Nepali language was recognised as the nineteenth official Indian language in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India in 1992. Sahitya Akademi – the Academy of Letters – of Government of India recognised Nepali as one of the modern languages of India in 1975. Since then the best literary work of Indian Nepali writers along with in other Indian languages have been bestowed with prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award every year (except 2011). The process for picking up the best literary work is well laid down. First round of award condition is to prepare a comprehensive ground list of the published works. In the second round usually five to eight books are identified as potential competitors. And in the final round, three jury members sit, deliberate and decide on the best work.
Among the nine books that competed for the coveted Sahitya Akademi Award in 2015 were Gita Upadhyay’s Janmabhumi Mero Swadesh; Gupta Pradhan’s Samaika Prativimbaharu; Kalusingh Ranapaheli’s Prashna Chinha; Sudha M Rai’s Bhumigeet; Rajendra Bhandari’s Shabdaharuko Punarbas and Basant Kumar Rai’s Kehi Kathaharu are worth mentioning for their literary merits.
Janmabhumi Mero Swadesh by Gita Upadhyay (Anurag Prakashan,, Guwahati, 2013) is a beautiful literary piece, a novel, based on the backdrop of India’s freedom movement in the early 20th century. The entire plot is woven around the mobilisation of village folks in and around Tejpur region of Assam against the highhandedness of British India Government and their joining the freedom struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi. The story starts with a sudden, tragic and inhuman story of uprooting of villagers who had been living in the vicinity of Kajiranga forests areas and burning down of their premises as the area was abruptly declared as reserved forest. Most of these villagers eked out their living through dairy farming.
The central character in the entire episode is Chabilal Upadhyay who actually has been a widely acclaimed freedom fighter and also became the first President of Assam Congress after the Assam Association was dissolved. He takes up the cudgel of fighting for the cause of the uprooted and persecuted villagers initially with the help of a young bright and educated advocate Chandra Sharma.
This novel stands apart in four different ways.
Firstly, the core theme of the novel has a solid and realistic backdrop. It has been rather dexterously interwoven with the social and political events and produced in the form of a substantive literary work. Among the literary writings based on the backdrop of freedom struggle, this novel makes significant contribution also because a lot of research and intellectual inquiries have gone into the writing of this novel.
Secondly, the narrations are superb and lucid and take back the readers to those nostalgic moments of freedom struggle where the protagonist and the whole range of characters come out to join the movement as they themselves started witnessing how an alien regime if remained more in this land could destroy the very roots of Indian civilisation.
The British regime tried to divide communities and geographies at the lowest possible level. For instance, during Mahatma Gandhi’s visit in Tezpur, when Chabilal was arrested, the conversation with the British local police commissioner Creche Saheb at Hazra Park was recorded like this.
“Your Nepal is an independent country and our friendly neighbour. Why do you involve yourself in this movement ? Disassociate yourself from Congress, you will be given all the facilities by the Government. You donot need to do anything, if you come along in my car, you will get Rs 500 per month in gratis. You will get back your confiscated rifle and pistol”.
This very damaging statement hurt Chabilal’s identity as an Indian and integrity as an individual. Chabilal rather stoutly replied
“ my birth place is Assam and I will die in Assam. Nepal could be an independent country but I have never seen Nepal. Wherever I am born that is my motherland. My ancestor could have come from Nepal at a particular juncture and hence Nepal could be land of my father, but I have nothing to do with that country now. I know only about my motherland. This country’s movement is therefore my movement”.
This had a huge message for the British India regime about the Indianness of Indian Nepalis.
Thirdly, this novel provides a very captivating glimpse of a village life during the early 20th century among the Nepali community living across the rural geographies of Assam. The inclusiveness that remained in the villages despite majority of the people remaining illiterate and poor, the democratic aspirations of the people to see India free in every respect are well captured in this work. The transport system on boats and smaller ships mainly through riverine valleys of Assam, the food habits, the role of money lenders, communication network and the development status.
Fourthly, the writer’s prolonged contributions from one of the distant corners of India are once again reflected in this novel when her work tries to reconnect the ever neglected north eastern region with the rest of India in a rather creatively competitive framework.
This novel is highly readable and has been attractively designed to convey to the readers that the freedom struggle became successful as the people across the country were so deeply rooted to their respective culture, language, profession, geography, religion which are the quintessence of Indian civilisation. This novel is far reaching in the Indian literary firmament and more so in the Indian Nepali literary world because of its originality in thinking, lucidity in expressions and continuation of historicity.
Samaika Prativimbaharu written by Gupta Pradhan (Gama Prakashan, Darjeeling, 2011) is one of the most captivating collections of short stories. A range of short stories that connect the social realities (“samai ra manche”) to contradictions in human minds (“mainus plus”), highlights political satires to destruction of nature (“sapit sahar”); centralises a small geography and the class room complexities (“tee naya sir”) and how intricacies of livelihood unfurls survival instincts in simple folks (“shaharsita basheko saino”) decorate this fascinatingly produced collection. The writer is an infectious story teller and makes the reader wait for, another moment, another hour, another page and another event. Stories end when they are in their pinnacles.
For instance in “tee naya sir” a teacher with a paralytic affected mouth/lip suffered from a syndrome where he thought that a student was actually mimicking on him. The author happened to be the student and was physically assaulted by the teacher as he unknowingly and unconsciously made the same face while concentrating on the class lessons taught by this new teacher. He remained bruised, deadly frightened by this behaviour of this new teacher and started developing withdrawal syndrome in the class room. Next year when the school reopened the teacher just did not come back but he remained shattered.
