Some two years back, we friends had an opportunity to attend a literary seminar. The second day of the seminar was in its full swing when we got there. As the students of literature, we were really excited for being able to see in person and listen to the great scholars and writers of our time – who were also our role-models.
On that particular day, two papers were presented, the latter of which was focused on the atrocities suffered by the marginalized elements in the society – in the name of religion, ethnicity, caste, etc.
After the papers were presented, the audiences were invited to put their questions on the papers that would be clarified by the presenters. Suddenly, one of our friends stoop up, walked awkwardly toward the dais and began his question huskily.
He pointed out the irony of garlanding the photos of kings , queens, politicians, & ministers in a literary seminar like that, symbolizing the dilemma of Nepali intelligentsia in sheer contrast to the topics being discussed. We, the friends, were dumbfounded – he was mature, yet a student – not supposed to make a criticism on the affairs of erudite scholars.
At that time Nepal was under the direct military rule of the King.
Interestingly, but not surprizingly, the same people nowadays have tunrned die hard republicans!
In spite of the fact that our friend could have presented himself in a better way, his message was loud and clear. He was immediately retorted by one professor-looking scholar that it was a political question, not literary, therefore could not be taken up. Another said such questions could also be dealt with – but only informally.
May be due the nervousness of appearing foolish, or the fear of being seen as an extremist; our friend withdrew his question and walked out of the seminar.
But questions once raised cannot be withdrawn. They hover in the air, linger in the mind.
BP Koirala, himself a politician, in one of his interviews, had mentioned that after being elected as the first prime minister asked the Harvard and Cambridge-educated economists in the Planning Commission to put the picture of a farmer along with the King’s on their wall; and look at the picture of that poor farmer while making any development planning for the country.
Wasn’t the question raised by our friend similar one, except that he was not a great figure in the contemporary history, but simply an awkward looking Mr Nobody?
Jean-Paul Sartre in his essay”Why Write?” contends, “The art of prose is bound up with the only regime in which prose has meaning, democracy…Writing is a certain way of wanting freedom. Once you have begun, you are committed. Committed to what? … or is it concrete everyday freedom which must be protected by our taking sides in political and social struggles?” Sartre concludes his essay with a question, “For whom does one write?”
Perhaps our novice friend, too, being a student of literature merely wished to learn from his well-versed teachers and predecessors, “For whom does one attend the literary seminars?”