Abhi Subedi, an essayist, critic, linguist, playwright and poet, has over two dozen books on different subjects to his credit. Several of his plays have been staged by leading theatre groups in Nepal and abroad. Prof. Subedi has taught for 40 years at the Central Department of English. The vice-president of Folklore Society of Nepal, he is the founder president of the International Theatre Institute (ITI) UNESCO (2000-2008) and member of International Playwrights’ Forum (2000-2011). Also a former president of the Linguistic Society of Nepal and the Literary Association of Nepal, Subedi is involved in a number of interdisciplinary study groups.

Bridging trans-border historical trauma: problems and prospects of reconciliation
Prof. Abhi Subedi

Writers and artists have found a powerful solution—transforming trauma into sublime, which is the subject of philosophy in Europe. That is concernedwith the violation of borders of physical as well as psychic nature. Territories and selves become equally livid in the process. Then comes the subject of history. We see history not in linear but in complex and revivalist form. Trauma may not be the right word to use for that, but it does exist there. InSouth Asia, writers, theatre workers, and artists as well as filmmakers have treated trauma as a subject that they grapple with. The thrust of each of these works is to turn traumatic history into liveable present; borders as fluid entities though such linearity is increasingly becoming more and more burning like Laxmanrekha, a liminalline drawn by Laxman in the Ramayana restricting his bhavi, bodi, bhauju known in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, an eloquent metaphorical form in gender discourses, from crossing border.Writers in India, among whom I refer to a Punjabi writer in Hindi and English translations, and others, have been working hard to dilute that formation. Theyhave done so by sublimating the trauma at the level of experience and have turned the raw pain of character into sublime experience. To take one name in the abstract, in Kitne PakistanHindi novelist Kamaleshwarhas turned the subject of border and history into an interpretative form and has diluted the traumatically drawn cartographic formation of nationalism into a liveable, reconcilable formation.
In later times novelists have turned the pain, the colossal human violence that Veena Das has discussed so brilliantly, and pain into fun-mixed postmodernist historico fictionality like Rushdie and others. What are borders and what does history stand for here? These are topics for discussions. Pakistani writers among whom I have read some excellent poets in translations, and the Bengali writers, especially poets, and theatre workers who have recreated the trauma of borders and interiority in the most powerful form on stage in South Asia so far, have taken that process to a powerfully meaningful height. The other very important subject is turning the raw pain and trauma into a shared experience. That is museumisation of trauma and its spread across borders as shared experience. I have in mind the activities of the patrons of Dhaka war museum—jadughar, who have spread the trauma beyond borders and have linked it to others’ experiences also. I too became a member of that movement, that museum of conscience and attended conferences in Dhaka and outside several times in the last decade. This experience of museumising trauma is a very important subject.

Nepali experience is unique. As it remained outside the direct trauma churning historical machinery of South Asia, it stayed with its history and social order, albeit it was complacent and uninformed under autocratic Rana oligarchy (1846-1950). My theory, which I have presented in my study elsewhere, is that after independence, after 1950 Indian leaders opened Nepali experience qua helpers in brokering peace of Nepali autocrats with the rebellious Nepali Congress party, I believe, with a traumatised mind, and agreed to keep Nepal as a museum of peace and unruffled South Asian civilisation. I want to allude to a remark that a French anthropologist Sylvan Levy made in the 19th century–Nepal is a miniature South Asia. Good expression, though I have some differences with him. Nepal may have suffered some loss, but history shows trauma, border and history appeared to have functioned that way in this region.

My paper draws a conclusion in this manner. Trauma experience in history evokes testimony for which literature, memories and narratives are evoked. Historians are the other people who speak about that. Discourses of nationalism play with the experience of trauma, but what should not be missed is that the modern state formations have lurked trauma experience in history. Nepal does not share that experience. For that reason, it has not produced shaking and challenging literature of trauma experience. But it did experience some traumatic experience in the recent past. It has some discursive cross-border significance but not of a gigantic historical order. I believe that trauma today has to be turned into an experience of peace and reconciliation by recognising the broader, common, historical traumatic and individual experiences. It can be achieved by sharing and sublimating the experience. Writers and artists have made some headways. It is a difficult process but the only process, a process of turning trauma into meaningful, creative experience of sublime.