Sharad Poudel’s popular character Likhe first appeared in his story series in a magazine, NawaYuwa, and eventually became the protagonist of his novel of the same name. Twenty years after Likhe, Poudel has published the sequel to the book, Tapan. Poudel, who is known for his portrayal of Dalit communities, writes about the turbulences that Likhe, and the likes, faced during the Maoist insurgency, in his new book. Poudel talks about his book, hardship of the Likhes in our society and Dalit oppression. Excerpts:
Can you tell us about your book Likhe and its sequel Tapan?
Likhe and Tapan are two books that tell the stories of the Dalit community—the “untouchables” who are forced to live a life at the bottom of the social structure and are always victims of social oppression and injustice. This book tries to portray the harsh realities that surround the Dalit community and draws the picture of violence that they face everyday. The book also paints the picture of how Dalit people are struggling everyday to live an honourable and dignified life like everyone else, along with their despair over the false promises made by various political parties. That being said, the books try to depict the life of not just the Dalits but also all the oppressed and marginalised people in the country.
What was the inspiration behind the character Likhe?
I spent around 15 years in Dalit communities of Baglung and Parbat as an effort to help them build a better life. During this time, which I like to regard as the most enlightening period of my life, I got to learn and understand Dalit people very closely. I became a part of their families and community during my stay there. It was then that I met many Likhes—the young Dalit boy abused as a child labour, a teenager who goes to unknown cities in India in search of better future, and a young man who becomes part of organisations and parties established by people like him to fight for their rights. When I saw the suffering, distress and the undying hope for a better future in the eyes of those innocent Likhes despite the hurdles they faced, I got inspired to write their story and that’s how Likhe was born.
The story of Likhe was initially published as a series of stories in Nava Yuwa and you later turned it into novel, and now after all these years you have come up with a sequel to it, Tapan. How does your story transition from where it left at Likhe?
I first wrote the story of Likhe around 20 years back and now Tapan is the sequel to his story.
The first book tells the story of Likhe’s childhood and innocence. It is about a young Dalit boy. Tapan tells the story of a grown-up Likhe, as the boy slowly grows into a man. At a time when Likhe was working for a better future, the country saw an unrest like never before. The Maoist insurgency affected almost all Nepalis and Likhe’s life was no exception. Likhe, a young boy who had left the country, boarded a train to his homeland with the determination to fight against the injustice and oppression of the marginalised people. Tapan captures the life of Likhe(s)—the young Dalit man—in the face of the insurgency, after he comes home.
Tapan came many years after Likhe. So, with all the changes in the dynamics of the society surrounding Dalit people, what kind of difference did you have to incorporate in the characters as they developed?
Yes, the society indeed has undergone some major changes in the last two decades. There has been significant changes in the psyche, lifestyle and dreams of the people. However, these changes have not been same—or as fast paced—for all the people, and especially not for Dalit community. The Dalits are still marginalised, and they are still the victims of social oppression. Even today, there are public places where the Dalits are discriminated. We still hear the news of Dalit women falling victim to witch allegations. The representation of the Dalits is still small in political parties and governance. If we look closely, the lives of Dalits have not changed much over last few decades. The oppression and discrimination has declined, yes, but it should have been eradicated. In fact, there is no positive or momentous change in their lifestyle. The Likhes from my first novel still leave the country in search of better opportunities and go to the Gulf countries, if not to India. The Likhes today might have formed their own political parties, but they are still as distressed over the lack of change in the system and the lack of attention from the government’s end. The shadow of oppression still looms large over them. Hence, not much had to be done in aligning the two characters even after two decades.
Being someone whose life is different from that of Likhe, how difficult was it to create a character that is almost opposite to your own? What processes did you go through to bring authenticity to the character?
Coming from a Brahmin family, my lifestyle, culture and traditions are very different from the character I have created. But I was always determined to understand them and change the way this society views and discriminates against the Dalit community. Talking about doing justice to the character, I have lived in the community for 15 years. I became a part of the families and the communities. The Likhes in the book are actually my friends in real life.
Today, new Dalit writers are creating a canon of work that weren’t available to readers say a decade ago. This has taken the narrative further, but why do you think it is crucial that people from all backgrounds advocate their cause?
It is really good to see new and talented Dalit writers emerging in Nepali literature. The stories from these writers portray realistic images of oppression as they have a firsthand experience of it. But I feel like the Dalit writers themselves have written quite less about caste-based discrimination and oppression. I may not be very well-informed about it, but from what I read and see,
I think there is very less exposure given to stories of caste-based discrimination and oppression in Nepali literature. As this topic is given less importance, it is crucial that everyone, from all castes and communities write about it.
What is next in store for Likhe, is it going to continue or are you going work on something else?
My first book Likhe ended with Likhe taking a train from Delhi to come back home. The readers of Likhe asked me a lot about the future of Likhe after coming to Nepal, so I started writing and Tapan came to life. Now, after reading Tapan, people have started asking about the future of Lalparty, Likhe and Namrata. I think if my readers continue to be so curious about their fate, I might write another book answering their questions. Let’s just say the story of Likhe might not have come to an end.