Writings of Sikkim since 2007

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Three Nepali Novels and Anxiety of Influence

Three Nepali Novels and Anxiety of Influence

Pempa Tamang

“Palpasaa Cafe” (2005) with its best seller tag having sold 5000 copies in two days, which is a record in Nepali publishing history, the best thing was to read as soon as possible and see for oneself what really was it about. Once I could lay my hands on it I could hardly resist reading it through its last page and rereading it again to internalize the wonder and the spectacle that it presents of the world of present day Nepal and its plights. While reading this amazing book the memories of another popular book “Forget Kathmandu” by Manjushri Thapa kept haunting me. “Forget Kathmandu” is a nonfiction, a journalistic writing, a history writing as it is happening, a memorabilia. “Palpasaa..” is a fiction but it comes out with abundance of travails of rural people that Manjushree Thapa failed to see it in her travel through the rugged rural panorama of hills of eastern Nepal or may be fictional mode provides more freedom for a writer to say what he actually wants to say. But Thapa travelling with a foreigner friend in the interiors of western Nepal and the protagonist of “Palpasaa Cafe” Drishya making a trip to his village in remote mountainous area and his return journey to Kathmandu is too similar. So “Forget Kathmandu” is the “Anxiety of influence” (Herald Bloom) of Nepali novel “Palpasaa Cafe”.

But more than popularity and its appeal to masses (read readers) I would like to discuss here the literalness and the new trends in writing Nepali novels. It will be interesting to read two other novels “Sharanaarthee” (Refugee) (1999) by Krishna Dharabaasi and “Awataran (Incarnation) (2004) by Krishna Baraal along with “Palpasaa...” Refugee is politico-historical novel of the Nepalese displace from different places and their plights. Incarnation is a fiction of fictions, a metafiction. These three different novels present modern face of Nepal and its people in different moods and vistas. Refugee is influenced by writings of Indra Bahadur Rai in his literary movement Leela Lekhan (playful writing) and by Dubusu Chettri who had actually thought of writing a novel the way Dharabaasi wrote and had thought aloud earlier with him. Incarnation is a creation under the “Anxiety of Influence” from Indra Bahadur Rai and the novel “Refugee”.

“Palpasaa Cafe” presents the readers with glimpses of cosmopolitan face of elite minority modern Nepalese people. Narayan Wag lay describes contemporary Nepal through the eyes of an artist-character Drishya. He is the global face of Nepal. He is young and a famous artist. His paintings are appreciated internationally. He travels all over the places drawing inspirations from these travels to further develop his art. He lives a bohemian life, enjoying every moment, friends, parties and women. But the place where he was born (Pahaad or hill) remains the same; backward, inaccessible, poor and undeveloped. All people live in abject poverty. The writer has beautifully portrayed the two faces of Nepal. The story runs at two levels: the rich, educated, cosmopolitan, people of Nepal enjoying their lives: the poor, uneducated, downtrodden, untouchables, deprived in every sense from the fruits of development. There is the army, security agencies, civil administration, business people and the opposing the government and the whole system is the Maoist guerillas, rebel fighters getting killed very young, unsung and unknown. People vanish without a trace, probably eliminated either by the security agency or by Maoist guerillas. There is an air of uncertainty and the people live in fear and desperation.

The writer Narayan Waglay also makes a satirical comment on the intellectual firmament of Nepalese world that few worthy writing comes out of Nepalese intellectual. It is a State of not only economic scarcity but also of intellectual poverty. The character Drishya instead of seeing a movie reads a Nepali book but he regrets later that the movie would have given him greater happiness and pleasure as the book was not at all worth reading.

This novel presents different faces of Nepal. The older generation believed that the God and the King resides in Nepal and they had nowhere else to go for their happiness and liberation. This was the place they loved most and would be there till their last breath. But the younger generation finds this land devoid of any opportunity; they find they had no future. They would rather stay in a strange foreign land which offer them greater economic opportunities and wealth generation than in a place where they were no longer secure and be proud of.

“Palpasaa Cafe” follows a story line veering to popular fiction as was done by Umberto Eco in his best seller “The Name of the Rose”. It has romance, action, drama, tragedy or to put into words

of Canadian Critic Northop Fry “Tragedy, Comedy, Romance and Irony.” But technically, “Palpasaa Cafe” cannot be called a “Literature of Exhaustion” (John Barth) meaning it is not an experimental one. Although the story is a strong comment on the contemporary scene of Nepal and its people it follows a traditional approach to narrate its events. It is realistic and reflective. It is a novel of Saul Bellow genre. Unlike “The Name of the Rose” this novel does not surprise and jolt us.

Although the novel Refugee is also realistic and as bitter as “Palpasaa eo” but it is a novel with arsenal of post modern techniques. It tells the plight of Nepalese displaced from the places of their

foster homes and countries. It is a moving story of Nepalese people forced out from the places like Burma, North-East India, Bhutan where they had settled and adopted as their country and their epic journey back to their ancestral country Nepal. This novel was received very well in Nepal. The first edition was sold out and it came out with second edition in a short time. In a utterly hopeless situation as depicted by Narayan Wag lay in “Palpasaa Cafe” this novel by Dharabaasi brings hope, confidence and exhibit the capability to welcome all its brethren with its arms open. In the course of researching and writing, Dharabaasi throws light on many misunderstood myths and theories: migration of Nepalese people from Nepal is a hill phenomena as no plain people of Nepal has ever migrated: most of these “prodigal sons” who came back to Nepal to resettle there could not adjust themselves and they continue to remain as refugee in their ‘promised land” also. But the most striking feature of this novel is its characters. Most of the characters in this novel are plagiarized from another text like Chandra Prakash and Bartha from the novel “Dak Bunglow” of Shiv Kumar Rai, Jaimaya from the story “Jayamaya

