Echoes of Existence in Momila’s ‘Prashnaharu ta Baqi nai Rahanchhan…’

Deewakar Subedi

 A stone I died and rose again a plant;
A plant I died and rose an animal;
I died an animal and was born a man.
Why should I fear? What have I lost by death?

The popular poet, Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi, in these lines captures the philosophical and spiritual view that the death is not a loss or end, but a necessary step in the soul’s journey of evolution and enlightenment. In other words, the life is beautiful because of the existence of death. As a student of literature and avid reader, I find ‘Rumi’ in the anthology of lyrical essays, Prashnaharu ta Baqi nai Rahanchhan… written by Nepali poet and essayist, Momila. She has already published half-a dozen of anthologies of poetry however in essay writing, this is her second effort. Like the first one, Ishworko Adalatma Outsiderko Bayan (An Outsider in the Court of God), she leads an existential movement against her own-self.

Momila’s literary journey continues with her distinctive first-person writing technique, which captivates readers by expressing her innermost thoughts and emotions so vividly that one forgets they are merely reading a book. In her latest anthology, divided into “Astitwo Uthsav” and “Sambedanharu,” she beautifully incorporates 23 lyrical essays. Through these sections, with 14 essays in the first and 9 in the second, she establishes a speaker ‘I’ that is not only cognizant and extroverted in literary expression but also intellectual and authentically true to herself.

The anthology opens with “Merai Chhayako Bidroha ra Aswikrit Grahan,” where Momila delves into why her own shadow seems to rebel against her. Through the use of symbols and imagery, a hallmark of her essays, she uses the ‘shadow’ to represent life’s challenges. Momila articulates a philosophy where the pain of life is what makes it precious and meaningful, aspiring to “compose a harmonious melody of compassion” by confronting sorrow rather than evading it. Known for her poetic expertise, her essays abound with imagery, metaphors, and semiotics. In “Sambhavit Putaliko Vartaman,” for instance, she casts herself as a female protagonist filled with optimism for her future despite current adversities, embodying the transformation from a caterpillar with the keenness of becoming a butterfly soon.

Dominated by the sense of existentialism, conversing with Laxmi Prasad Devkota in an evening she asks what attracts him so that he is consuming slow poison, a cigarette. She advocates this world is beautiful, colorful even though problems exist, sufferings exist. Emphasizing resilience and tenacity, she admires “a flower that blooms midst of thorns,” celebrating the beauty of those who confront challenges to affirm their existence.

In the search of existence, the writer cherishes the misapprehension death of her own. In her essay “Mrityu Saundarya”, she explains that long ago she migrated to the town in order to fulfil her dreams. However, the shattered dreams are making her life ugly. Even at this stage, she has no any objection with the turmoil she faced in her life because without them, she has no existence at all. Instead of wandering into the materialistic world being unsatisfied, she accepts the ultimate reality of life – the death. With this realization and acceptance of death, she feels elated and claims that death exists so the colorful life exists. To her, “death takes away not a body but only the consciousness”. She insists lack of sense or consciousness is what makes a person feels no pain of death, thus, death is beautiful. Reflecting on an earthquake and its aftermath, she critiques leaders’ failures but still finds beauty in life’s chaos, much like a beautiful sunset. This is where she connects with Socrates’ ideas. Socrates views death as the emancipation of the soul, and as such, it should be approached with calm, as long as we know we have lived our lives to the fullest. The Socratic viewpoint on death is a lovely way of approaching the end of our lives, and it serves not only to alleviate our dread of death, but also to motivate us to spend our lives as virtuous, just and moral beings.

The author embraces a life full of contrasts, from joy to sorrow and light to darkness, seeing value in the full spectrum of human experience. She believes that life’s meaning comes from navigating its highs and lows, embodying a philosophy where struggle is not just inevitable but valuable, shaping our identity. Rejecting the pursuit of perfection, she finds beauty in being “zero,” a state where all is encompassed and nothing is excluded. Her viewpoint resonates with the Wabi-Sabi philosophy, which celebrates the beauty in imperfection and the natural cycle of growth and decay. This perspective invites readers to appreciate the imperfect and transient nature of life, finding joy and beauty in the imperfections that define our existence.

In this anthology, the author powerfully portrays her character ‘I’ as a courageous and admirable hero. She vividly describes the harsh truth of a society that diminishes women under various situations calling different names. Behind the tears of Nepali women lie the painful stories of being undervalued. She observes how society idolizes traditions yet paradoxically feels threatened by educated women. Highlighting the societal norms where women are seen as objects to satisfy desires but not honored for their intellect, she voices her deep dissatisfaction with this discriminatory treatment. To challenge the mainstream social group, she is going “to be a warrior of undeclared war”, the war against the dogmatic beliefs of the rooted patriarchy.

The author embraces her identity as a woman, challenging traditional and oppressive beliefs with optimism. She believes that “Being hopeful is halfway to life, being sad is halfway to death,” suggesting that hope plays a crucial role in overcoming adversities. She draws parallels between her experiences and those of iconic figures such as ‘Majnu’, ‘Sita’, and ‘Muna’, whose stories of struggle are captivating because they fought against their fates. In her essay, “Priya Patraharu Astitwo Uthsavma”, she celebrates strong feminist icons like “Nora” from Henrik Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House’, “Anuradha” from Bijay Malla’s novel of same name, and the ‘unnamed outsider’ from her own first collection of essays, “An Outsider in the Court of God”. Through these references, she exposes how our patriarchal system visualizes daughters as ‘outsiders’ and presents them as if they are ‘culprits’.

The essays carry the vast philosophies of life and death. The crisis of humanity, the growing desire for materialistic things, patriotism and nationalism, search of one’s true self etc. are the common issues advocated in essays in poetic style. The writer reflects on patriotism and nationalism, alongside the complexities of political shifts and dominations within the nation. As an eyewitness to many deaths and several political movements, she expresses her political conscience in the line, “One can kill a person but not his/her thoughts.”

Even though skillfully crafted lines with deep philosophical ideas, the essays might not be easily accessible to the everyday reader. The frequent use of English terminologies gives the impression that the author adopts a contemporary mode of inter-linguistic exchange of words. Moreover, this collection of essays demands readers who are not only intellectually sound but also have a robust understanding of language, literature, and philosophy. With their lyrical tone, heavy use of metaphors, semiotics, and profound imagination, the essays resemble philosophical poems in free verse. However, for readers who appreciate life’s imperfections, this anthology unfolds as ‘a surprise of mystery,’ leaving them with lasting questions long after they’ve turned the last page.

To sum up, the anthology Prashnaharu ta Baqi nai Rahanchhan… by Momila is a thorough investigation of life, death, and existence that is skillfully interwoven with themes of philosophical and introspective contemplation. In addition to exploring the depths of human experience and encapsulating the essence of struggle, resiliency, and the beauty found in imperfection in her pieces, Momila also takes aim at patriarchal frameworks and society conventions that often stifle the soul. Momila’s work invites us into a place where fear of death fades and is replaced with an appreciation for the cyclical nature of life and the transformative power of embracing one’s true self in the face of adversity. Her literary journey redefines the meaning of life and the craft of storytelling, leaving a lasting impression on the reader. It is characterized by an unwavering hope and a celebration of the imperfect but beautiful fabric of life.

Prashnaharu ta Baqi nai Rahanchhan…
|(An Anthology of Lyrical Essays)
Author: Momila
Publisher: PageTurner Pvt. Ltd, Baghbazar
Cover Design: Times Creation
Pages: 153
Price: Rs. 450 / $15