Thursday, December 11, 2014

Prashant Jha’s “Battles of the New Republic

Prashant Jha’s book “Battles of the New Republic” left me depressed; no, no the book is excellent but Nepali politics sucks. Throughout the book, Jha shows that all our political developments are at the mercy of our southern neighbor. This begs the question: Are we even independent?

As a political reporter, Jha had unparalleled access to key actors in Nepali politics and he was even in contact with Indian spooks who had greater hand in Nepali politics than imagined. All of them categorically confirm that Nepali politicians were/are mere puppets at the hands of Indian masters. However, by focusing on Indian hand so much, Jha may have missed the angle of Western intervention. 

Jha is all for change in current political dispensation. While Nepal certainly progressed from being a Hindu Kingdom to a secular republic but things have not changed much in the ground. The writer had pinned much hope in Maoists and Madheshi forces to usher in vital changes in the country but they too were splintered in several factions and were rather co-opted by the old system they were trying to change in the first place. He is a little disappointed with this.

Jha’s extensive analysis of the Madheshi movement helps gain the knowledge of pains and anger the community feels. But the narrow casteist politics of Madheshis as exposed by Jha makes the reader conclude that left to themselves, Madheshis will leave the region in lurch.

I was mesmerized by the lucid prose style of the writer in the book. Even if this book seems to be intended for the audience outside Nepal, even Nepali readers will get a clear perspective of our politics by reading it.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Akhil Sharma's "Family Life"

This appeared in Republica on December 5, 2014:

The famous first line of Leo Tolstoy’s masterpiece “Anna Karenina” reads, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. This holds true for Akhil Sharma’s second novel “Family Life”. The novel tells the story of a migrant family of Indian origin in the US having its unique trouble that feeds unhappiness in the family and unravels it. The sad tale of the family, however, is not aimed at exploiting readers’ emotions like a cheap tearjerker; rather it uplifts their spirit with the undying belief in life.

The Mishra family, consisting of parents and two sons, Birju and Ajay, move to greener pastures in America in the 1970s. The stifling atmosphere of the Emergency period in India motivates them to emigrate. America is full of hope and promise and the family starts chasing the American Dream. 

Birju, the older son, is an academically brilliant person with a great future potential. But an accident in the swimming pool (where his head struck the cement bottom and he left stunned for three minutes) leaves him brain-damaged. His motor ability suffers a fatal blow and he is forced to take to the bed forever.

This accident hits the family hard. Ajay is left to pick up the pieces of a life torn apart. He does not know what to do and how to grow up in a strange country. The father becomes a drunk. The mother loses sight of everything else and only wants to take care of Birju.

Ajay, from whose point of view the novel is written, refuses to be devastated by this tragedy. Instead, he loses himself to the world of books. It is a convenient escape from the suffering. “I was always lost in a book, whether I was actually reading or imagining myself as a character. If bad things happened, like Birju developing pneumonia and having to wear an oxygen mask, I would think that soon I would be able to go back to my reading and then time would vanish and when I reentered the world, the difficult thing would be gone or changed.”

He “discovers” Ernest Hemingway and is enamored with the works of this great writer. Emulating Hemingway’s sparse style, he writes his own stories about his family (in fact, Sharma adopts this style for the whole novel). The power of art in healing life’s wounds is succinctly emphasized. Besides this love for books, he falls for girls, gets acquainted with the popular American culture, and chats with God and daydreams. These coping mechanisms enable him to transcend the life-shattering grief in the family.

Birju´s tragedy defines the life of his family so much that Ajay has to fulfill his elder brother´s dream of getting good grades and being useful to the family. Denied of parental love after the tragedy, Ajay fends for himself and studies diligently. However, the bedridden Birju continues to haunt Ajay even after achieving something in life, making him feel as if he were living a vicarious life. "That spring I was continuously aware that if the accident had not occurred, Birju would be graduating from college, that he would be applying to medical schools. The awareness was like a physical sensitivity, like when your back is hurting and you are careful all the time how you take a step". The Indian values of emphasizing family over the individual may have influenced Ajay´s thoughts. However, Ajay´s loss of the self is regained towards the climax.

The novel deals with migration at two levels. At the apparent level, an Indian family´s emigration to America brings along with it the issues of difficulties in cultural adaptation, "We even discussed what part of a dog a hot dog must be made of". Ajay is bullied by the white boys in school because of his color. The father aggressively pushes the family for assimilation into the American society. He makes his sons watch American news channels every evening and asks them to play tennis as he considers the game to be played by the rich. The family is slowly Americanized.

At the deeper level, the migration from happiness to grief characterizes the Mishra family. The single traumatic event defines the family and misery takes the center stage. The members of the family become clueless after the event and lapse into their idiosyncrasies. The father drowns his grief in drinking while the mother turns to religious superstition and miracle workers. They keep fighting with one another most of the time. But with the passing time, they learn to live with their grief.

