a man for himself : kumar nagarkoti : writer/fiction designer
You are in a classroom. The school is in a rural part of the country and you, along with other children, are sitting on the ground. You have your cushion that is ratty, much like that of the others. You get a whiff of the moisture from the brick and cement walls and you settle down. The teacher walks in. She sits down and radiates a certain smell of jasmine. And she begins to take the attendance. “Roll number one.” She announces. A boy from the back says “Chu.” “Roll number two.” “Hajir”. You’re roll number nine and you wait eagerly to say that you’re present in class. She goes on. You are happy that you’ve announced your presence. But when she asks for roll number seventeen, a boy in the middle of the class calmly says, “Gayab”. She is confused by this response and so are you. So is everyone in the class. But the boy is as serene as ever. You look back at him. He is in the seated lotus position and is meditating. He says he is gayab again. And then, he slowly begins to levitate. He floats up above the rest of you and begins to drift away. And now, he truly is what he just said: gayab.
Such are the works of Mr. Kumar Nagarkoti.
ANY ONE CAN BE MY READER. IT COULD BE ONE, IT COULD BE MANY. BUT WHAT I WANT THEM TO HAVE IS A PURE APPRECIATION AND LOVE FOR ART, MUSIC, CLASSICS, A BIT OF SPIRITUALITY. IF JUST ONE READER HAS THAT AND READS MY WORK, THAT’S ENOUGH FOR ME
It is understandable that you did not get the meaning of what the above text meant. But maybe you had tried. Could it be that the boy needed to escape? Maybe. Could it be that there is no meaning at all? Possibly. But none of these are the true crux of the presented text. What matters is that you wondered. That you performed some mental gymnastics. That you made an attempt to understand what is going on. And in doing so, you transported yourself into the world of Nagarkoti. For the man himself, this is what truly matters.
Aristotle said that to have a good story there must be some inseparable characteristics. First, there must be a protagonist who has a certain flaw, be it being too timid or too proud, and a conflict. When this conflict is induced onto the protagonist, they should go through some hard times. Then, if they are able to overcome it, a happy ending occurs, if not, a tragedy. This is the simplest, easily digestible, and dare I say, the most widely used formula out there. If you look at any mainstream book, or even a movie for that matter, this pattern is the foundation of it. In this regard, the down side of this structure is that things become predictable. Apart from the occasional twists, you know where the story is going and how it’s going to end, all you have is two options.
But what if there was a third option? A certain grey area that would require a new formula. And if you were to be in it, you wouldn’t know how to put two and two together?
That area belongs to a niche called Surrealism.
To put it simply, Surrealism is a literary and arts movement that took birth from being bored of the usual and traditional formula. It rebelled against the concept of how everything needed to have a certainty. Because let’s face it; life is as uncertain as it can be, and it makes sense to have our literature to be parallel to it.
Nagarkoti has attended college for just one day in his entire life. He has a home library and none of the books in there are prescribed by any university. “I don’t like governments,” he says, “I don’t like how ideological they can get and how much of a strong influence they have on the people that read them. And I choose not to be one of those people.”
‘Nepal is a developing country.’ We’ve heard this statement from the time we had a hankie pinned to our shirts. We live in the country itself to know that it is true. But we tend to not realize how we limit this proverb to just the physical infrastructures of our economy. We leave out our dear literature entirely.
“I’m a voracious reader and I found a huge gap in Nepalese literature. So many books are written, and all of them are about social realism. Isn’t it time that we had enough of it?” Questions Nagarkoti with sharp eyes. “And I craved for that change. And rather than hoping and waiting, I created that change I craved for. I know subjects like Sati Pratha and gender based violence sell well in the market, but they’re not what I’m after.
And in that regard, I’ve always written for myself. There are people out there who come up to me and say that they’re my fan. Obviously, that does make me happy. But that happiness has never overwelmend my own personal happiness. I don’t really care for who reads my work. Even if it’s just one reader and likes it, I’m fine with that. If it’s no one, I’m more than fine. For me, writing is a personal experience, and with that, my happiness comes first and foremost to me.”
Nagarkoti’s first story “Nikash” was published in the Sahakalam Sahitya, a literary paper that would publish works of only well established writers, and he was just 21 back then. Even if read today, the story feels like it was written by an elderly person who has travelled each corner of the world and has understood even the most arcane of philosophies. But he was just a youth, and that’s something really admirable about him.
I’M A VORACIOUS READER AND I FOUND A HUGE GAP IN NEPALESE LITERATURE. SO MANY BOOKS ARE WRITTEN, AND ALL OF THEM ARE ABOUT SOCIAL REALISM. ISN’T IT TIME THAT WE HAD ENOUGH OF IT?