What is very emulating in Pradhan’s stories are the use of expressions that denote far reaching meanings and not merely narration. In the story “sapit sahar”, a stranger in search of edible drinking water loiters around the town but never gets so– even a cusp of so. He comes across a hermit who has known the town and the people intimately and starts conversing with him about how Herculean it has been for him a get a cusp of water to quench his thrust. In fact the hermit himself has been looking for this cusp of drinking water for ages together but in vein. While conversing a protest rally starts emerging and the writer asks the hermit if it was rally against the water scarcity. Hermit responses.
“ no, no there is never a protest about the water scarcity in this town now. Because the moment water scarcity becomes an issue in this town, no one joins the protest march. Because in the past many people have made it a politics of opportunity …… this is a protest against the wrongs. Because there have been scores of wrongs and wrong doings in this town. This is protest which wants to add another wrong in the history of wrongs in this town. This is a town we keep seeing different editions of wrongs in the form of protests.“
Gupta Pradhan has a distinct style, deeper thinking, versatile sweep and more seriously hypnotising plots in his narrations.
Prashna Chinha written by Kalusingh Ranapaheli (Yogita Ranapaheli, Aarithang, Sikkim, 2011) is another piece of superbly written collection of short stories where one finds the newer thinking process in clashes with traditional practices (“dolakhedaiko natile chakkai paryo”) and also complexities that have no simplicities (“samadhan euta samashyako”) where a childless couple philosophises the childlessness through various expression including the creation of a literary piece like novel as their son. The power of arguments is reflected in “ajingar ra muso”. It is deft ability of a small animal like a mouse which mesmerises a python with its arguments on the issue of why stomach becomes a source of sorrow and pain and ultimately makes python lose its stomach and appetite both. This saves the little clever mouse.
The writer is swift, pointed and concise in his narration and this makes him indomitable in terms of writing very short yet effective stories. What is minutely fascinating is the use of rural colloquial that enrich his stories. In a way it also conserves the rich rural expressions in the Indian Nepali literature. Like a simple description of how in the month of Asad all the villagers together plough and prepare the fields for sowing paddy for the next food season leads to scores of expressions and vocabulary the urban dwellers have conveniently forgotten. He incorporates these expressions like “aali-aali” (some sort of terraced fields); “hollow and heele hollow” (ploughing forks pulled by cattles), “juwa” ( wooden rod attached to the shoulder of ploughing cattle), “jotaro” (tightening rope) “haris” (the long wooden that joins “juwa-hollow” in each narration.
Bhumigeet written by Sudha M Rai (Jana Pakshya Prakashan, Gangtok, 2013) is an anthology which has 30 well crafted poems. Sudha Rai writes rather lucidly though some of the core themes of her poems are complex and mutually exclusive. If futility of life and living decorates “dhartiko pukar” (call of nature); the limitlessness and colourlessness become the theme of “mayaka bhakaharu” (tunes of love) and of course a letter from a wife from her beautiful village to her husband engaged in the battlefield “samarma yudhrat sipahilai patniko patra” all together reflect the diversity in imagination and depth of creative thinking of this lady poet. This letter from the soldier’s wife states :
“ sometimes I am lost while I am furrowing the terraced fields
sometimes I injure my hands while cutting vegetables
may be this state of mind is noticed
by our eight year old Dumuhang,
as he asked me what happened to you Mother
hope you have sent a letter to our Father
hope you have mentioned about a pistol and new clothes
when he arrives for Dussera this time.
Sudha Rai is lavish in praising the beauty of nature, prolific in making gendered perspective and literally monopolises some expressions as they strewn some of her loveliest literary pieces. Given the calibre and the absence of any gap among her thought process, pen and paper, she would definitely produce a magnum opus.
Shabdaharuko Punarbas written by Rajendra Bhandari (Shri Bhim Dhungel, Gangtok, 2010) is a collection of 60 poems. In most of the poems and the stanzas therein the expressions are complex and intriguing and sometimes very difficult to decipher what his poetic feeling actually wants to convey and to whom he wants to address. A reader tends to become directionless and at times clueless both within a poem and across the poems. A simple reader like this finds him at loss to read line after line and get disgruntled in not getting the core of poems in the end. This is possibly the style of the poet that may cater to only those exclusive few who have ample time and interest in reading, analysing and digesting his expressions.
Kehi Kathaharu written by Basant Kumar Rai ( MALA Rai Pradhan et al. 2011) is a collections of 17 short stories. Tastefully written and handsomely put together these short stories are the indicators of pangs of life, thoughts and actions of village folks and more interestingly expressions of how life has treated the life of the writer. Exposure of arrogance and absence of moral values in politicians in “neta chunao harepachi”; blatant changes in societal attitude after a man retires from a prestigious position “awakash prapti” and complications varying from weather to travel and finance to uncertainties in dealing with death of a relative in a distant location like Jodhpur ‘abhimanyu” are some of the most vivacious expressions of his creative thinking.
Prof Lama, a widely acclaimed Development Economist, teaches in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He was the Founding Editor of the Nepali Language segment of National Book Trust after Nepali was enshrined as the 19th language in the Constitution of India. He edited the Nepali segment of Masterpieces of Indian Literature (Chief Editor : KM George) published by the NBT to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of India’s Independence in 1997. Author of “Thakur Chandan Singh” in the prestigious Makers of Indian Literature series of Sahitya Academy, Prof Lama also made several contributions including in the five volume Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature , published by Sahitya Akademi in 1989. He has been occasionally a jury member of the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Awards in Nepali literature since last two decades.
E mail : <[email protected]>
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