This novel deals with a dark and maudlin matter but the reader is not bogged down in the narrative because Sharma sprinkles humor at times. For instance, Ajay and his mother tease Birju for not paying attention when they play cards by his bedside, at other times they accuse him of being lazy for never getting out of bed. This dark humor shows the lighter side of human nature that is not suppressed by tragedies. The acceptance of life in all its forms and the power of love and hope that works as a beacon in the darkness of despair elevate the novel to the first grade work of art.

Naseeruddin Shah's memoir "And Then One Day"

Naseeruddin Shah’s memoir “And Then One Day” left me desiring for more. Shah has focused more on his personal life and failed to give equal consideration to his professional life. I wanted to learn more about the films he played and his reactions to them. The reactions (mostly negative) are there but he talks nothing about his career after 1980s.
Shah feels himself a misfit in Hindi film industry where people who don’t know their onions rule the roost and produce cat’s vomit that goes by the name of commercial cinema. He feels comfortable only in so-called “art-cinema” (he waxes eloquent about the movie “Sparsh”). Ruthlessness in passing judgment on others and even on himself is the hallmark of his memoir. The strained relationship with his father perhaps makes him a tempestuous man of temper who is garrulous and disobedient to directors in film sets.
However, the warm appreciation he shows for fellow actors Om Puri, Shabana Azmi (barring one place where he criticizes her acting), Smita Patil and some others is delightful. His frank observations of Indian theater and movies show us the murky reality of the show business. His command over the English language is superb and the memoir consists of delightful phrases and sentences. He could have written more.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Talakjung vs Tulke टलकजंग भर्सेस टुल्के

"टलकजंग भर्सेस टुल्के" हेरियो । ठीकै लाग्यो । बतासे कथा बोकेको चर्को मेलोड्रामा बन्ने सिनेउद्योगमा यथार्थको नजिक रहेको, स्थानीय भाषाशैली पक्रेको फिल्मलाई प्रोत्साहन गर्नु पर्छ तर फिल्म अझै राम्रो हुन सक्थ्यो जस्तो लाग्यो । लु सुनको कथा "द ट्रु स्टोरी अफ आह क्यु" को नेपाली संस्करण भनिएको यो फिल्मको कथा अनुवादमा आफ्नो गहिराइ गुमाउन पुगेको अनुभूत हुन्छ । खगेन्द्र लामिछानेले लेखेको कथामा धेरै छिद्र छन् । मुख्य कुरा त कथा सलल बगेको छैन । कमीकमजोरीको  रौचिरा विश्लेषण गर्न थाल्दा कथाको ठूलो अंश नै भन्नुपर्ने हुँदा हेर्न मजा आउँदैन, त्यसैले त्यता नलागौं । द्वन्द्वको सतही चित्रण छ कथामा । तर लामिछानेको  अभिनय उम्दा छ । पूरै बाँचेका छन् उनी चरित्रमा । अन्य कलाकारको अभिनय पनि राम्रो छ । "लुट" मा निश्चल बस्नेतको स्टाइलिस निर्देशन थियो, यसमा त्यस्तो वाह भन्न लायक खासै काम भेटिनँ । शीर्षकको सार्थकता भेटिन्न (अन्तिममा "फुली" पात्रले व्याख्या गर्न खोजे पनि त्यो कमजोर छ) । एकचोटी हेर्दा हुने तर हलबाट निस्केपछि बिर्सिइने फिल्म लाग्यो मलाई !        

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Saurabh's "Asahamati" सौरभको "असहमति"

सौरभको नयाँ पुस्तक "असहमति" पढेर सिध्याएँ ।  बुझ्नै गाह्रो ।  धेरै सूचना खाँदाखाँद हुन्छ प्रत्येक लेखमा । तैपनि यसो बुझ्न खोज्दा सौरभले वनस्पति र जीवजन्तु (फ्लोरा यान्ड फौना) लाई आधार बनाएर इतिहासको मूल्यांकन गर्ने रहेछन् । अनि शब्दको उत्पत्ति कसरी भयो होला भन्ने कुरा गम्दै कुनै पनि घटनाको प्राचीनता/अर्वाचीनता खुट्ट्याउन खोज्छन् । यो क्रममा उनी भारतवर्ष र चीनको प्राचीनता र पश्चिमको आधुनिकतालाई पुन:स्थापित गर्दछन् अनि नेपाल राज्यको विश्वसभ्यतामा योगदानको चर्चा गर्न पुग्छन् । आधुनिक समाजले भुलिसकेको राष्ट्रिय गौरवलाई सम्झाउने सौरभको प्रयास प्रशंसनीय छ । तर उनका दाबीलाई "भेरिफाइ" गर्नलाई आफ्नो अध्ययन पनि त्यति नै व्यापक हुनुपर्यो, जो मलगायत धेरैमा छैन । त्यसैले उनका लेखमा आएका पाठक प्रतिक्रिया त्यति गहन नभएका होलान् (जुन यस पुस्तकमा समावेश गरिएका छन्) । नेपालको राजनीतिक तरलताको फाइदा उठाउन खोज्दै  पश्चिमले लाद्न  खोजेको जातीय विद्वेष र त्यसको मतियार बनेका दलका नेताप्रति उनको  तीव्र कटाक्ष छ । तर यी सबै कुरा सहज तरिकाले पनि लेख्न सकिन्थ्यो होला, यस्तो "सिजोफ्रेनिक" शैली उनी किन अपनाउँछन् खै ?       

