Posts Tagged ‘NEPAL’
I left Brussels on a cheap Slovak bus, a 15-hour journey to Vienna. I had arrived in September to my first European city and in the five or so months that I was there, I experienced the travails of living in the heart of Europe. Brussels was a contradiction, a meticulously bureaucratic city that was split along linguistic lines, along ethnic lines, and along administrative lines. In one small city that could be crossed in a day, there existed numerous fault lines, each uncrossable by the mandarins who ran their separate kingdoms. Brussels was an enigma, a diverse city that had suffered much from the opening of its arms and yet, refused to be cowed into the reactive paranoia and suspicion, so unlike the United States. It was a city that loved to live, relishing its heavenly deep fried frites that the rest of the world maligned with the sobriquet of French. And its beers, oh its otherworldly beers. [I have dedicated an entire column to the Belgian beer so I will refrain from singing its praises yet again.] But Brussels passed pleasantly, as if floating languidly down a slow-moving river.
The 15-hour ride on a grossly uncomfortable bus was eventful, to say the least. The woman in her sixties sitting next to me was Austro-Hungarian, like the empire, and she attempted to strike up a conversation in halting English. As a hubbub began from the Eastern Europeans at the back of the bus, she leaned towards me and said confidentially, I understand everything. I nodded back, not quite comprehending. She explained that she could understand their language and leaning even further in, with a hand around her mouth, she whispered, ‘Gypsies.’
Later, as I attempted to sleep, a baby in the front of the bus awoke screaming. I was mildly annoyed but over the years, I have gotten accustomed to the hazards of travelling. I smiled wanly at the woman next to me and pointed to the baby. She smiled back but went further. The baby was ‘mixed,’ she said. ‘The mother is there but the father, question mark?’ She smiled evilly and I did not know how to respond. Much later in the bus ride, she would speak at length about how ‘mixing’ was not a good idea because cultures were just too different. Perhaps she was attempting to communicate something to me. Perhaps she just needed an outlet for her subtle racism. I smiled awkwardly and made no more effort at conversation. She persisted but not always with prejudice. I had a cold and she offered me tissues. She told me of her son who had just passed his Masters in London. She told me how she lived by herself and is often alone but sometimes goes out to drink beers with her neighbour. I listened politely, not contributing much in return. I did not know what to make of her casual bigotry.
Partway through the trip, somewhere near Frankfurt, we were stopped by the German police who proceed to select a number of us at random for a full body and luggage search. I was surprised when they did not select me at first, given my brown skin and my full beard. When a young policeman tells me step out, please, I was finally relieved. Bodies and bags were checked. The policemen were polite. One came up to us and remarked in English, ‘So he is the one from Nepal.’ I acknowledged my country of origin and the policeman checking my luggage said apologetically that it was not every day that they see someone from Nepal. After two hours, when the checking was over, they handed back our identity cards. The policeman did not call out my name like he did for the others, simply yelling ‘Nepal’ with a goofy grin. I did not mind. Better this than a host of others.
At the end of that 15-hour journey, I arrived in Vienna, my home for the next five or so months. It is a grand old city, majestic and awesome, built on the spoils of empire. Every street is lined with massive buildings that dwarf your human frame. There are gilded eaves and intricate ornamentation. This city does not seem to have been built for its citizens; it is a city that was built to project power. Compared to this, Brussels seems unabashedly provincial, like a runt from the village pretending at being a city boy. Vienna is imposing. But it is also the one of the most livable cities in the world. It has cast aside its imperial pretentions and has embraced a socialist bent. It is now known the world over for its social housing.
In the days since, I have been walking Vienna’s many strassen and gassen. Just like every city has its own smell, its own taste and its own ambience, each city has its own rhythm, a tempo that can range anywhere from the languid to the frenetic. This tempo is purely experiential; it cannot be described, it must be lived. Kathmandu is frantic, New York is feverish but Pokhara is leisurely, Brussels is deliberate. I have yet to make up my mind about Vienna. I have been trying to lodge myself into its rhythmic flow, trying to fall in step beside two young Viennese going to university or a young girl walking an impossibly beautiful Golden Retriever or an older construction worker smoking on the job. At the Der Wiener Deewan, I eat Pakistani food to bursting while rubbing elbows with a crowd. This pay-as-you-wish restaurant serves Pakistani food that is bland but comforting. I eat Krapfen and schnitzel and kasekrainer. I ride the U-Bahn. I walk the Gurtel. A new city is like a new lover. She reveals herself to you slowly, at first in the dark, when the lights are out.