herself alone arrived at Lekhapani” of lndra Bahadur Rai, Noyo from the novel “Noyo” of Prakash Kovid etc. Use of such theme from another text technically comes under correspondence theory. According to this theory every text will have traces of preexisting texts. This technique is very often used in postmodern fictions. Christine Brooke-Rose had used this technique in her novel “Thru” (1975). This text borrows ‘many passages from other texts also copying and pasting them into the new one. This technique is called pastiche in postmodern terminology. Besides characters from another text, real living characters like lndra Bahadur Rai, Lil Bahadur Chettri and others also figure in the fiction. While characters like lndra Bahadur Rai, Lil Bahadur Chettri appear due to their presence as authors of fictions and its characters but real characters like Hari Khanal appear owing to their biographical insertion in the text. This novel is as such also a biography of Hari Khanal. The memorable scene of people kissing the soil on touching geographical land of Nepal is a real event and the writer has faithfully reported this event in this novel as reportage. The text Refugee as such reads like novel, history, reportage and biography simultaneously. It is a hybrid text. The text actually does quantum jump between fiction, history and –biography. In other words it breaks down disciplinary distinctions of history, fiction, biography and reportage. It is a multidisciplinary text. Inserting metafictional gesture the writer says, “The writer is confused”. Who is refugee? Are those people who were driven out of their adopted land and made their journey back to their ancestral land only or all people wherever they -are also refugee or only those people who are driven out of their own land? Are we not all refugees in some sense? The “character” knows the limitation of the “writer” and muses writer alone would not be able to win “us” victory. The whole world should be free from the notion of alienness. Black cloud of cates should be washed out. The writer deliberately meddles with the text and breaks the distinction between

his real world and the fictional world.

Dharabaasi put up a theory that the writer is not very different from the characters of his fiction. The dialectics of the character, and ~e writer can be seen in every text. Writer is always under threat from his own fictional characters and all of his moves and idea are influenced by his characters. Just as

the character is under-the-counter of writer; he too is not always free from the influence of the characters..

Krishna Raraal has written in “Leela, Warta and Sharnarthee” that the character of “:refugee” Hari Baral actually came to threaten the writer that whereas the writer, Dharabaasi, had become famous winning Awards by writing his story but he had been left high and dry. He, the character, had every right to claim the bounty. Hari Khanal died after sometime and Dharabaasi wrote an obituary of his character. This is close to what Umberto Eco in his best seller novel’’ "Foucault’s Pendulum” has written. “Foucault’s Pendulum” takes up the theme of three intellectuals, Casaubon (the narrator), Belbo and Diatellevi. They become aware of the existence of an entire subliterature of occultism and secret societies. This sub culture is named as “the Diabolical”, Casaobon, Belbo and Diatellevi become obsessed with Diabolical subliterature, teaching themselves now to read according to Diabolical norms and eventually to produce pastiche of Diabolical writings. They join together on a project they call ''The Plan.”

The Diabolicals learn of “The Plan’’. These Diabolicals then implement the “Plan” invented by the three intellectuals. But they were unable to complete writing the “Plan” as one of fuem get murdered and , which is now left to the writer Eco to write it and the book is “Foucault’s Pendulum”. Belbo is murdered by Diabolical seeking to extract secret from him which in fact did not exist. Casaubon will be murdered lbo. Only Diatellevi dies of natural causes.

Casaubon., Belbo and Diatellevi were serious and ideal readers of subliterate and subculture.

The subculture, the characters, turns on the reader/writer to know the secrecy of reader/writer.

Dharabaasi writes a novel on the life of Hari Khanal. He is a reader of Hari Khanal, the story

Hari Khanal, the characteristic the reader/writer Dharabaasi. The writer is in danger of his own creation,

Inearnation is a collection of short stories and novel at the same time. There are eight short stories. “Arkaalto Naso’’ (Someone else Legacy) is the rewriting of story of "Naso’’ (legacy) of Guruprasad Mainali and “Chyaakhenko Sikka” (Betting Coin) is rewriting of “Hod” (Bet) of Biswearsarprasad Koirala. In the story .’Naayaksangha ek baas” (One night with the lead character) the writerclaims to have met

imaginary character Jai Bhadur and Jaimaya and to have spent one night with them. This text, thus,

blurs the distinction between reality and fiction. This again is the rewriting of part of episode of “Sharararthee.” Like the novel of Christine Brooke “Amalgememnon” the character and theme of story “Chiraag” (Light) is continued in the story “Arkaako Naso” (Someone else Legacy).

This collection of short stories concludes with the postulate of dramatic act. A basset thing happens in this episode. Like the science fiction all the fictional characters of the stories come out of their fictional world as if they were real living actors and decide to hold a meeting ostensibly to felicitate its “senior-most citizen” and those characters who have become famous for their roles as characters in different fictions. Speeches are made by different characters highlighting their roles in different stories, the importance they had in the episodes, the freedom and the restrictions imposed by their writers in them, their travails and their triumphs as characters.

The reader suddenly realizes that he is in fact had been duped by the writer and that he was

actually reading a novel and not short stories.

In the postmodern age it is not the stories of human triumphs and travails that is at the centre stage of initiative but the stories of art and craft itself and what the readers get is only the stories of theories and language game.


Postmodernism has finally arrived an Nepali literature with the ‘postmodern condition” of “little narratives” (Lyotard) of Jhapa centric motif and ideology.

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When i started my blog on Sikkim way back in 2007, i had it clear on my mind that this blog shall help people look out for knowledge on Sikkim. I always wanted a knowledge house about Sikkim, its past, present and future. I do not know over the years how much did i succeed but my determination to let other understand my Sikkim is always giving me a push. with regards Shital Pradhan (himalayanreview@gmail.com)

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