Friday, December 16, 2011

A reading I gave at SDPI's Fourteenth Sustainable Development Conference 13-15 December 2011, Islamabad, Pakistan

Fiction and the Facts: Writing the History of Development in Nepal
Sushma Joshi*
Literature and social change has always gone hand in hand since the invention of the written word. As a writer, I have always written fiction and non-fiction simultaneously. I have been a regular contributor to the Kathmandu Post since 1998. For the past two years, I wrote a widely-read op-ed column, “The Global and the Local.” My intention was to bring liberal and critical thinking skills to a Nepali middle class readership, and to highlight social justice issues as if they mattered. I feel I have succeeded, when I see young people with good education actively competing to get their works printed in the newspaper.
Just as I draw upon fictional techniques to engage the reader in serious reportage, I do the opposite with fiction—I do not leave it all up to my imagination, but often draw from the treasure trove of real life stories I have heard as a journalist and social change activist in Nepal. My aim is always to tell these stories with greater authenticity and accuracy—paradoxically, this may entail me to move away from pure “facts” to a more imaginative terrain involving emotions, dreams, myths and other things that find no place in a UN report on human rights violations. This subjectivity, by itself, imbues the work with an authenticity not possible with an objective narration.
I will read a short story of mine "Waiting for Rain", then discuss the ways in which issues of development are unfolding in this particular moment in time (1998-1999) in Nepal. In this story, the People's War is also just starting to take off. The main character is affected by political corruption and this effectively ends his chances of getting connected to mainstream development efforts, which have also been seized by a powerful local political leader. The story looks at many of the underlying reasons for why Nepal still remains underdeveloped today.
I will end by talking about how the work of the writer can never be subservient to the needs of social change—if done with an end in mind, it becomes propaganda. But if truthful to its stated intent, fiction writing that comes from the heart can often touch people in a way that thousand reports cannot.
*Sushma Joshi is a writer and filmmaker from Kathmandu, Nepal.  Her book, “The End of the World”, was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award in 2009 and is available in bookstores in Thailand, Hongkong, Singapore and the USA. Her novel, “Loving the Enemy”, will be published in 2011.  Her short film, “The Escape”, was accepted to the Berlinale Talent Campus in 2007.

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