A preview of There’s a carnival today originally written by IndraBahadurRai in Nepali and translated into English by ManjushreeThapa (Published by Speaking Tiger, 2017)
The old couple could never forget their own wedding. They’d had an arranged marriage on the sixteenth day of the month of Falgun exactly thirty-one years ago today, with a nine-piece musical band in the wedding procession. Kaase Darzis had blown narsingh trumpets from a platform on the roof, sounding out the auspicious news of the wedding. Lamba Lama, Hukumdas Sardar and Doctor Yuddhabir Rai (the poor men had all since passed away) had danced all night to the sweet melody of the shehnai. Kaji Saheb had taken a photograph when Bagam Kanchha, who was home on holiday from the army, had dressed up as a maruni in women’s clothes and danced, spinning a plate in each hand. They’d had to set another pot of rice on the boil after eighty kilograms proved insufficient to feed the wedding procession. Nowhere in today’s Darjeeling would you see members of a wedding procession sitting in rows to eat in the courtyard while being attacked from all sides by chickens, which, when shooed away, raised clouds of dust with their wings.
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.
Recently, Fai had got more interested in her studies. She was a loner. Her mother used to do daily chores for neighbours against a sum of money. Her father had a small shop that sold second hand goods and knick-knacks that he got from the dealer — some of them were antiques – more like trinkets. The merchandise in his shop fascinated Fai.
Her father narrated to her stories about these strange objects. He unraveled the mysteries of the town and wove stories around them to try and sell the objects to his clients. The dealer provided him with goods sold in auctions by museums and by abandoned high schools and tour groups. Rusty sleeping bags, mountaineering gears and all kinds of skiing stick– even golf clubs, a tiara discarded by someone who did not understand its value — such merchandise were the focal points of his stories.
Her father kissed her on her forehead and told her a story every night before she went to sleep. These stories were woven around the objects in his shop. They were not like the story of Big Fish in America. The story of the Big Fish was from the story book she got from the school library. It was a strange tale — the hero’s daddy would turn out to be the fish at last which had swallowed the ring of hero’s mommy. The library at Fai’s school would only allow them to borrow one book for the weekend.
“I am indebted to the British poet, actor, and soldier James Milton Hayes, whose poem ‘The Green Eyes of a Yellow Little God’ with its opening line ‘There is a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Kathmandu’ fired my imagination to name this collection of poems The Eight-eyed Lord of Kathmandu. Hayes wrote his immortal dramatic monologue over a century ago in 1911 just in five hours. Incidentally, he did not consider it as poetry. Following the footsteps of Hayes, a century later, I have made a humble attempt to draw a poetic portrait of Nepal through my poems on World Heritage sites, festivals, places, landscapes, historical personalities as well as its present inhabitants. My time spent in Nepal from July 2012 to January 2016 was full of bliss, learning and adventure.” ABHAY K
I lead the way to Mt. Everest, paving the path through snow
and ice, fearless of losing fingers to frostbite.
Conquering Everest your face glows like a field of poppies.
The story of finding one’s true passion and sense of purpose through confrontations with hardships has become a trope per se. One can even say it has been overdone, although new variations crop up every year, driving home profound life lessons. However, despite their often clichéd premise or plot, some stories still manage to deliver a heart-touching performance in terms of fully sketched characters and a sense of anxiety through a gripping story which serves us with a steady sense of exhilaration when we finally see the protagonist come out of all trials, injured but wiser. That in a nutshell is why Snowfed Waters works well despite its shortcomings.
Sonia, the protagonist of this fictional travelogue, is a woman who has lost a significant part of what she assumed to be her regular life in light of recent events. Estranged from her husband, wrecked with debilitating anxiety and unsure of what to do with her life, she embarks on an expedition to Nepal under the pretext of helping with teaching duties in local schools. With this trip she hopes to regain emotional stability in her turbulent life and heal herself. Although off to a rocky start, she soon adjusts well to the situations and surroundings, and as she slowly learns to fight off the ghosts of her past, she also becomes a part of the local people and their community. There are moments of endearing sincerity throughout the story, which, along with moments of suspense and sadness, create a fine balance of emotions which the reader feels almost as clearly as the protagonist herself. The end, although sweet and hopeful, shows Sonia clearly as someone who has had a change of heart, and we can’t help but be happy for her.