With the winter retreating, spring will arrive soon. The trees and flowers in the Prater and the Augarten will begin to bloom. With the air warmer, I sat by an open window in my apartment in the ninth district and I listened to the Blue Danube and Mozart’s Requiem. It seemed fitting to inveigle Vienna with two of her most favoured sons. It is only a matter of time.
[Published on The Kathmandu, March 4 2017]
The city is a wholly human-made creation, the most brilliant and most sustained attempt at refashioning the world. In creating the city, humankind provided a proximate space where all social, cultural, economic, religious, technological and aesthetic values would play out. Since the very first city in history, the polis has been an intricate organisation of space, often overlapping, often exclusionary. Tied thus to the idea of the city is the idea of the citizen. In Greek, the polis is the city but it is also citizenship—there cannot be a city without citizens.
Neither citizens nor cities are homogenous. Cities, like citizens, are composed of multitudes. Each city is a microcosm of the grand differences that make up humankind. These differences are amplified in cities from the Global South, especially in underdeveloped countries like Nepal. Cities like Kathmandu are host to the richest men and poorest women. Mega corporate towers and gated residential communities stand cheek-to-jowl with the shabbiest of squatter settlements. You only have to stand on the southern bank of the Bagmati and look northwards. A cursory look at Kathmandu may end up concluding that gross inequality is its most explicit characteristic.
Cities have changed their character or perhaps their latent inconsistencies have now been brought to the fore, plain for all to see. Prodded by neoliberal capital, cities have turned into sites of consumption, catering to those with the greatest purchasing power. Cities are not public spaces of diverse interaction anymore; they have become regimental and compartmentalised. There are more and more places where the poor cannot enter and more and more places where the rich will not enter. There is no clash of class, no encounter where one sees the other and is forced to acknowledge each others’ inherent humanity. Instead, gazes are avoided, walls are built up and windows are tinted. Out of sight, out of mind.
The question, then, is: who is the city for?
Kathmandu has recently been blanketed in dust. It is now among the most polluted cities in the world. For those who cannot afford the comfort of an air conditioned car, travel is a nightmare. Whether on foot, bicycles or motorbikes, a sojourn in the city brings one home covered in a fine film of dust that flakes off with each rub and tug to form a hazy cloud. When the inevitable sickness descends, those who can afford it trudge to the hospitals and those who can’t have one more condition to live with.
Kathmandu is inhospitable to those at the bottom. It is fast becoming a city where a healthy existence is impossible for those without the means. The rich can always move farther and farther away, to the outskirts and to hills in an endless suburbanisation. The poor will have to stick it out in the city centre, huddled together in deplorable conditions. Just take Kathmandu’s roads, which are always in a constant state of being expanded. The major thoroughfares and the Ring Road are all wide lanes now. And yet, there are no proper footpaths, no properly marked, sheltered and lit bus stops, no attempt even to reign in the lawlessness of Kathmandu’s thousand microbuses. So who exactly are these roads for?
Marcello Balbo, who teaches urban studies at the University Institute of Architecture in Venice, writes that the city “is splitting into different separated parts, with the apparent formation of many ‘microstates’. Wealthy neighbourhoods provided with all kinds of services, such as exclusive schools, golf courses, tennis courts and private police patrolling the area around the clock intertwine with illegal settlements where water is available only at public fountains, no sanitation system exists, electricity is pirated by a privileged few, the roads become mud streams whenever it rains, and where house-sharing is the norm. Each fragment appears to live and function autonomously, sticking firmly to what it has been able to grab in the daily fight for survival.” Sound familiar at all?
The argument is that the city has become a repository for the needs and demands of the powerful. The right to shape the city is reserved for a few; everyone else gets little say. In recent times, take the road expansion, the aftermath of the earthquake, the planned demolition of Singha Durbar, the rampant breaking of the city roads to install pipes, all that dust in the air. The city has been co-opted; it has become the preserve of a few.
In order to counter this state of affairs, it is necessary to resurrect an old philosophical concept and apply it to how we see Kathmandu the city. In the late 60s, the French Marxist philosopher Henri Lefebvre proposed ‘the right to the city’ in his book Le Droit a la Ville as a radical demand to the production, access and use of social space. The Marxist geographer David Harvey puts Lefebvre’s conception of the right to the city as thus, “The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanisation.”
There is therefore a need to reshape the way we see our city. Kathmandu is not just a canvas to be drawn on and it is not just the planners, bureaucrats, politicians, businessmen and the wealthy who get to do the drawing. A city that is resilient, brilliant and sees all as equals reflects the values its citizens cherish. A city that privileges cars over public transport does not have everyone at heart. A city where one cannot walk for fear of respiratory illness is the worst kind of city—a city where one cannot breathe, a stifling city, a city of smoke, a choking city.
