Nepali Times Asian Paints
‘No greater literature than reality'


Many years ago, someone who knows much about modern Nepali literature-and views much of it in a critical light-told me, rather crossly, not to bother with too many writers, to just go straight to Indra Bahadur Rai's work and to translate that if I had the capacity to. When I finally read Rai's Aaja Ramita Chha (There's a Commotion Today) some time ago, I found that my cross and critical adviser was right: if I had the time and linguistic dexterity, I would take on this novel to translate.

Aaja Ramita Chha is, without a doubt, one of the most evocative and lively novels I have read in any language, sketching the larger social life of Darjeeling town, and the individual lives of myriad characters with a deftness and lightness of touch that is both breathtaking and heartrending. The hodge-podge of Darjeeling Nepali, English, Hindi and Bengali languages textures the novel with vibrant, everyday inflections. The attention that Rai pays to his characters' smallest gestures and mannerisms invests them with a rare humanity and individuality. This is the kind of novel to read and re-read, savouring all its stray wisdoms and passing insights. The author's introduction to the novel contains much to think about for younger writers such as myself, and it is this that I present below:

To write a novel one needs some paper and a pen, and one needs some knowledge of life. Knowledge of life consists of three parts experience to one part imagination. Our view of life and the land is formed as age and experience lead us to recognise life. That's the view which makes one write a novel. If a single story about equal characters is written with five separate views, these are in the truest sense five separate novels; but if written with a single view, hundred and hundreds of volumes remain but the divergences of a single novel. Others won't feel the way I feel about life based on my experience. Thus not everyone has the same view of novel writing. Through experiences and reflection on them-which is, in short, attentiveness-each writer has to slowly, slowly discover this view for himself, and bring it to the fore. Any literary effort without reflection is only a fanciful pretense, a sham.

I saw that life was moving ahead, but not in an orderly way, exactly as it should. In a similar way I've disarrayed this novel. I didn't see life as a singular concern or the chemical purity of one topic and unhindered progress. Love is the mother of all emotions, one that if handled makes all our emotions and feelings writhe to life. But even those who run behind it undertake other tasks in between which are just as vital in understanding life. If this is how things are in life they shouldn't be otherwise in literature. It is said that there shouldn't be any unnecessary character in a novel, but there are such characters in this novel even though they have no purpose in the story because there aren't only wanted people in the world that I see. If after having lived together throughout life someone doesn't affect us at all, that too is a story, an appealing story of a non-event. Literature reproduces life and the land, but such is the philosophy written in refined volumes on reproduction. There is a rage against that philosophy in this novel. There can be no stillness or lack of refinement in the unaltered reproduction of life and the land. There is no greater literature than reality. Between drowning in the world's best oeuvre for three hours and simply spending three hours living, the latter contains far more literature. There is no greater literature than existence. There is a novel on love, it has a story of 'no love'. Just as the future remains unknown the strands of the story remain just as they are.

It took me many months to discover my main characters-Janak, Bhudev, MK, Ravi, etcetera. When I created Janak I took down the details of the good and bad qualities of many people of my acquaintance. I had to melt together three people when I made MK. I met 'Khag Prasad' in the winter of '54 at a Chainpur tailor's shop in Damak bazaar, on the far side of Jhapa district. He had come to have his bag sewn as he was returning to Dhankuta that day, I had come to have a shirt sewn after having lost all my clothes along the way. Both of us were in a rush but the tailor was toothless, his machine was old, so anytime he sped up the machine its needle would run off without stitching a thing. We were forced to wait there all day, chatting. A writer must know more about his characters than what he writes, and only then can he make the character believable in a few words. Another thing, it's only possible to write a story about someone that one likes.

Indra Bahadur Rai

(Note: I have translated the enigmatic shorthand term "" used by Rai as 'details:' if anyone familiar with colloquial Darjeeling Nepali can inform me otherwise, I am ready to stand corrected).

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)