Friday, May 4, 2012

Book 96, Nepal: "Mountains Painted with Turmeric" by Lil Bahadur Chettri

Not much to say about this book, really. It's an iconic text of modern Nepali literature, mostly by virtue of having been written at a point where there was very little else in print - it actually got put on the lit curriculum of Tribhuvan University within a year of having been written!

Other interesting facts: its author was not in fact Nepali, but a son of Nepali immigrants into Assam - he'd just interviewed loads of hillside villagers when they came to his environs to trade. Also, this translation (with its rather silly title, drawn from a stray line of purple prose in the novella) was probably spurred on by the fact that the book was recently made into a rather successful movie, under its original title Basain. (The word means migration, referring to the fact that the protagonists all get the hell out of the village at the end of the story.)

 Other than that? It's hard to get excited about the book. It's got lush descriptions of village life, but it centres on characters who through little fault of their own end up screwed financially (in the case of the young impoverished farmer Dhané, who is forced off his land by bankruptcy and the landlord's buffalo destroying his crops) and literally (in the case of the virtuous young maiden Jhuma, seduced by a soldier then abandoned). Classic Marxist-influenced third world examination of how the rural economy is fundamentally unjust - shades of Ngugi's The River Between and Minfong Ho's Sing to the Dawn.

 Good translation, though. Lots of local feel, due to the fact that plenty of Nepali terms (e.g. specialised months of the year) have been left in - unobtrusive glossary at the end.

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Representative quote: "The Creator? Is it the Creator who writes our fate?" Today for some reason his small brain was pursuing arguments that were full of hidden revolutionary facts. "Why would fate be so biased? The laborers who wear out their bones in sweat cry out for flour, while those who gather up their bones to suck have other pleasures. Is this what fate really is? No, the Creator is not so unjust! Fate is made by human arrangement. Fate depends on the good order of society, on cooperation in society, on the chances and facilities you can get in society." Today, if he had had even the smallest opportunity, if his society had cared to understand his plight, would his labors not have borne fruit? If society had not been so ready to mock Jhuma's small misdemeanor, would she have left the house today in such desperation? Was the fault hers alone? Was it not the fault of the soldier, who had taken advantage of an innocent girl to gratify his desires? But it is the helpless girl and her family who are punished by society. This was the sum of Dhané's argument with his conscience. Today his heart was rebelling.

  Next book: Rabindranath Tagore's Selected Short Stories, from Bangladesh.

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