Friday, October 31, 2014

Nayan Raj Pandey's "Nidaaye Jagadamba" निदाएँ जगदम्बा

नयनराज पाण्डे दाइको पुरानो कथा संग्रह "निदाएँ जगदम्बा" एकै बसाइमा पढिसिध्याएँ । सुललित भाषामा समाजका विकृतिहरूमाथि तीव्र व्यंग्य गरिएका कथामा निहित प्रतीक प्रयोगले नयन दाइको आख्यानशिल्पलाई उच्च बनाएको अनुभव भयो । विशेषगरी "कीला " (धार्मिक असहिष्णुता) , "देश" (अदूरदर्शिता), "निदाएँ जगदम्बा" (साहित्यिक गुटबन्दी) मा प्रयुक्त भिन्नभिन्न प्रतीकले वर्तमान विसंगतिको शल्यक्रिया गर्ने लेखकको तरिका उम्दा लाग्यो । अन्य कथा पनि राम्रै छन् । लेखकको संवेदनशीलताले समाजका विकार देखेर जन्मेको रोष नारावादी नभइकन कठोर व्यंग्यमा अभिव्यक्त भएको छ । आफ्नो व्यंग्यप्रहारको पात्रलाई धेरैले सजिलै थाहा पाउनेगरी बढी नघुमाइकन प्रस्तुत गर्नुभएको छ नयन दाइले, त्यसैले पनि ती चोटिला बन्न पुगेका छन् । छपाइको प्राविधिक त्रुटिका कारण चारवटा जति कथा चाहिँ अधूराअपूरा भएछन् ।

Monday, October 20, 2014

Pushkar Shah's "Sansaar laaii saadhe paach fanko"

पुष्कर शाहको "संसारलाई साढे पाँच फन्को" प्रबल सम्भावना बोकेको तर अनुचित प्रस्तुतीकरणले गर्दा स्तरहीन बन्न पुगेको पुस्तक लाग्यो मलाई । विश्वका १५० देशमा घुमेर बटुलेको अनुभवजन्य पुस्तक त सांस्कृतिक, भौगोलिक, मानवीय सबै पक्षको दह्रो विवरणले भरिएको हुनुपर्ने हो । तर यो पुस्तक त विभिन्न देशमा गएर बेस्सरी जाँड धोकेको, तरुनीहरूसँग झन्डैझन्डै सुतेको, उनीहरूका नग्न शरीर देखियो भनेर दंग परेको एउटो उरन्ठेउलो युवकको डायरीमा मात्र पो सीमित रह्यो । पुष्कार पक्कै तेस्ता मान्छे हैनन् होला । उनी त विश्वमा शान्ति फैलाउने अभियानमा लागेका प्रबुद्ध व्यक्ति हुन् तर यो पुस्तक पढ्दा त उनको प्रबुद्धतामा शंका पो उठ्छ । कुनै पनि देश उनी कसरी पुगे, त्यहाँ पुगेर कुन कुन मुख्य ठाउँमा घुमे, त्यहाँका निवासीलाई केकस्तो सन्देश दिए शान्तिको भन्ने प्रश्न राखेर किताब पढ्न बसेको त तामसिक कृत्यमा मात्र जोड दिएको देखेर दिक्क लाग्यो । म नियात्राको "फ्यान" हुँ त्यसैएल यो पुस्तक पढ्न मलाई हुटहुटी थियो ।   पुस्तकमा छोटा छोटा अध्याय र केही सरस वर्णनले पठनलाई सजिलो बनाएपनि बारम्बार उस्तैखाले प्रसंग दोहोरिरहँदा पछिपछि त झर्को लागेर "स्किप" गर्न मन लाग्छ (जबकि संसारको विशेषता नै वैविध्य हो ) । सगरमाथा आरोहणको भाग तुलनात्मक राम्रै लाग्यो । तर ठाडा र भद्दा शब्द प्रयोग पुस्तकभरि नै गरिएकाले सुसंस्कृत रुचि भएका पाठकलाई बिच्काउँछ । मानवीयतामाथिको आस्थालाई दह्रो बनाउने पुष्करको यात्रावर्णन कलाविहीनताको दलदलमा नराम्ररी फँसेकोमा मलाई दु:ख लाग्यो ।