Pooja Poudel’s The Man on the Bus wins Writing Nepal, 2021

Sachi Mulmi | January 14, 2022

‘There’s a lot of talent in these pages. There’s a diversity in themes and writing styles. There was a lot of daring in these stories which I loved because the more I write, the more I feel like artists need to dare. They need to cross lines even if they lose some readership.’

With these words on a grey Tuesday afternoon, Samrat Upadhyay, the author of Arresting God in Kathmandu and the judge for the Writing Nepal short story contest, kicked off the award ceremony for the fifth edition of the Writing Nepal short story writing contest at Kathmandu Guest House in Thamel.

The Writing Nepal contests have been a treat for the readers in Nepal. Since its first edition, it has attracted emerging writers to submit stories to the competition, and some such writers are emerging writers no more, but established on the firmament of Nepali writing in English — Samyak Shertok, Muna Gurung and Pranaya Rana, to name a few. For those of us who watch closely the growth of fiction writing in Nepal, these contests provide occasions of excitement — they show us potential and possibilities, new names to attach to a growing list of impressive talent. I have been following the competition since 2013, and therefore was excited to join the award ceremony. Such events are an occasion for mingling with like-minded people and show appreciation for the writers, whether they win or not.

It seems like eager writers across Nepal and beyond answered the call to get writing during the pandemic. As a result, the organisers had the privilege of accepting 175 short story submissions. The competition was announced in July of 2021, with the submission deadline in mid-October. The shortlisted stories were out on December 16, 2021. The excitement grew, making us impatient to hear about the winners. That day finally came on a sunless afternoon on December 28, 2021.

After Samrat Upadhyay presented his books as a consolation to all the nominated writers, he got down to business. There were two writers in the third place because he couldn’t decide upon one story.

The Story of Chhepu by Sadish was one of the third-place winners. About the story, Upadhyay said, ‘The most enjoyable moments for me were when the author manages to insert himself into the myth with sarcastic asides and wry comments that made this ancient history with Manjushree and Garud and Makar feel as if it was being dramatised right in front of our yards.’

Sadish read an excerpt from his winning story, but not without a disclaimer saying he’s going to ‘butcher this’. He didn’t, instead, the excerpt made us chuckle and curious about the story:

When Kathmandu was a lake, there lived a creature so grotesque, its own mother couldn’t bear to look at it. Its name was Chhepu. Look above the entrance of any temple in Kathmandu, you will see it posing mid-meal. Chhepu features in the legend of Kathmandu’s genesis.

Upadhyay named Tick-tick-tick by Alfa M. Shakya as the fellow third-place winner. Alfa shared that she’s been submitting stories to Writing Nepal for a few years now, and that with this story she tried to show how the once important days like birthdays become a milestone after a certain point:

She pulled the drawer behind her bed and shook the tiny little clock from grade 10, dead for ages. The sound got louder and louder. Has someone deployed a timebomb nearby? Am I going to die? Who should I call?

Ritu Rajbanshi won the second place with The Thin Wall, which drew a lot of excitement from the crowd. Rajbanshi weaved a narrative about the feud between two brothers who live in Ason. For someone who comes from a family or community who has heard or seen the family squabble, this tale may be a cathartic read:

The oldest residents of the Keltol loved to gossip. The neighbourly friendships strengthened as they shared juicy pieces of orange with details of budding romances and property feuds all over the Newari hubbub of Ason.

The Man on the Bus by Pooja Poudel was placed first in the contest. Poudel, who is a visual artist, found it ‘extremely encouraging’ to have won. She said that she had written after a long time, and was surprised to even see her story about a young woman who gets harassed on a bus ride on the Writing Nepal shortlist. Upadhyay praised the story for building a solid foundation of the ‘what’ and said that he delighted in the daring moves taken by the author. He promises the story would take the reader on a wild, dangerous, violent, and nauseating ride.

Out of nowhere, he hears a pair of boots running towards him and he turns around. Her fists land right on the slope of his nose and he feels like he cannot breathe for a moment.

Upadhyay said that the stories had a unity to them. What does unite a mythical creature, a girl who thinks there’s a bomb in her stomach, a pair of feuding brothers, and a molested woman on a mission, except that they are all stories of Kathmandu, this vibrant and sometimes violent city?

We thank Kathmandu Guest House for the venue, and thank Samrat Upadhyay and Indiana University for judging the contest and providing the prize for it. We congratulate all the winners, and thank all the writers for submitting their stories. Keep supporting us by writing and reading more!

Photo by Sachi Mulmi. Author Samrat Upadhyay with writers shortlisted for the fifth Writing Nepal short story contest at Kathmandu Guest House, Thamel.

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