At a session of the 2013 NCell Nepal Literature Festival, Nepali author Rabi Thapa asked whether small literary magazines still have much of a role to play in the promotion and dissemination of literature, considering they are so difficult to keep afloat. It was, however, somewhat of a rhetorical question, as Thapa himself is the editor of La.Lit, a Kathmandu-based literary magazine launched in January 2013. The word lalit is derived from Sanskrit and used in modern-day Hindi, Nepali, and other languages of the Indian subcontinent to mean finesse, grace, elegance, or beauty. The play on words is clear in English (the ‘Lit’ suggesting literature), but the title has another level of meaning, as Lalitpur, where it is based, is an old kingdom of the Kathmandu Valley that these days is part of the greater Kathmandu urban conglomeration. La.Lit is produced in two forms: on the web and in print, the second volume of which was launched at the Literature Festival. There is some overlap of content in the two formats.
Thapa’s answer to his own question was that he believes space exists, particularly in South Asia, for ‘old-fashioned’ printed magazines of a high quality, things that can be considered beautiful objects. Indeed, La.Lit is not the only South Asian periodical exploring the intersection between books and magazines and maintaining a commitment to print in the digital age. Other notable publications include Himal Southasian in Nepal and Homeland in India, and there are many more, particularly in India. La.Lit stands out for its look and its mission. The two volumes published thus far are beautiful and distinctive: off-white covers featuring black and white ink illustrations and blue lettering—highlighting Thapa’s commitment not only to good writing, but to giving that writing a worthy home.
Thapa’s motivation for founding La.Lit was Nepal’s dearth of outlets for quality writing. Thapa was not convinced, however, that enough deserving English language fiction was being produced in Nepal, so he kept La.Lit’s focus broad. The magazine’s first volume includes a wide variety of genres, in both English and Nepali, as well as writing from foreign authors. The English-language sections (comprising half of the 200 page volume) includes short fiction from Nepali authors and a Bangladeshi, Farah Ghuznavi, originally written in English; a graphic story; literary criticism; reportage; book reviews; an excerpt from a work by Wojciech Jagielski, translated from Polish; an interview with Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka; a short story translated from Nepali; poetry from US and Indian poets; reviews of books from Indian and Pakistani authors; and photo essays. The Nepali-language section features short stories, a photo essay, reportage, and poetry.
The breadth of material in the first volume is very impressive, and makes for engaging reading. Given that around half of the volume is in Nepali, though, it would make sense to include the title on the front page in Nepali. At NRs 500 per copy (around US$/AU$5), this is very expensive for Nepali consumers, so one can safely assume that the only Nepalis buying it would belong to the socio-economic elite, and can therefore read in English. Nevertheless, considering La.Lit’s commitment to bilingualism, including the Devanagari title on the cover would make sense, and could potentially be more than just a token gesture to readers who prefer to read in Nepali.
Volume 2, launched in October 2013, focuses precisely on what Thapa wasn’t sure existed in abundance: short fiction in English from Nepal. It is the result of a short story competition held earlier this year, co-hosted by Indiana University in the US, where Nepali author Samrat Upadhyay teaches creative writing. A monetary prize was attached to the competition, Rs 10,000 (around US$-AU$ 100) which, by Nepali standards, is a significant amount of money.
The volume is divided into three sections: Innocence, Experience, and Vision. Innocence contained stories that revolved around childhood memories or the interior world of children. In his author’s note, Rabi Thapa commented on the relative youth of many of the entrants of the competition, saying that this was reflected in their writing. The Innocence section was the least appealing. There is only so much of a piece narrated in a child’s voice that one can take before it starts to sound contrived and banal. The stories of Experience, however, were much richer, and those in Vision were experimental or played with tropes of fantasy. These sections seemed to encourage the best work.
Overall, it was a shame that Volume 2 moved away from the mix of genres and languages that made Volume 1 exciting. But La.Lit is a new venture, and the first two releases have demonstrated not only that an abundance of quality writing is coming from Nepal, but that a Nepal-based literary magazine can be comparable to many of the world’s literary publications. I look forward to seeing what the next editions bring.