The right to the city is inalienable and it is collective. It is ours, as residents of this char-bhanjyang khaalto. But more than that, it is a recognition that in making the city, we make ourselves. As the city, so its citizens.
[Published on The Kathmandu Post, February 4, 2017]
Quiet is the Belgian night. There are no orchestral dogs here, no lone car horn echoing distant. No cry of laughter, anger or pleasure punctuates the night. Where I live, temporary and fleeting, the night is alien.
I take walks sometimes, aimless and wandering, no particular destination or direction in mind. And since there are no alleyways to explore, I trawl the boulevards and the side-streets like a vagabond with nowhere particular to be and no one waiting with the light on. I would call it a respite, if it were not so that everyday life here is not everyday life in Kathmandu. Sometimes, the pell-mell helter-skelter of Kathmandu is missed, sorely. The affect of it all, being buffeted from side-to-side, like a lone buoy in an endless raging ocean. They were times when I was reminded, every second of every day, what it felt like to be a living breathing body. Here, even the days are softer, passing easy like clouds. Now you are today, now you are tomorrow, now you are yesterday.
My European friends marvel at the ‘chaos’ of Brussels. They do not know true disorder; pandemonium of the highest order can only be found on South Asian streets.
It was maybe three weeks ago that I encountered an unexpected island of disarray amidst this sea of placidity. I walked into a convenience store, the kind they call ‘night shops here, and I met a Nepali woman. I was looking for someone to interview for my urban geography course and she was more than willing to speak to a fellow Nepali. At first, she was hesitant, giving me a false name when I asked for one. Once she got comfortable, there was no awkwardness. She apologized for the false name, explaining that she didn’t have papers and was there because of her husband. She was voluble and ebullient, telling me how she had studied sociology back in Nepal and hence, knew what field work was all about. She offered her services, claiming she knew everyone from unemployed layabouts to 9-to-5 suited businessmen who frequented her store.
She made me coffee and I sat by the counter speaking to her as she dealt with customers in fluent French. She had never taken any courses, she told me, learning French simply by osmosis. She had arrived in Belgium two years ago and had immediately started working in the store, which was owned and operated by her husband. She had arrived her from Italy, where she had been for another two years. She spoke fluent Italian and fluent French. I was impressed. Italy is beautiful, she said, not like Brussels. But Denmark is even more beautiful, especially in the summer. And Germany. She had been around and she knew what she liked.
She looked to be in her late 30s, short and squat. She asked me to guess her ethnicity and I chose Magar or Gurung. She laughed. She was neither. The neighbourhood folk thought she was Thai and I could see the resemblance. But she was a Newar from Dhading.
As we spoke, a man came in, bearing a box of ice-cream. They conversed in rapid French and after he had left, she confided to me that he was a thief. He tried to sell her the box of ice-cream, which he had most probably stolen from somewhere. This was a regular occurrence, she explained. The neighbourhood where we were, Anderlecht Centre Wayez, wasn’t the best. It was a diverse place, filled with Moroccans, Turks, Armenians, Syrians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis. Up until a year ago, the subway station in front of her store attracted the worst of the lot – unemployed hooligans who simply smoked pot and hung out on the streets, she said. The police had done a good job of cleaning the place up, but there were still ‘thieves’ around. I asked her to describe the neighbourhood to me and she gave me one word, ‘danger’. She brought me around to behind the counter and displayed a long, solid piece of wood. I use this to beat back the thieves when they get aggressive, she explained proudly.
She gave me coffee and biscuits. She invited me over for Bhai Tika. She also tsk-tsked at my physique and what I was wearing. She had some leftover dal-bhat in case I hadn’t eaten. It was instinctive, how quickly she became motherly. I asked her if she had any children and she replied in the negative. I didn’t push her.
We exchanged numbers and I took my leave, a half-eaten pack of biscuits in my hand. She had pressed me to take some more but I had refused, feeling self-conscious. Here was a woman of flux, moving from Nepal to Italy to Belgium, operating a night store in a shady part of the city, beating back would-be thieves with a piece of wood. She was welcome. The whole incident was welcome. I felt at home.
End of detour
Back in my no-nonsense part of town, where the residents are all white and the cars don’t honk at each other even when they narrowly avoid a collision, I listened to a piece of music that seemed to encapsulate everything I was feeling. Rajan Shrestha, friend and artist extraordinaire, has a song called Achal (under the moniker phatcowlee) and it is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I have heard in recent times. It is a song of stillness, a perfect amalgam of form and content. Minimal and moody, it does not rise and fall, it does not soar and dip. It does not stir. It is still. And in that stillness, there is a profundity unbecoming of something so simple.
