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Profile | The lively literary life of Saraswati Pratikshya

Kumudini Pant

Kumudini Pant

Profile | The lively literary life of Saraswati Pratikshya

Hailing from a Thakali community traditionally into business, it was considered uncharacteristic for her to take up literature

For Saraswati Pratikshya, writing is an act of bravery.

In her debut novel Nathiya, shortlisted for the prestigious Madan Puraskar, Pratikshya narrates the story of members of the Badi community in western Nepal who traditionally worked as entertainers for the Rana rulers.

The book, which won her the Pahichan Puraskar (Identity Award) in 2019, follows the lives of Badi women who, after the fall of the Ranas, had to resort to prostitution to make their ends meet.

“One day, I was working on my poems when I saw some Badi women protesting before Singha Durbar on TV,” says Pratikshya. “Many of those women were there in their petticoats, demanding that the society restore their dignity.”

It was at that moment that Pratikshya said to herself, “If I ever write a novel, it will be about Badi women.”

Pratikshya based much of the novel’s plot on stories of real Badi women, focusing on women of the Dalit community and shedding light on the systematic abuse they’ve faced both at the hands of men and society.

Nathiya got a lot of love from readers, she says, and the attention was better than expected. But the success also came with some pain.

“There were many risks involved in writing the book,” Pratikshya shares. “Several times, I had to put my life in danger by going to places I had never been to before and talking to people in uncomfortable situations”. She reckons that even her journey to collect these stories could one day be turned into a novel.

While the publication processes went relatively smoothly, much of the struggle came after the novel’s release.

First, she struggled to carve a space for herself in Nepal’s literary arena. “The struggle women writers face is unimaginable. If your writing is weak, you’ll be subjected to laughter. ‘Women and their futile gossips’, they will say. If you come off too strong, you’ll be labeled as ‘characterless’. Every step you take raises questions about who you are as a person.”

Aside from this, it took a long time for Pratikshya’s family to fully support her endeavors. Hailing from a Thakali community that was traditionally into business, it was considered uncharacteristic for Pratikshya to step into literature, which isn’t seen as financially rewarding. 

Then there was a controversy surrounding her book as members of the Badi community filed a petition at the Supreme Court against the book’s contents, objecting that some terms the author had used were ‘offensive’ to the community. 

“There were talks about the Supreme Court ordering me to make changes in the book, but they were only rumors. You can find the full text of the order online,” she says. “The court made its decision by respecting a creator’s freedom,” she says. 

Despite the controversy around Nathiya, Pratikshya considers herself a lucky writer. “Each book I’ve written has given me a different identity,” she shares.

While Pratikshya is known as a novelist, she also enjoys writing poetry. She remembers carrying a diary-full of poems when she met her foster father, the famed writer Saru Bhakta, for the first time in 1999. By then, she had already developed a keen interest in writing—and she believes she would have become a writer even had she not met Sarubhakta.

“But he has shaped my writing,” she confesses. “His guidance has played a big role in my life. My writings matured at a young age and my thirst for knowledge grew 10-fold due to his influence.”

That very maturity and curiosity led Pratikshya to write her first poetry collection, Yadhyapi Prashnaharu (2005) when she was preparing her Bachelor’s thesis. “I was always writing poems,” she says. “And I finally had enough of them for a book.” Following this, she published her second and third collections of poetry, Bimbaharuko Kathaghara (2009) and Bagi Sarangi (2012).

Even though she’s now busy with her family business following the death of her elder brother, she hopes to publish a new collection of poems in the next couple of years.