In the beginning, there were parchments. Then came paper and the typewriter. Now it is upto language softwares to simplify life for budding writers in Nepali.
My parents gave me a Remington typewriter when I was in high school. The keyboard on that typewriter was lined up with English-letter keys. By playing with it to bang out editorials and essays for school magazine, I soon learned to type well. But my typing was not professional in any sense. There were no ten fingers working in consortium to produce words and sentences. It was more of a two-finger pecking, but in a fast manner. Still, that basic
skill to type in English carried me well through university and into professional life, where computers with English keyboards, word processors and Internet connections made writing, revising and editing and, and then, emailing easy.
In the mid-’90s, I spent a year working at Backward Society Education (BASE) in Tulsipur, Dang in Western Nepal. The work was eyeopening, but there was nothing much to do in that small town after office hours. On Saturdays, after our morning dal-bhaat, my colleagues and I used to go to one of the two film-halls in town to catch the afternoon shows. On our way back, we would then pay dutiful visits to the one magazine-stand by the bus-park that carried fresh-off-the-night-bus Nepali-language magazines such as Kamana, Yuba Manch, Nava Yuba and a few Sajha Prakashan books. I spent my evenings reading and re-reading many Nepali-language magazines and books.
It was at around that time that I tried to write an essay or two in Nepali. But I gave it up quickly. Writing Nepali by long-hand was a torture, and I did not have the self-discipline to learn to type in Nepali in the Nepali typewriter. I found out that words did not flow on blank sheets of paper. With great effort, I would write a few sentences and read them aloud only to decide that they were was no good. I would then crumple up the paper and throw it away. This habit went on until the rubbish-bin started overflowing with the confetti of my amateur efforts. Looking back, I think I was not sure of my diction, grammar and even of what I wanted to say in Nepali. Besides, I had this unsettling feeling that the face of my high school Nepali language teacher was peering over my shoulders, sternly telling me that what I was writing in Nepali was not good. Insecure about my own ability and afraid that people would laugh at me once they saw how bad I wrote, I concluded that writing in Nepali was a task best left to the certified giants of Nepali literature and journalism. At least, they knew what they were doing. Meanwhile, for some years, thanks to the ease provided by computers with English keyboards, I continued to email, as a hobby on the side, occasional op-ed pieces in English for a few Nepal-based English newspapers. The audience was small, and it was, I came to realise, composed mostly of my own friends and acquaintances. We all praised
one another’s writings, and were happy to exist in our little ‘Mutual Admiration Society’, as is often the case with Nepalis writing in English.
But I kept up with my readings of Nepali language newspapers, magazines and books. Important debates were going on in the vibrant Nepali-language press about our politics, economies, societies and the arts. Divergent, conflicting and contradictory ideas were being tossed about, discussed and dissected in the public domain. All this was heady exciting stuff, and I longed to add thoughts to these public debates or disagree with some pundits with reasons. Occasionally, I wrote short letters to editor on issues on which I felt particularly strong. But the act of writing longer opinion pieces and commentaries that made sustained arguments in Nepali stymied me. I had flashbacks of my painfully short-lived experience to write in Nepali in Dang, complete with those overflowing and, cockroach-infested, rubbish-bins. ll that changed late last year when I discovered Unicode Nepali Font, promoted by Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya. After installing it for free on my laptop, I saw that Nepali typing could be so intuitively easy to grasp that even someone who still types with two fingers (yup, that’s me!) could completely master a new way of typing in less than an hour. Truth be told, at first, I was sceptical, and thought that maybe there was some fine-print trick to this whole Unicode business. Maybe a virus would destroy all my files, maybe the laptop would catch fire... but nothing of such sort ever happened. As is often the case, stunning simplicity was and is the best attribute that a solid work of computer code can have, and Unicode is no exception. Still, the best part about using Unicode Nepali Font is that I can now write, save, revise and edit my Nepali pieces with no difficulty whatsoever. What’s more, I can even write and send mails in Nepali too. That is, in pucca Nepali - not the Romanised form. If I didn’t like what came out, I could simply delete it, and start all over again, revising and editing right on the screen - thereby saving a small forest of trees! Life, I thought, couldn’t have been sweeter than this. And so, encouraged by this new tool, I finally did manage to put those Dang nightmares to rest, mustering enough courage to publish a few opinion-pieces in a leading national daily newspaper. I also discovered that editors love getting Nepali articles via email because they can do just the appropriate editing on the screen, without having to spend time for the entire hand-written text to be typed up all over again. Not many people know that this simple issue of convenience dramatically increased the chances of getting one’s articles published sooner than never.
That old Remington typewriter is no longer in my life. But thanks to Unicode Nepali Font, those countless hours of school boyish joy that the typewriter gave me when I first started to type, could still be re-created - this time in Nepali language. I urge you all to give Unicode a try and see for yourself how easy and fun it is to type in Nepali and share what you have written with others.
(Ashutosh Tiwari lives and works in Dhaka, Bangladesh and is a freelance writer)