literary program. We tried to ensure the inclusion of non-literary topics and themes because literature engages continually with society and the issues of the day - samaj and sahitya! The audience was invited to engage with topical issues and this means that non-literary people from different walks of life would get interested in different aspects of writing and the literary tradition. Adding the 'glam factor' is important for participation."
5) Does the Festival plan on expanding to other cities and towns in Nepal? If so, which Nepali writers/authors are best suited for a discursive festival such as this?
"Ncell was keen to take the Festival outside the Valley but we are still working on it. We might do a festival in Pokhara. Talented and emerging writers who have struck a chord and are able to sustain crowds are: Buddhi Sagar, Ambar Nepali, Nayan Raj Pandey, Kumar Nagarkoti among others."
6) What developments do you see or foresee in Nepali literature in the next five years?
"Nepali literature has changed a lot over time. When Fineprint first opened its doors, we were working with 1000 copies; now we print more than 5000. For a recent book, the initial print was 35,000. Concomitantly, the Nepali book market has grown alongside an increase in the quality of writing and writers. New and emerging writers are writing better books leading to a strong publishing industry. Our hope is a greater surge in literary talent in Nepal and more writers of quality who will survive and thrive through and on writing."