Manjushree Thapa’s new novel delves into how a country’s politics has a profound impact on individual citizens
Chandra is all set to leave. She is heading to Ghaziabad in India to follow the footsteps of her elder sister Surya, who serves as a housemaid to rich Indians. The evening before her departure, Chandra, in all her anxiety and despair of having to leave behind her community, family, and her dear friend Sapana, quotes a poet, a national awardee:
What grows in these still villages
but death. To stay is to die.
To leave is to die too.
Mother, save me.
In a country that has suffered outmigration throughout its history, these words would have deep meaning at any time, but stumbling across it in Manjushree Thapa’s All of Us in Our Own Lives, after the 20 June bomb attack in Kabul that killed 13 Nepali guards, made them that much more poignant. It is a tragic reflection of the fates of the millions of Nepalis forced to leave their homeland, and those they leave behind.
Right from her first novel, The Tutor of History, set at election time in Tanahun, to Seasons of Flight, the story of a young woman who moves away from her current life in search of stability, Thapa draws for her readers a chronological picture of happenings in Nepal and how years of turmoil have shaped the lives of Nepalis, both within and outside the country. Her latest books also follow the trajectory of how a country’s politics, governance, and quality of leadership have a profound impact on the lives of individual citizens.
All of Us in Our Own Lives is a book of journeys — physical, emotional, professional and personal. Its fluid narrative courses through the lives of four characters, who at the start of the novel live in different time zones, social structures and spaces. But as we turn the pages, they become increasingly interconnected and are codependently influential by the end.
Ava, a Canadian lawyer, quits her job and moves to her country of origin as an international aid worker to get away from her estranged husband, and in search of familiarity. Indira Sharma, a working woman in a metropolis, is seen struggling to find her footing in largely patriarchal personal and professional spaces. Sapana, an innocent village teen, now an orphan, is witness to unforeseen changes that come with the death of her father, her brief interaction with her brother and her bitter parting with her friend, Chandra. And Gyanu, a chef in Dubai, is an only son.
All of Us in Our Own Lives
By Manjushree Thapa
While all four characters — and their journeys, struggles, conflicts and resolutions — grow on the reader, it is Sapana who draws us in to dwell on the novel well past its final page. Ava comes from a place of privilege, a refuge to turn to when things get rough, Chandra is ‘not unhappy’ in India, Indira finds her niche both personally and professionally, and Gyanu is moving towards stability. With all of them absorbed in their own lives, the only one ‘left behind’ is the youngest of the four, Sapana, whose dreams of making it big are clouded by abandonment, loss, and memories of those who have moved on without her.
All of Us builds on the familiar, with something for each of us to relate to, reflect on and take with us right through the book. It is a novel where each flashback, conversation, and person mentioned in passing, add depth and character, making it in many ways a personal saga for readers.
While themes of struggle, change, emancipation, growth and movement against political backdrops are present in all of her novels, in recent interviews Thapa has denied that the book is overtly political. “It is a philosophical exploration of the Buddhist concept of interdependence and interconnectedness,” she explained to one newspaper recently.
That may be true, but the inherent politics that shape the plotline cannot be ignored. For, as Thomas Mann would say: “Everything is politics.”
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Samrat, Manjushree and English writing in Nepali, Aruna Kandel