Devkota birth centenary Who cares for this national genius?

The birth centenary of the great poet Laxmi Prasad Devkota has just begun. And he was born on Laxmi Puja Day. Such events should have been considered a symbol of national unity and identity. Not long ago, Denmark marked the 200th birthday of Hans Christian Anderson not only in Copenhagen but across the world. Worldwide, some 3,000 events were organised in commemoration of Anderson. Even some of our literary figures and organisations close to DANIDA had organised Anderson’s bi-centenary with great enthusiasm. But no one knows how our government, the Academy, educational institutions and many literary organisations named after Devkota would celebrate his centenary.

Unfortunately, one can only imagine that this great occasion will pass off with some groups organising some literary activities and talk programmes. Perhaps, news and write-ups on Devkota would be eclipsed by stories relating to showbiz, pop culture and Western literature. He is likely to receive little priority, and many modern-age readers will even forget the event. Media would continue creating modern-day heroes overnight, while Devkota, sadly, would nowhere be in their account.

But, people like Devkota are not the personalities to be forgotten. Devkota, the great humanist

poet, on whom the title ‘Mahakavi’ (Great Poet) was bestowed by the nation years ago, has made singular contribution to bringing forth social, political and cultural awakening at a time when Nepal was struggling through a dark era of autocratic Rana regime. He inspired the feeling of nationalism amongst people. With a rare gift of imagination, Devkota envisioned a world marked by general harmony. His writing also played a significant role in bringing about change in society.

The epoch-making political movement of 2007 BS would not have taken place if the intellectuals of the time had not stirred the national consciousness and spirit of the people. As they are rooted in the realities of life, most of Devkota’s timeless literary works including Munamadan, are immortal. Therefore Devkota does not need any orchestrated publicity stunts and is ever loved by readers. This proves that the work of alien influences neither lasts long nor is able to represent the contemporary voice of any society and culture. Devkota, with an enormous universal appeal and appreciation, is duly regarded as the great Nepali genius who for the first time in Nepali literary history also produced creative and critical work in English. He composed a number of poems, essays, plays and epics in English. He not only edited the first Nepali journal in Nepal, Indreni, but also translated an epic in Nepali by him, Sakuntala, into English.

It is true that cultural globalisation has overshadowed national cultures, languages and literatures. But the question is how conscious the people and the government are to preserve and promote national literature and culture that are part of our identity. The mainstream literature, that is supposed to be the most valued representative of people’s sentiment, has been eclipsed by the media that promotes foreign literature. This trend has bred a new bunch of media columnists and critics. Similarly, the view that Nepali literature should be translated into other languages in order to be able to reach global readers has been completely ignored by the state and publishers. Though some critics claim that Nepali literature today is on the same footing as world literature, the inability to translate it into other languages has hindered them from transcending national periphery and reaching global readers. This is disappointing. Obviously, there is a good market for Nepali literature abroad, but we have not been able to exploit it so far. Even the translated anthology of Modern Nepali Poems and Selected Stories, which the publishers claim to be representative, do not represent contemporary writing in a fair and objective manner. There is therefore an urgent need to translate and publicise the literary writings of national geniuses like Laxmi Prasad Devkota.

In this gloomy scenario, where Nepalis are used to sidelining national culture and personalities, the government should take a step ahead and honour the great poet by issuing commemorative coins and postage stamps and name some literary or educational institution after him. Academy and Sajha Prakashan should publish re-editions of Devkota’s complete works in several volumes. It would be a great tribute to Devkota if the nation did something like establishing his memorial by preserving his house as a monument that is a centre for studies on Devkota. The political leaders should realise that it is the quality of art a nation produces that determines whether the country has a conscious citizenry. The government must be able to honour national personalities like Devkota and use their works as a medium to enhance national prestige. The nation’s identity is closely linked with its art, language and culture. We must preserve and promote them.

Chalise is a journalist and litterateur