It’s tempting to blame it on inner impulses that would devour me if I didn’t, but that wouldn’t be the whole story, especially with non-fiction. Simply put, I’m better at writing than I am at most other things I’ve tried my hand at (though not necessarily better at writing than most other people), and the act gives me pleasure of a laboured kind. That’s more than what you can say for most kinds of work, and believe me, the complete act of writing – from conception to execution to almost-perfection – is work.
Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?
Speaking Tiger has just published my second book, Thamel:Dark Star of Kathmandu, a biography of the tourist quarter that grew out of a medieval Buddhist settlement in Kathmandu. Writing about a place like Thamel is not, on the face of it, an urgently necessary task. At least not as obviously so as a book on our relationships with Nature (my next writing project). Nonetheless, I feel it’s useful to obtain an understanding of the totality of the environments we have spent significant time in – past, present and future. This is what Thamel means to achieve, as much as the book on Nature: to deepen our understanding of our built and natural environments, and thereby of ourselves, so we can reconsider and improve on our interactions with them.
Describe your writing aesthetic.
I’m no fan of bald writing that means to drive home a social message, nor lazy writing dragged along by a pacy, racy narrative. With both fiction and non-fiction, I hope to provide serious reading pleasure, without being carried away by either the message or the medium.
Who are your favorite authors?
Those I haven’t read – names I know, names I don’t know, names that haven’t seen the light of day. They represent the titillating totality of my ignorance.
A howling rage took possession of the physician. ‘I’ll cure you, you glutton, for once and forever,’ he muttered to himself, and repaired to the pharmacy in the palace grounds. There, he took off his clothes and rubbed the scurf from his unwashed skin (he was not a man who favoured cleanliness) and rolled this body scurf into four miniscule pellets. These he further wrapped in silver foil, with a little cumin and asafoetida pressed in for good measure. While at it he added some anardana, the dried pomegranate seeds being his favourite ingredient and cure-all. Returning to the palace, he confronted his king. The four doses were placed on the royal tongue at quick intervals, while the fierce physician muttered curses and imprecations under his breath. These were, of course, taken as being addressed to the demon of ill health, for no one could possibly presume to be so rude to His Majesty.
By the time the third pellet was pressed into his mouth, the king was already feeling better. He beheld his loyal physician Jeewan Chandra Pant with gratitude and ordered that a bag of gold coins be given to him. The courtier who was summoned to bring the coins from the royal treasury appropriated five, but a bagful was still a bagful. The Vaidya was immediately moved to better humour and contemplated buying his beloved Pokhara mistress a gold hansuli, to frame her plump, pretty neck. Later, he was to wonder interminably about the possible conjunction of astral influences, the conspiracy of constellations, that had effected his radical cure. For the king’s digestion now flourished, the royal robes layered in purple velvet and satin rested gently on his reposeful abdomen; the queens, the prime minister, the ladies of the harem, all enjoyed the reprieve from his colic- induced cruelties.
The unexpected success of his unorthodox medicine prompted Jeewan to research further. He dreamt of formulating the perfect aphrodisiac. A Tibetan herbalist in Pokhara had told the Vaidya about the highly efficacious horny goat weed he had learnt of in China. The plant grew in profusion around the Pokhara lake, and the royal physician had concocted a rasayan using the distilled weed and small quantities of the pink bell-shaped valerian flowers of Jatamansi. The king was offered the experimental potion, and it worked wonders. A certain royal lady-in-waiting whose husband was a confirmed catamite found herself the subject of the monarch’s unexpected favour. He visited her bedchamber three nights consecutively and found his veerya, his royal libido, functioning as capably as that of a young man. The lady had a mole upon the inside of her left thigh, and this mole became the subject of his immediate and compulsive attention. The mole, he decided, in some leap of intuition or madness, held the key to his destiny as a monarch.