A book entitled Autocratic Monarchy (2012) carrying the bespectacled photograph of the famous literary critic Iswar (Isvar) Baral(1927-1997) on the cover drew my attention. I ordered the book out of bookseller’s shelf and found that it was the compilation of political essays written at different times by the
Nepali literary critic Iswar Baral, published under the name LS Baral. Its two editors, Pratyoush Onta and Lokraranjan Parajuli, have written a long and meticulously researched introduction to this book.
First, I want to share my views about the duality of a writer’s self in Nepal. In Nepali literary discussions a writer’s persona is presented in exclusive terms. A writer is a literary creator par excellence. The duality in the selves of the writers are either ignored or not considered important. But how the writers themselves chose to present their personalities is also a subject of interest. Broadly, writers’ dual selves—political and literary, are either merged or kept apart in Nepali literary discussions. For example, the literary persona of the late Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala was kept separate from his political personality, and most of the Nepali Congress people and some others were keen on that separation.
Keeping Koirala’s two selves separate emanated from two factors. First, his closest allies and cadres did not quite appreciate what was going on in his literary den. He did not come out of the Sundarijal prison carrying manuscripts of socialism nor did Sushila Bhauju, Sashanka Koirala or any of his offspring receive letters like those written by Jawaharlal Nehru to his daughter Indira to make up books. Instead of socialist treatises — melange of little Trotskyite and democracy thoughts, he came out with novels that spoke about inner human longings, traps of individuals created by themselves, and eternal quests of characters for meanings and freedom that could be the rhetoric of political freedom. Koirala chose to call them his anarchic pursuits, reserving his well-planned sanity for democracy and the Congress Party. Interestingly, some very intelligent personas that joined his Congress party or became fellow travellers had the chance to dally with both worlds—politics and literature. They combined their political faith in social democracy with literary writings. As a young literary person and student, I became close to two of them and not so close but very familiar with the other. The former two were KedarmanVyathit and Keshab Raj Pindali and the last one was Iswar Baral.
I attended meetings where all three of them met; or when one or two of them were absent the others spoke against the absentee. It was amusing to hear this triumvirate in literary excursions. In Chitwan Jungle Lodge at one of the outings in the eighties to listen to these three musketeers was to listen to a history of experiments, creation, dissolution, BP Koirala’s politics, his love for cleanliness, his power of judgement, tacit agreement about shifts in politics and working out excuses for coming closer to king Mahendra’s or Birendra’s institutions. Their conversations sometimes were dominated by sexuality, smugglings of arms into Nepal for freedom fighting, and invariably, natures of their contemporary writers and their literary characters.
From their conversations I found that their political times were cast on interesting screens of history that carried the legacy of Gandhian freedom struggle and their literary pursuits that provided windows to the other side of the creation. What did they write? Vyathit was a poet par excellence; Pindali wrote novels and satires; Baral wrote literary criticism and his language was sometimes quite eccentrically Sanskritised; he spent greater part of his discussion criticising the use of language in literature. He clashed with a Marxist critic named Krishnachandra Singh Pradhan in the late fifties. Pradhan even said in one of his rebuttal that a literary critic like Baral should be treated in the style of poet Suryakanta Tripathi Nirala who went to critics’ homes and canned them.
I was always impressed by Baral’s scholarship and his power of logic. But I was not familiar with his political and historical scholarship. This book published by Martin Chautari
has opened that up to me for the first time by cogently putting together his political writings, especially written in the eighties of the last century. I was familiar with his academic persona, his PhD research in London and his teaching career in India. He did not say much about experience of scholarship in SOAS, but told us about the right and wrong pronunciations of English words and how the British pronouncedthem differently. Once he upbraided me for using the term ‘copious’ for something uncountable. I turned the dictionary on his desk and showed him expressions like loads of love, tons of love etc. I loved his approach to the correctness of language. On one occasion I objected to his use of strong expressions about Parijat’s physical state in his introduction to her poetry. He said a critic should write without any prejudiced thoughts.
In this short piece I cannot do justice to the book. The introduction is very well written and researched, which shows how a free and authentic interpretation of a literary writer’s political scholarship can be presented. I was struck by several findings of the editors. This book has opened up many unexplored aspects of Panchayat politics. I alsothink graduate students would find this introduction as a model of research writing. Iswar Baral’s scholarship as a historian and political analyst is presented under various sections. Analysis of Panchayat oppositions, ambivalence and manipulations of rulers’ and neighbours’ foreign policy stints are revealing.
The duality of a literary critic’s persona in Nepal is either merged under ideological rubric or ignored. This book brings the two strands together.