I miss Kathmandu’s bedlam but there is something to be said of stillness. The quiet of nights in Brussels lays like a shroud over a corpse. It is an unfeeling kind of quiet, a calm that does not breed, does not propagate. Rajan’s stillness is generative, it produces quiet in the mind. It coaxes you to close your eyes and surrender yourself, like the best kind of meditation.
So I lay, on the top floor of a nondescript house in Brussels, under a sloping roof, eyes to the dark and ears to the stillness. This is still. Quite quiet still.
[Listen to Rajan’s Achal here: https://soundcloud.com/phatcowlee/achal]
Some nights, he has a dream. More a nightmare than a dream. It tends to happen more often when the sky is black with rainclouds and the wind screeches through the windows. Those nights, when there is the dream, he is out of bed and halfway out the door before he realises he is not yet awake. This pounding of the heart, this shaking of the knees, this panic, all of it has become muscle memory. His body is attuned, through wave after wave of the ground rising up like a swell, and it acts without thought, without comprehension.
He remembers that time, a year ago, noon on a day towards the end of April. When the ground became sea and the firmament roiled like waves on an angry ocean. It was a minute, maybe less, but it felt longer than a lifetime. When he remembered how to walk again, he rushed outside and onto the streets, where the shell-shocked gaped like fish gasping for air.
That night, under a neighbour’s tarpaulin tent, while the neighbourhood men snored away their sleep, he couldn’t seem to remember if there had ever been a time when the earth stood still.
The next day, he went off to work, piloting his scooter in between debris and a mass of humanity with nowhere safe to go. He had only just stopped at Tundikhel to take a picture of the tents that had sprung up overnight when once again he found himself unable to keep his feet level. On the road outside the Old Buspark, where bikes speed past in the blink of an eye, a couple sitting, palms flush with the ground, had a microphone thrust in their faces. A brown lady, Indian, held the mic, firing rapidly in Hindi, staccato, “What is going on here? How are you feeling? What is happening? Are you scared?” A white lady held a camera to her shoulder, panning quickly for a shot of the jumble of telephone wires vibrating as if struck with a finger.
The newspaper office had moved and on the premises of the one-storey building that housed the Kantipur press, a war council was held. Like generals directing a battlefield, editors sent out reporters, all of whom brought back photos and stories of death and disaster. He himself received a space around a pool table, where a computer had been set up. He set himself to writing an editorial and then an article, for though there was still a ringing in his ears, he felt the need to commit his memory to paper. For, as recent events had impressed upon him, there is a hair-breadth between life and death and this distance can collapse at any moment, without warning, without omen, without thought.
That night, when he made his way home, the streets were filled with refugees, exiles from their own homes with nowhere to go. They huddled in the middle of roads, out on the pavements and in hurriedly put-together camps at any open space. The skies were dark and a hard rain fell throughout the night, as if to further beat an already oppressed people into the ground. Enough, enough, they said, but what capricious god would listen? It seemed as if the gods wished all their children to dance, first to a forced two-step, a zabardasti, and then to the rain, falling like bombs. Dance, dance, dance.
All these memories come unbidden the moment there is another tremble. The quake has carved its own Proustian memory in all who lived through it, he is no different. This trauma is collective and it is evident in the manner with which neighbourhoods flood with light and sound when there is even the slightest shake and neighbours huddle together, each asking the other urgently what magnitude, what epicentre. Breath now is always bated and like everyone else, he too waits, body always in a half-spring, air always caught half-way in the lungs.
For in a less than a minute, the world upends itself, foundations come crumbling down, lives end, and everything changes.
[Published on The Kathmandu Post, earthquake anniversary special, 24 April 2016. Title taken from Haruki Murakami’s original Japanese title for after the quake]
[A book review from someone very close to my heart.]
Relationships come from a place of loneliness. Every individual in one’s loneliness seeks another and in that relationship is still alone. This is regardless of the type of relationship we enter. The core, layered with so many people we try to be or become in the presence of others, continues to be lonesome.
Each one of Pranaya’s characters [in City of Dreams] are lonely. That confinement to self, despite social intermingling, is probably the most beautiful thing about an individual. Because, it is who we really are. And that comes across clearly in the first story in the collection, ‘City of Dreams’, as the child Kanti starts walking into the labyrinth of Asan, testing his confidence and wearing out his mother’s patience. The story takes the reader on a journey of Kanti’s life, where it’s easy to lose the way while crossing forgotten alleyways and abandoned yards. And although, at first, it might seem like the writer doesn’t have much to say, the story leads you to a place where you meet yourself.
