By Aminah Sheikh
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?
It’s tempting to blame it on inner impulses that would devour me if I didn’t, but that wouldn’t be the whole story, especially with non-fiction. Simply put, I’m better at writing than I am at most other things I’ve tried my hand at (though not necessarily better at writing than most other people), and the act gives me pleasure of a laboured kind. That’s more than what you can say for most kinds of work, and believe me, the complete act of writing – from conception to execution to almost-perfection – is work.
Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?
Speaking Tiger has just published my second book, Thamel:Dark Star of Kathmandu, a biography of the tourist quarter that grew out of a medieval Buddhist settlement in Kathmandu. Writing about a place like Thamel is not, on the face of it, an urgently necessary task. At least not as obviously so as a book on our relationships with Nature (my next writing project). Nonetheless, I feel it’s useful to obtain an understanding of the totality of the environments we have spent significant time in – past, present and future. This is what Thamel means to achieve, as much as the book on Nature: to deepen our understanding of our built and natural environments, and thereby of ourselves, so we can reconsider and improve on our interactions with them.
Describe your writing aesthetic.
I’m no fan of bald writing that means to drive home a social message, nor lazy writing dragged along by a pacy, racy narrative. With both fiction and non-fiction, I hope to provide serious reading pleasure, without being carried away by either the message or the medium.
Who are your favorite authors?
Those I haven’t read – names I know, names I don’t know, names that haven’t seen the light of day. They represent the titillating totality of my ignorance.
What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.
My next project, about our relationships with the natural environment, intimidates me. It’s vast, it’s fundamental, and it will require me to reach deeper into myself than I have done and yet render it relatable, useful. In a sense, I want it to be everything, but the market doesn’t want that. I’ve also struggled with unpublished works – I haven’t yet decided if they are failures or works-in-progress.
What’s your idea of bliss?
The realization, mid-step on the trail, that the 10-hour bus ride along a potholed mountain track is in the past; this moment in between earth and air is my present, to imbibe as I will, shorn of commitments to work, family, friends, and the distractions of our urban daze.
What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?
I’d like to think I don’t get so riled up these days, at least not for more than a few moments. But a few news headlines suffice. And, for example, seeing the evidence and consequence of human greed and shallowness in the place that was Kathmandu. But this is more sadness than anger.
What books would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?
A list of the last century’s Nobel literature laureates? No, just a healthy selection of my personal tsundoku, my Great Unread.
Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?
Living things, if any, or the past fast in my big bag of journals and photos. Perhaps my guitar, too. And a pencil. That’s an armful, I know, but let the rest burn.
Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.
Being is nothingness, and that’s alright.
Rabi Thapa is a writer and editor based in Kathmandu and London. He is the author of Thamel, Dark Star of Kathmandu (Speaking Tiger, 2016) and the short story collection Nothing to Declare (Penguin India, 2011), and Editor of the literary magazine La.Lit (www.lalitmag.com). He is now working on a book on the environment that, so far, has seen him dodging landslides, leeches and lamas with equal ineptitude.
Visit www.rabi-thapa.com for more information.
Aminah Sheikh is the Online Editor of Kitaab