Book Excerpt: Long Night of Storm by Indra Bahadur Rai
A preview of Long Night of Storm – a collection of stories originally written by Indra Bahadur Rai in Nepali and translated into English by Prawin Adhikari (Published by Speaking Tiger, 2018)
Morning came early in the jungle. Bullocks were put to the yoke again. The departure was full of more bustle than the grim march the day before. Duets were being sung since the morning. Jayamaya had joined that crowd. Wilful young boys wanted to shoot down any bird that settled on the crowns or branches of trees. If they hit a mark, they would stop their carts to go into the jungle to search for it. Nobody had any fear. Everybody was laughing. It seemed the journey of a merry migration—it seemed as if they were travelling from Burma into India for a picnic. ‘Is your name Jayamaya?’ A beautiful, thin boy who had had to abandon his studies to be on the road, and who had been blessed with his mother’s tender face, asked Jayamaya. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘My name is Jaya Bahadur,’ he said.
Ten miles later they stopped for the night. Garjaman’s cart had been left behind because his bullocks were exhausted. ‘If our bullocks keep up this pace for another five days, we will reach the 116-mile mark,’ Subedar told Subedarni. ‘We should then abandon the main road and head east towards Sumpiyang. After that, in about two weeks at the most, we will reach Ledo in Assam—there will be plenty of motor cars and trains after that. Today I’ll kill a rooster, all right?’ Subedar tried to bolster Subedarni’s courage. It thundered and rained all night. A thousand leaks breached the leaf shelter overhead. Drenched in the rain, Subedar took the tarp above the cart and threw it on the roof of the shelter; a fire had to be kept up all night. Nobody could find sleep that night. The road had turned muddy the next day. The bullocks couldn’t pull the cart. Rain clouds still filled the skies. Flu was rampant in the camp. Many became rain-soaked and fell ill. All along the road carts had broken down and provisions had been jettisoned. They couldn’t even advance by four miles.
Subedar had wanted to give the bullocks some rest on the next day; but an old fever returned during the night. They had no medicine, so Subedar decided to overcome the fever by abstaining from food. In the morning there were many more carts that couldn’t continue. Old man Harka Ram died in the night in his little hut. Those who wanted to leave left in a hurry; those who were resting prepared to bury the dead. Sometime in the day Jaya Bahadur brought two pills of Aspro. Shivajit took them and slept through the day. The sun came up again the next day. They spread their blankets over the carts and got the bullocks moving. As they journeyed farther along the road, the number of people camping by the roadside to tend to their sick also increased. On the next day they encountered four mounds of freshly dug earth. Those who were fleeing on foot were dying like flies. Thereafter, all thoughts and worries fled Subedar. Everything appeared mundane. It took them seventeen days to reach 116 miles. None of the companions with bullock-carts remained with them, and they had no recollection of when they had found the new friends who remained.
Arriving at the open spaces of 116 miles, everybody came to their senses! There remained only a narrow trail leading towards Sumpiyang, up and away from the road. Carts couldn’t navigate that trail; all possessions had to be carried. Gurkhas sat around, confused. Many had started the uphill climb. Only food and the most essential goods could be carried. Strewn over the jungle below the road were boxes, utensils, coats and jackets, bottles—abandoned and scattered. Chickens and goats outnumbered people. Planes circled overhead, retreated. Subedar Dhanpad Subba, who had reached a day before and was resting, cooked rice for everybody, slaughtered chickens, even presented to his guests a dry chutney with chimfing. Somehow, it felt like home. Subedarni and Jayamaya awoke early the next morning to the sound of Subedar shooting off his gun. He had made three bundles of stuff, and was now shooting at everything else—the gramophone, the box of chinaware, the stack of records, the wall clock, the trunk, and the large copper water jar…Somebody shot a bull. The bull carried its bloodstained shoulder and ran quite some ways before collapsing to the ground. ‘Why did you kill it?’ Subedar shouted at the shooter. ‘Why should I leave it for the enemy?’ the shooter asked. ‘Do that again, and I’ll shoot you.’ The man lowered his eyes when he saw Subedar’s fury.
They turned U Basu back from there, and as many others attempted futilely to get their bulls to carry loads on their backs, Jayamaya, Subedar and Subedarni picked a bundle each and started uphill. The mother and daughter were also leading a goat each. After climbing up a hill, when he looked to the heavens, Subedar saw billowing dark clouds congregated as if to ponder a grave and momentous decision. Even the slim gaps between the darkest, meanest clouds were filled with clouds just a lighter shade of darkness. Even the earth had caught fright of the impending rain; motes of dust had turned cold and heavy. Tree-tops swung and frightened crows flitted about. A small bank in the north of bright clouds was dashed with streaks of red and yellow. Above it a large sweep of dark clouds, the shape of a limbless man, lumbered forward slowly, and as if reincarnated, gained the form of a gigantic bird.
Occasionally they stumbled across clusters of a handful of houses in new clearings in the jungle, but, other than that, there was nothing to do but to trudge forward through this unending hell. A narrow path had been cut by the tread of people marching through it; otherwise, on both sides was thick jungle and dense undergrowth. After walking in this manner for thirteen days, they reached a jungle so immense where no bird chirped and no beast was seen. There, everybody felt that even birds and beasts needed the assistance of humans, that even they could survive only as long as they received human support, and that even they were scared of the bleakest wildernesses. It was impossible to walk with cramped calves but nobody had the courage to rest for a day; everybody persisted upon dragging themselves forward. There is love for the ailing mother: after the son carried the mother for an entire day, covering just two miles, the son also fell sick. It had been raining every other day. Damp clothes had been torn to ribbons by the foliage. But the convoy continually forged forth, absent of any logic, knowledge or inspiration.
Excerpted from Long Night of Storm: Stories written by Indra Bahadur Rai and translated by Prawin Adhikari . Published by Speaking Tiger, 2018.
About the Author
One of the most prominent and best known writers in the Nepali language, Indra Bahadur Rai is the author of thirteen books—including the novel Aaja Ramita Chha, translated as There’s a Carnival Today—spanning the genres of short fiction, memoir, literary criticism and drama. He is credited with introducing fresh modernist aesthetics, as theory and in practice, to Nepali literature, and also played a major role in having the Nepali language officially recognized by the Indian Constitution. He is the recipient of the Sahitya Akademi Award, the Jagadamba Shree Puraskar and the Agam Singh Giri Smriti Puraskar. Prawin Adhikari writes screenplays and fiction, and translates between Nepali and English. He is an assistant editor at La.Lit, the literary magazine. He is the author of The Vanishing Act, a collection of short stories.