Pranaya’s stories evolve. So do his characters. The first draft of his story, ‘The Smoker’, which I read in 2010, read differently from the one in his newly released book, City of Dreams. There was Pranaya in the story. Pranaya, the narrator. Pranaya, the protagonist. And there was the ever-elusive Maya. Overtime, the characters seem to have matured, to have become fuller. Pranaya becomes more enunciated as the narrator. Maya becomes more believable, and therefore, even more elusive. As Pranaya the protagonist chases Maya and her presence in the story, you become a part of the pursuit. You want a denouement of some kind for the characters. But you also start tripping on how everything in the book is open-ended and surreal. And you want to become Maya — the Maya in your lover’s poems, the Maya who is love and illusion at the same time. The Maya who is loved.
‘The Child’, another story in the collection, is a story you will want to reread. And when you do, every sentence will take on a meaning far more deeper than that revealed the first time. Seema isn’t a particularly nice person. She can be selfish, confused, hurt and is capable of hurting. And it’s these qualities that make her real and strikes a chord with the reader, making you want to embrace her. This humane treatment of Seema’s character is what we find in all of Pranaya’s stories. Like Maya. Maya seems perfect, yet flawed. And Maya in ‘Maya’ is flawed, too. She’s a prostitute trying to live her day, trying to conceal the world in her little head. There’s something perfectly beautiful about this character, with her own daily battles, little dreams, and curiosities.
With the repetitions of names and characters, the writer weaves a time warp.
The teenager Rabi in ‘Dashain’, whose sole purpose is to impress his childhood sweetheart and family friend, becomes a person of intrigue as we explore his psyche. We watch with disgust as Rabi brings the khukuri down on the neck of a bleating goat, leaving the animal helplessly half killed, severing his own possibility of clinching love. Yet, we feel a pang of suffering for this boy. And we instantly know it is empathy for his characters that makes Pranaya’s writing so easy to relate to. When the writer comes from a place of empathy, there’s always so much to observe, to show and yet, never betray the characters. The way you would do with your babies.
‘Knife in the water’ isn’t a particularly likeable story for its banal treatment. But the strength of character of ‘She’ rattles the reader. Several things about this woman resonates with women who live a life of non-existence because their entire lives are devoted to ensuring the ‘He’ has care and dignity. She herself must hope for nothing.
‘The Presence of God’, infused with the surreal, is well-scripted, moving almost like a short film. Coming from an [amateur] filmmaker, it’s not too surprising that Pranaya is able to pattern graphic details into plot so seamlessly. The details of the stranded boys and girls watching a gory ritual transpire in the middle of nowhere unravels before the readers with shot sizes and lens movements intact.
Similarly, when Anam finds himself kneeling next to a man who’s just met with an accident, the description of this near-death situation is so visceral, if you happen to be one of those people who’ve been there, you know exactly what place the writer is coming from. The same goes for ‘Our Ruin’. Every individual, who has had a school and school friends has been there. It’s one of the stories I least expected to see in the collection, probably because it happens to be a story from long ago. The story is a recollection of so many afternoons, evenings, nights, spent with childhood friends, as your relationship with them sometimes broaches blurred lines. Friendships take on new meanings. Sometimes, friends drift because you forget to nurture and earn them over the years.
“My story was about coincidence of times. A fragment of time, a slice of time, an eternity of time, it was all the same, said the story. It was about forking time—time that chooses and the overlaps that occur. Time was a labyrinth and this story was a ball of string,” says Pranaya the narrator in ‘The Smoker’ and it gets the reader thinking about how it is that stories like these entangle and ensnare, making our lives whole.
Every story in City of Dreams is a jewel for a reader like me, who also happens to be a friend. But what strikes me most of all about Pranaya’s writing is, written in its simplicity, every sentence shines in its straightforwardness and the beauty of details- “navy blue pants with crisp white shirt. He would wear one set for three days and the second set for two”. Simple writing comes from a place of honestly and understanding of life. Life is what is always changing, always evolving. Like Pranaya’s characters.
Good writing is what makes you want to not just keep reading, but to read again and again. Over a decade since the first time I read The God of Small Things, I still go back to chapters every now and then, just so that I can go to a place I like. City of Dreams has just become another of my favourite places to go to.
In line at the bank. Queuing up at the fuel station. A slow-moving procession at the passport department. In an endless column to get gas. At the window on a dreary February morning, sky overcast, with a light drizzle beginning.
We wait. Everywhere we wait.
