Anamik Yatri: Voices from the villages / Basanta Basnet

With his new collection of 18 stories, Anamik Yatree, Mahesh Paudyal Prarambha has entered the galaxy of Nepali short-fiction writers. Paudyal already has half a dozen books on children’s literature, one on criticism, and several translations. With his latest book, he seems to be carving for himself a niche on exploring adult and child psyche, pursuit of self-awareness and rustic experiences. His characters, most of whom are beset by unfavourable life circumstances, narrate their own tales like the protagonist of title story Anamik Yatree.

Paudyal paints a vivid picture of how an individual can suffer from his strong political convictions and dogma in the story Lauro. Gulabchanda is a character lost in his native city. It is a story of displacement in one’s own hometown; a personal tragedy instigated by political events around him.

Anamik Yatree is another powerful story based on the narrator’s nostalgic memories of his father. Paudyal highlights the plight of an old man who feels lonely in his own home. His son forces him to leave his older home, and take him to a new, comfortable house. But the old man can never establish any sort of emotional attachment with his new abode. He is also not comfortable with his son’s profession as a professor. Eventually, he returns to his origin, far way in another region where he had begun the course of his life. Everyone likes comfort in life, though the definition of comfort might vary from one person to another. Despite roaming the entire city in quest of luxury, he does not find any solace and chooses to go back to his roots. This is a story about respect for one’s origin and a personal quest for happiness. It’s a spiritual quest too.

Bitulo Sparsha ra Nirdosh Maya is another strong story about the superstitious belief whereby the mourners are considered untouchable before the end of the 13-day-long rituals for the dead. A small baby seeks a loving touch of his mother. But he cannot get it. Neither can he comprehend the gravity of the demise of his grandfather. Pundits and other relatives do not let the child touch his parents. All this, apparently, to secure the baby from his own death. The author evokes a child’s difficulties when defied the love of his parents because of social dogmas.

Lambaddha Auchhan Pratigha-atharu is another intense story. The protagonist Junu literally jumps out of the page because of her dramatic life. The author lays bare the life of a young girl misled by a two-faced man. Ultimately, the whole family has to lose its self-respect and societal relationship. This is the story of the collapse of a life into lifelessness.

Paudyal appears to be against the new grain in fiction which focuses mostly on experimental plots. He follows the classical trends but picks up novel settings and people. One can say that he writes new stuff with the old flavor of Guru Prasad Mainali or Ramesh Bikal. He loves to play with diction. Few authors can make their characters come alive on the page like Prarambha does. Take, for instance, Koubru, which is a humane but very realistic quest of urbanites to get back to their rural roots, but for some reason fail to do so.

Paudyal’s stories rarely have explicit moral lessons. His approach is more subtle. But he can also write fast-moving stories like Kaanchko Sapana, Bhaleni Aain Aagana and Pheri Pharkenan Uniharu where the characters are easier to grasp because of their simplicity. Stories like Pheri Pharkenan and Parkhal ra Parewaharu are also related to human understanding of the environment and ecological issues.

Yet, for all its good attributes, the book could have been even better had it been better designed and edited. The publisher, Bhundipuran Prakashan, surely fails in this regard. The cover and the paper quality are also unworthy of these precious tales. Despite these flaws, Nepali fiction will be enriched by Paudyal’s anthology which successfully piques reader’s interests through a strong portrayal of his characters and the sensibility with which he does it. The highlight of the book is definitely its special insight on child psychology and the subaltern voices of rural people.
(First appeared in The Kathmandu Post)