Sunday, 5 October 2014

Be True to Nepali Roots... An Interview.

An interview about travel and writing that I did for a Nepalese periodical recently. Text below...

“Be true to Nepali roots’’

Andrew Eagle was born in Sydney, Australia in 1974. He studied law but through university and afterwards pursued his passion for both travel and writing. He has visited around seventy countries since he first left Australia during his late teenage, and has lived in seven, including Ukraine, Bolivia, China and Nicaragua where he taught English, and Norway where he was an exchange student, attending a local high school for a year. He currently lives in Dhaka, Bangladesh where he works at The Daily Star newspaper as an English Instructor and Feature Writer. Birat Anupam makes an online interaction with this versatile and nomadic westerner of his travel and literary journey.

1.      What motivates you to travel?

Travelling gives a stronger sense of self. New experiences challenge our values and can add to our wisdom. On the road it’s necessary to make choices, often quickly; and you make friends too, often quickly. There’s a need to fine tune judgement. In a way, it’s like life at high speed. I am not sure why, perhaps because the limited timeframes make both the traveller and the people they meet more open and sincere, but friends I met by chance and spent just a few days with often became much closer than new friends at home after a similarly short period. Maybe it’s because of the coming together of diverse cultures and lives – outside the comfort zone – it’s exciting and there’s need to learn about the other. There’s that natural, inner and healthy curiosity to know new things. Travel is a great learning experience. More than anything, we learn about ourselves.

2.      Is travel an inspiration to your writing?

I spent a lot of my childhood writing. I had a very creative best friend, Chris Lilley, who has since achieved great success as a writer, actor and comedian in Australia and internationally. We spent many hours writing plays, stories, dramas and songs – we didn’t always finish things – ambitions were often grand. But we did achieve a lot. I think there are four or five “albums” of crackly amateur songs recorded on cassettes at home, from our youth.

In a way I have always been a traveller too. Although I didn’t leave Australia until I was eighteen, first heading for Norway where I spent a year as an exchange student, I had always been fascinated by places. I studied atlases and drew endless maps as a child, for fun, of real places and imagined ones. I am sure my father used to get sick of me asking every five minutes when we drove somewhere “Where are we now? What’s this place called?” Along the way I have written other things – some opinion pieces and a short story... but for now it is my travel-related non-fiction writing that continues to inspire me.

3.      How is the South Asian travel culture and literary scene from a westerner’s point of view?

I think most Bangladeshis have the innate characteristics of travellers. They are adaptable, flexible and like to experience new things. They have a strong sense of curiosity. As for attracting international tourists, it is clear that both India and Nepal are far ahead. In those countries from backpackers to package tourists to five-star, tourism paths are well-developed. To my mind, South Asia is one of the best destinations for the western traveller. It is a truly fascinating and knowledge-rich region of the world. In respect of the literary scene – I do not claim to be an expert but I believe South Asian prose literature (in English) falls into three categories: books written to appeal to westerners, which I do not like so much; books that are truer to South Asia and thereby less accessible for the western reader – though some authors such as Vikram Seth have achieved great popularity in the west – and the third category: Arundhati Roy’s “The God of Small Things” which is my favourite novel, an extraordinary work. I also enjoy some of the Bengali classics to which I have been exposed, like Rabindranath Tagore’s short stories and the poems of Jibanananda Das. In any case the literary scene is of course vibrant, with literary festivals and new authors proving themselves every year. In Bangladesh literature – both in Bangla and English – is held in particularly high regard, in part I think as a legacy of the language movement through which Bangladeshis struggled, fought and died for their language. They also simply enjoy storytelling.

4.      Do you have any advice for the Nepali young guns of travel and literature?

For both travel and literature my advice would be the same: be daring, be bold. While travelling of course one needs to avoid risks, be careful who one trusts etc. But at the same time it is good to visit as many places as one can and to interact as much as possible with the locals there who hold the keys to understanding. As for literature, I would always encourage Nepali writers to find their own voice and be true to their Nepali roots. The world does not really need more westernised literature that ultimately misrepresents Nepal. I would also suggest achieving balance – trying to bring out the strengths of Nepali culture and people in literary work, not only the challenges and difficulties that are so often tempting to use for dramatic writing. To me, being true to oneself is more important and enjoyable as a writer than finding a market – and when you write with passion from inner belief it is more likely, I think, that the writing is good quality. That should find its market naturally. But following this path is not the easiest way to achieve financial wealth! I also have some important advice for myself: visit Nepal! Your country is quite an embarrassing omission in my list of destinations.

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