We wait for everything, whether in the physical or the metaphysical. We wait for materials like gas and petrol as much as we wait for intangibles like freedom and equality, respect and identity. The promise of being Nepali is an eternal longing, a wait so long no one knows when, or if, it will ever end. It is an absurd wait and we are all Vladimir and Estragon, Didi and Gogo. For like those two, we too don’t know if what we wait for will ever make an appearance. Godot is always just a day away, not today but surely tomorrow. Meanwhile, our masters have gone blind and we slaves have lost our voices. For those very masters, those Pozzos, once promised many things – a glorious republic, a vibrant democracy, development, progress, wealth and standing – just like Godot promised, not today but surely tomorrow. They have gone blind now, for everything is immaterial except for the dark that hides behind their own eyes (or glasses), that very dark where reason sleeps and produces monsters. And we slaves, we Luckys, once we spoke with conviction and feeling, a passion born out of what we thought of as values we should aspire to – freedom and equality, respect and identity. But now, in the midst of that long wait that never ends, we speak volumes of gibberish that pour liquid gold into the ears of those who would only deign to listen, poisoning them from within. Until, until, we don’t speak at all, struck dumb and yet, yet, still leading the blind.
But if we are Luckys, we are also still Didi and Gogo, waiting always. And this waiting, it’s not really a choice; it’s a compulsion. Since April’s disaster, thousands have been waiting. First, they waited for rescue, then relief, then reparations. Now, they wait for anything that will come. They braved the monsoon and they braved the winter. Not because they chose to, of course, but because is there any alternative really when the whirr of a helicopter’s blades triggers, Proustian, the palpitating rush of the earth rumbling underneath and the obliterating crash of an avalanche.
Sometimes, the waiting seems to come to an end. But it is almost always a false dawn, a sham of a thing, made up to look like something it’s not. So it was with the constitution, which finally arrived in September. Only it wasn’t really what we were waiting for. A celebration was held, a masquerade, where all dressed up in finery, the statute was unveiled, touched to forehead in reverence. And while some of us asked if this was really what we had waited for, others burned it angry and yet others marvelled at the elaborate farce. Much had been promised, that something wondrous would arrive. Instead, 10 arduous years, 10 long years, for something so meagre. Godot had metamorphosed.
Waiting implies hope and hope implies aspiration. In these godawful times, when we are neither here nor there, reeling from one natural disaster and a few unnatural ones, we wait for anything that might provide some semblance of inspiration. So when a football team runs a blitzkrieg and despite all odds, comes out on top, it is a rousing moment, especially when one considers the long years spent waiting for one Supreme Leader, among many, to vacate his toasty throne. Overnight, men become heroes. It is deserved, no doubt, but we have learned to reach for champions like drowning men clutching at straws. A prime minister dies and we extol his humility, his poverty, meagre qualities that have become all too rare. We have been waiting too long for another kind — a visionary stalwart, honest and open, global and local, respectful and compassionate, erudite and wise.
We all do our own personal waiting, whether it is waiting for a love or waiting for the bus, waiting on the rain or waiting for a friend. This is the waiting we do every day of our lives, not for some grand solution or some abstract ideal but for things simpler, the breath of a newborn against your chest, the touch of a longed-for hand against your own. But waiting is so much easier when you know the outcome is all-but-certain; it is much harder when you don’t know if what you wait for will ever arrive. But what else can we do? So much of the time, circumstances dictate where you are and what is coming your way. The universe is indifferent to us, but at times, it can feel so wilfully malicious.
So we wait, in lines, in queues, in columns and in rows. At the side of the road, in our bedrooms and every so often, day after day of our dreary, workaday lives. Maybe there is some romance to this waiting, some personal meaning to this cosmic absurdity, like Sisyphus with his rock. Perhaps, it is as Didi reasons, “What are we doing here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come.”
What keeps us going is that there is light at the end of this abysmal dark, that we are not just waiting for waiting. But there is always that nagging fear, that maybe there is no end to the waiting and that life for us is just this, an endless delay. We were promised, not today but surely tomorrow. And we are afraid it is already tomorrow.
