An Outsider Celebrating the Absurd

Mahesh Paudyal

 ‘Nothing is funnier than unhappiness,’ says Samuel Becket’s character Nell in his world famous play Endgame. She adds a little later, ‘Yes, yes, it is the most comical thing in the world.’

‘Fun’ and ‘humour’ go with celebrations. Can unhappiness be celebrated? ‘Yes’ say the absurdists. Momila joins them and asserts an exceptionally powerful ‘yes’ with her all might. Celebrating unhappiness – a funny, absurd but a matter-of-fact idea!

Momila’s Ishwarko Adalatma Outsiderko Bayan, also published in English as An Outsider in the Court of God under Kumar Nagarkoti’s translation, stuns. It forces you to stop, think twice before you take breath, and decide whether you are really ready to move on. Many move, and few make meanings. The few who share her world ache with her, and share the adage ‘Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.’

Trying to accord meaning to unhappiness, and conferring worth to pain, the anthology collects sixteen essays! They all appear like a clear sunshine after a torrential, heavy rain that sweeps away all hopes of life. Such sunshine both aches and relieves. It aches, because it springs from an apocalyptic past beset by destructions and demolition. It relieves because it announces that a doom is over, and a hope is dawning.

These essays resemble a carmagnole, wherein dancers inebriated to their limits dance in the extremities of madness. They are like seasonal fiestas, where everything under the sky and upon the earth is ‘valid’ and ‘decent’. The binaries of possible and impossible, viable and unviable, logical and illogical vanish, and collapse into one. This ‘one’, that harbours all paradoxes of existence, forms the centre of Momila’s writing.

Her anthology shows two forces. First, there is an outright rejection of the world order informed by conservatism and normativity. Second, she invents her own world – away from the world order where all the opposites, impossibilities, and paradoxes conglomerate and form a different world, immune to the values of the existing real world. This review hereafter shall focus on discussing these two forces.

The very denomination ‘Outsider’ in the title of the anthology alludes to Albert Camus’s character Outsider. Inside, there is an essay with the same head. The factor that propels Momila to declare herself an outsider is an existential angst that finds itself in odd with normativities. The persona pines for death, finding life full of ‘capital associations and belongings’.  There is an ardent desire to accept the ‘beauty of death’. This, in effect, is nothing but rejection of the world order.

History is full of people who have been prosecuted for allegedly defiling the existing order and inventing ideas that have propelled the world ahead. All these people have initially been ostracized for professing heresy. If not ostracized, they have, out of their own will, committed some crime. Buddha left home and family, Devkota professed sheer lunacy (as he himself affirms in his poem ‘The Lunatic’) and Marx toppled the edifice of ideology erected by the ruling elites, much to the detriment of the ruling bourgeoisie world-wide. Momila places herself next in the same line, and faces divine trial as a culprit. God, dazzled at the peculiarity of the case, defers the hearing till 2055. Absurd!

The entire anthology is obsessed with assertion of the self, under a variety of title. Everywhere, the persona expresses pent-up frustration, and decisions to shun the world and retire into a fantastic space immune to the reach of worldly ways. Hers is not William Congreve’s space. She is a descendent of Sisyphus, and a close relative of Camus and Becket. In them she finds the surest stay, where nothing needs explanation, and the burden of connotation and semantic dissolve into a void. This vacuity, wherein both being and nothing collide, forms her identity. She is an empty space, a void infinity, and hence the creation itself. This emptiness resonates like the divine ‘sunya’, phonetically represented by ‘Om’ – the cosmic sound of infinite magnitude and unfathomable outreach. Judged this way, her retirement into vacuity is not Nietzschean, and hence, she is not an advocate of pure nihilism. She places gods alongside, and expresses her comradeship with them. She brings them down to earth, and places them face-to-face with the realities of the world however ugly it might be. Gods have no acquittal in her court; they need to answer for their absurd plans in keeping the world going.

‘Romantic Madness of Nature and Art’ brings nature within the fold of human sensibilities. Amply soaked by pathetic fallacy, the essay pulls authors and artists into the fold of nature wherein Momila announces her love. She is aware that her love for them can have no real point, but her romantic madness finds its fruition in expression. In fact, she is very near to Russian social realist Anton Chekhov, who sees expression as the ultimate point in true love in his story ‘About Love’.

‘You and I towards a Divine Odyssey’ imagines a trip beyond the limits of the world. In this epochal trip beyond space-time continuum, death has been muses as the surest companion. The author is starkly aware anything mortal – like man in flesh and blood – cannot partake is such a celestial journey. This journey into an unknown world beyond the fold of cosmic frontiers is in fact an absurd musing. The essayist confesses, “Man is a noble silence who creates a cosmic space only to sketch it with the colours of different seasons, and not to get startled seeing another silence after death.”

‘An Outsider Text in an Archaeological City’ is an essay with a defective title. The essay alludes to Greece, and Greece in the first place is not a ‘city’. It is a country. Secondly, a city cannot be archaeological. It can be ancient, or antique. Some artefacts of its history – remnants of an old building, some statues and the like – can be archaeological. There is an extensive discussion of taking refuge, but in every discussion blunders have been committed in placing prepositions. Alluding heavily to myth, particularly to mythological characters like Prometheus, Aswatthama, Ahalya, Sisyphus, to writers of the later era like Nietzsche, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Hemingway, Van Gogh and Bhairav Aryal, the author creates an imaginary space in an ancient city inside Greece, wherein these artists and authors interact and think to invent a newer world order.

The anthology, more or less, is woven in similar nerve. ‘Beyond Existence’ and ‘An Outsider in the Court of God’ form the crux of the whole movement the author seems to be launching. ‘Beyond Existence’ reminds one of the French author Maurice Blanchot, who argues that works of art and writing immediately detach themselves from the author as soon as they are created. The influence of Blanchot seems direct, and often, readers might not consider it as just another example of  what Harold Bloom says ‘anxiety of influence’ To see the stark and of course shocking similarity, let us see these lines from Momila: “Even my poems are not mine alone. I don’t have any authority over them. My thirsts are unquenched until those poems are recited to the feelers and listeners.”

By and large, the anthology is heavily informed by pain – deeply housed inside the author’s heart. Pain has baked the author’s sentimentalities to such an extent that she exercises a demeanour quite close to madness. Nothing seems to convince her, and there are few things she can anchor her faith into. She does not declare death of God, but drags him down to earth as another hapless entity, and forces him to answer worldly question. Her only world is internal. It is her conscience, and he has no other voice to hear. She has solutions for all worldly oddities inside herself – her conscience!