This collection of contemporary Nepali literature is organised in four sections-The Perplexity of Living, The Right to Desire, The Imminent Liberation and Vision-which carry stories and poems of 49 writers and poets to offer insights into the upheavals in Nepalese society, politics and identity. The collection was published in the Nepali language in the period leading up to and after the re-establishment of democracy in 1990 – a period of unprecedented free expression in Nepal.
Before reviewing the stories and poems, a few lines on modern Nepali literature would help introduce “the uninitiated about the literary developments. Starting in the 1930s and 1940s and acquiring strength in the 1950s after the country’s first period of democracy, the free expression got narrowed after the royal coup of 1960 and the subsequent establishment of the Panchayat system of absolute monarchy. By the 1970s, a high modernist style took hold and abstraction became a powerful response to state censorship. Writers like Mohan Koirala, Bairagi Kainla and Ishwar Ballav were all practitioners of modernism, locating human freedom in the play of language and nurtured by contacts with writers in India. Based in Darjeeling, Indra Bahadur Rai is considered a giant in Nepali literature. His story ‘A Window’ is a philosophical presentation.
In the first section of the book, the stories and poems express universal joys and sorrows experienced by people in Nepali society. They speak of the terror of time slipping by, the tremors of old age and sickness and death, and also the terrors wrought by meagre salaries by jobs found and lost, by the prospect of falling on the wrong side of power or losing favour with the boss, the hunger and the immense insecurity it brings again and again. The stories chronicle the meanness of urban life and the endless toil of rural life. How do the people tackle these problems? They grovel and plead, cheat, sell their daughters and fight wars that are not theirs, participate in demonstrations and processions, rage, struggle and seek refuge in irony and sarcasm. However, life goes on, finding small pleasures in small happenings amidst family and friends. The works in this section reflect on the perplexity of living in a rapidly altering society where old certainties are destabilised.
The second section is devoted to writings pertaining to desire and its thwarting. The stories and poems voice the longing for intimacy and sexual fulfilment, the craving to be loved as distinct individuals. Among the contemporary aspirations of contemporary Nepal is the wish to free love from its confines of class, caste, ethnic nationality, creed and inherited identity.
In the section titled ‘The Imminent Liberation’, political upheavals find expression. While the Nepalese won many liberties in 1990, many were denied to them and a ‘permanent revolution’ continues today through peaceful demonstrations, strikes, protests and, at times, violent means.
Creative writing in the fourth section offers not only critiques as solutions but solutions inspired by a vision for social and political action or for private and psychological epiphanies.
In short, the creations capture the spirit of a society which is at the threshold of its transformation.
(Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017.)