नयाँपन ल्याउने नाममा अनेक वाद र झर्को लाग्दा प्रयोग गरेर लेखनीलाई बोझिल र निरस बनाउन लागि परेका केही स्रष्टालाई पनि राणाको यो कृतिले गतिलै पाठ पढाउँछ ।
विद्यालयमा पढ्दैदेखि हिँड्न मन पराउने कान्ति वयस्क भइसक्दा पनि हिँड्न उत्तिकै रुचाउँछ । हिँडेरै काठमाडौँका गल्लीगल्ली नाप्दा उसलाई कतिले पागल भन्छन्, कतिले अव्यावहारिक र परिवारले पनि अनौठो ठान्छ । तर, ऊ कसैको पनि वास्ता नगरी आफ्ना पाइला अनवरत अघि बढाइरहन्छ ।
काठमाडौँका हरेक सडक कण्ठै पारिसकेपछि भने ऊ खिन्न हुन्छ किनभने अब चहार्न नयाँ ठाउँ बाँकी रहेन । कान्तिलाई आफ्नो जीवन नै अर्थहीन लाग्न आँट्दा यो राजधानीले अचानक उसलाई एउटा आश्चर्यजनक रहस्यसँग चिनारी गराउँछ । अनि, उसको जीवनमा फेरि रौनक छाउँछ । तर, कथामा त्यो अपत्यारिलो क्षण आइपुग्दा पाठक भने त्यसलाई दोहोर्याइ तेहेर्याइ पढ्न र अर्थ खोज्न बाध्य हुन्छन् ।
प्रणय राणाको भर्खरै प्रकाशित कथासंग्रह सिटी अफ ड्रिम्स (सपनाको सहर)मा यस्ता अद्भुत क्षण बारम्बार आइरहन्छन् । संग्रहको पहिलो कथा ‘सिटी अफ ड्रिम्स’मा उनले कान्तिका माध्यमबाट स्वैरकल्पनाको संसारमा पुर्याएपछि त्यसपछिको कथा ‘द स्मोकर’मा यथार्थको प्रयोग गरेका छन् । मायाको आगमन र प्रस्थान अनि त्यसले प्रमुख पात्रको मनमा सिर्जित भ्रम र प्रश्नले पाठकलाई रनभुल्लमा पार्छन् । अर्को कथा ‘द प्रेजेन्स अफ गड’ ( ईश्वरको उपस्थिति) त अझ रोमाञ्चक छ, दुई प्रमुख पात्र ईश्वरको अस्तित्वका बारे बहस गर्दै यस्तो मोडमा पुग्छन्, जहाँ ती दुवैको आस्था र विश्वासमाथि प्रश्नचिह्न उठ्छ । उनीहरूलाई आत्मसमीक्षा गर्न लगाउने घटनालाई लेखकले अति प्रभावकारी ढंगले प्रस्तुत गरेका छन् ।
मात्र दस कथामा यस्ता प्रयोग गरेर राणाले अंग्रेजीमा कलम चलाउने नेपाली लेखकमाझ छुट्टै चिनारी त बनाएका छन् नै, उनको भाषा प्रयोग, विषयवस्तुको विविधता र आख्यानशिल्पले कुनै पनि विदेशी स्रष्टासँग प्रतिस्पर्धा गर्न सक्छ । त्यस्तै नयाँपन ल्याउने नाममा अनेक वाद र झर्को लाग्दा प्रयोग गरेर लेखनीलाई बोझिल र निरस बनाउन लागि परेका केही स्रष्टालाई पनि राणाको यो कृतिले गतिलै पाठ पढाउँछ । कुनै पनि प्रयोग वा लेखनमा नवीन तत्त्व घुसाउँदा पढ्नुको आनन्दमा रत्तिभर कमी हुनु हुँदैन, राणाले यो राम्रैसँग बुझेका छन् । त्यसैले त उनको लेखनीको नौलोपन सरस र आकर्षक लाग्छ ।
एउटा उदाहरण छ, कथा ‘टु’ (दुई)को । कथाको विषयवस्तु त्यति नौलो होइन तर लेखकले यसमा रमाइलो प्रयोग गरेका छन्, प्रमुख पात्र अनामले भेटेका हरेक गौण पात्रका कथा उनले एक–एक अनुच्छेदमा बताएका छन् । अनि, कथा जुन मोडबाट सुरु भएको हुन्छ, सबै पात्रलाई बेरेर सर्पझैँ फन्को मार्दै फेरि त्यही विन्दुमा पुगेर टुंगिन्छ । संग्रहको अन्तिम कथा ‘द चाइल्ड’ (बच्चा)मा पनि यस्तै प्रयोग छ । साथै, अन्तिम कथामा लेखकले नैतिकता र क्षोभलाई जोडेर मनोवैज्ञानिक प्रश्न उठाएका छन्, जसले वर्तमान समाजको चित्रण मात्र गर्दैन, यसका सदस्यलाई पनि झस्काउँछ । हुन त उनका अरू कथामा पनि प्रेम र यौन, नैतिकता र चरित्र अनि भ्रम र यथार्थका प्रशस्त चर्चा छन् ।