“I had no interest in being published back then,” Nagarkoti comments, “the way how that story got published must be credited towards Mr. Abhinash Shrestha. We were drinking friends and I’d send him my stories every now and then. And somehow he got the bright idea of taking one of them to the editor without asking me and have him get it published. And apparently, a lot of people loved it. It got viral.”
Not long after that, the name of Kumar Nagarkoti became to be known. He began writing for the paper and soon, those works of his were compiled into an anthology, again, by his friends without asking him, and published by Ratna Pustak Bhandar. By then, he had begun writing for Kantipur Daily’s Koseli. When he started out, no writer was given the luxury of a full page feature. For him, he was given that liberty with his Coffee Guff, which too was well received. “I like to think that I have two writing approaches; one that I reserve for myself, and another for the audience. The style I employ for the audience is mass appealing so that anyone can digest and understand it easily.”
When I asked him who exactly his readers are, he said, with a calm voice, “Who cares? Anyone can be my reader. It could be one, it could be many. But what I want them to have is a pure appreciation and love for art, music, classics, a bit of spirituality. If just one reader has that and reads my work, that’s enough for me.”
A good way to get a gauge on what he writes about is by looking into his Akchyargunj. In this, he has created a world where people who have devoted their lives to art reside after they pass away. Whenever he is fed up with Kathmandu, he retreats to Akchyargunj. A man named Khalelgibran comes with an old Volkswagan and he gets in and they drive away to the song Tada Tada Janu Cha Sathi. When he reaches his destination, he meets all sorts of personalities. He shakes hands with Shakespeare, sees Parijat at a cafe sipping on wine, and a little further, Devkota is fagging. He talks to them on what’s happening at Kathmandu. All of this is a world of his own. A world he has created with no link to our reality.
I am a fiction writer and fiction is what I do. What I mean by this is that fiction is not real, it’s pure imagination. So, would it make sense to base a fictional world on our real world? To me, it doesn’t. That is why I don’t take any elements from the society we inhabit. For instance, if I were to take a name that exists in the real world, those who know that name and a person who holds that name, they begin to see my character as that person they know. And I don’t want that to happen with the worlds I create. What I want to create is a new experience with names such as Bhigambara, Dipangat, Momuksha; because those names aren’t real. That way, my descriptions will be the only source of image for the readers with no interference of their past experiences.”
With the current literary trend, this notion of his is unique. For it, he has amassed himself a lot of criticism; claiming that his works are hard to understand, that there’s no meaning, is migraine inducing, a suicide if analyzed, and how he mixes languages. But I like to think that his ideas are far out of our reach. We just have not unshackled enough to allow ourselves to fully dive into his world. I can’t say that these worlds are metaphorical, or that they have a motive behind their existence. But what I can say is that these worlds are unique.
And Nagarkoti is obsessed with being unique. It is quite apparent by how he dresses himself. His wardrobe consists of things no one wears: heavy beaded bracelets and necklaces, dingo boots, baggy parachute pants, loose shirts that look like kurtas. Looking at him dressed like that will bring up the notion that his really into spiritualism. However, that could not be any further from the truth. He dresses that way simply because he wants to dress that way. His beads and stones grant him no powers; they are just there because he likes wearing them. Similarly, you may have noticed that his name on his books have a highlighted raa. There’s no idea behind it, just that it looks good to him. Just that. Nothing more, nothing less. “I like things that are unique and not usual. That’s what I really go after.”
“LIKE I SAID, I DON’T LIKE GOVERNMENTS. I DON’T LIKE TO FOLLOW. IF I DO, THEN WHO AM I?
Now, I am not a big fan of the phrase ‘Going with the flow’. To me, it awfully sounds like someone who has no idea of what they are doing. And when Nagarkoti said that he practices it, I must admit that I did cringe a bit. But a sigh of relief came when he had a refreshing take on it. Rather than flowing down a river, he seems to have deviated and created a tributary for himself.
“Like I said, I don’t like governments. I don’t like to follow. If I do, then who am I? There’s various schools of thought that dictate the world; Communism, Marxism. But why do we exactly follow them? Why follow anything at all? I am much happier to just jump into the river and drift with the current. It doesn’t matter to me where I will end up; may be an ocean, may be a dessert, or maybe the river will just dry up and decay away in itself. But really, who cares? Certainly not me.
What matters to me is that I flowed rather than followed. I derive my satisfaction from that feeling of individuality.”
WORDS: NIRVEEK PPJ SHAH | PHOTOS: GAURAV XHOMPATE SUNUWAR