यसै गरी कृतिमा प्रस्ट भेटिने अर्को कुरा हो, राणाको काठमाडौँ मोह । राणाले राजधानीलाई हरेक पाठकको आँखैसामु नचाइदिने प्रतिभा राख्छन् । यहाँको हरेक भवन, चोक, चियापसल, चौतारा र चौबाटोलाई उनी मायाले सुमसुम्याउँछन्, तिनका बनोट र ढाँचालाई कुशल कालिगढले झैँ केवल शब्दका माध्यमबाट दुरुस्तै उतार्छन् । यो सहरमा बस्ने हरेक पात्र पनि उनका घनिष्ठ छन्, ती सबैसँग हाम्रो परिचय गराउँदै लान्छन् । हामीले हरेक दिन देख्ने यी स्थान र भेट्ने मान्छेलाई नै राणाले आफ्ना कथामा कैद गरेका छन् ।
तर, कैद पनि यति शक्तिशाली ढंगले गरेका छन्, बयान गरी साध्य छैन । उनका शब्द पानीझैँ सलल बगिरहन्छन्, पृष्ठभरि मिलेर बस्छन्, वाक्य–वाक्यले आनन्दित तुल्याउँछन् । यो सबै उनको वर्णनात्मक शैलीले सम्भव भएको हो । कथाकारले हरेक पात्र, घटना र स्थितिलाई यस्तो चिर–परिचित परिवेशमा राखिदिन्छन्, हामीलाई लाग्छ– यिनलाई त हामीले पहिल्यै चिनिसक्यौँ, देखिसक्यौँ । र, सायद हामी नै यी पात्र हौँ र यो जीवन भोगिरहन्छौँ । वर्णन गरेर नै पात्रलाई हाम्रै नगीच उभ्याइदिने खुबी उनले बारम्बार प्रदर्शन गरेका छन्, संग्रहमा । कहीँ खसी छिनालेको दृश्यले रौँ ठाडो हुन्छ भने कतै श्रीमान्ले पिटेको महिलाको नीलडाम देखेर । फरक यत्ति हो, धेरै ठाउँमा उनी अत्यन्त परिपक्व रूपले वर्णन गर्छन् भने कहीँ अलि अपरिपक्व र कृत्रिम लाग्छन् ।
राणाका कथाको अर्को विशेषता हो, प्रमुख पात्रहरू सबै नै किशोरावस्थाका चरण पार गर्दै गरेका छन् । र, प्राय:जसो पात्रले कुनै चुनौती बेहोर्नुपर्छ वा अकल्पनीय परिस्थितिको सामना गर्छ । जीवनका यी भोगाइसँग जुझ्दै अघि बढेका पात्रमा यी घटनाकै कारण परिपक्वता पनि उत्पन्न हुन्छ । युवा पात्रमा देखिने यस किसिमको परिवर्तन समेट्ने साहित्यलाई ‘कमिङ अफ एज’वा ‘बिल्डन्स रोमन’ विधाका रूपमा परिभाषित गरिन्छ । राणाका धेरै कथालाई यसै अन्तर्गत राख्दा उपयुक्त हुन्छ र उनले पात्रमा उत्पन्न हुने यस्तो परिवर्तनलाई स्थान दिएर नेपालमा ‘यङ एडल्ट फिक्सन’का लागि ढोका खोलिदिएका छन् । यसका तीन उत्कृष्ट उदाहरण ‘दसैँ’, ‘आवर रुइन’ (हाम्रो बर्बादी) र ‘द रेड कुर्ता’ (रातो कुर्ता) हुन्, जसभित्र किशोर–किशोरी आफ्ना जीवनका खुड्किला पार गर्न संघर्षरत हुन्छन् ।
संग्रहका प्राय: कथाका पात्र त लेखक आफैँ हुन्जस्तो लाग्छ ।
कथाको एउटा परम्परागत ढाँचा खोज्ने पाठकलाई भने यस संग्रहले निराश तुल्याउने छ । दुई–तीनवटाबाहेक कुनै पनि कथा पारम्परिक हिसाबका कथाझैँ छैनन्, जसको आदि, मध्य र अन्त्य होस् । कथामा अलि गम्भीर विषयवस्तु, राजनीतिक धारणा वा दर्शन चाहने पाठकका लागि पनि कृति उपयुक्त छैन, त्यस्ता पाठकलाई यी कथा सतही र यथार्थको धरातलबाट धेरै पर लाग्नेछन् । तर, अंग्रेजी भाषाको यति मीठो र ओजपूर्ण प्रयोग गरेर चकित तुल्याउने कलाको खोज गरिरहेका पाठकका लागि भने यो संग्रह सँगालेर राख्नयोग्य छ ।