Growing up as a teenager inclined to reading and writing, the image of Lain Singh Bangdel that I perceived was that of an accomplished writer. Perhaps that was because of reading his novels like Langada ko Sathi (Friend of a Lame), Maitighar ( Maternal House), and Muluk Bahira (Outside the country), and not knowing much about other facets of his personality. But after many years, having met him personally and visited his house to see his paintings, my original impression of Lain Singh Bangdel disappeared from my mind. The portrait that I made of him in my mind was different from what he was. So I made a new image of him in mind: Lain Singh Bangdel, the man of art, culture and literature.
Published almost one year ago posthumously, Muluk Bahira Ma (When outside the Country), a compilation of dairies and letters that was exchanged between Mr. Bangdel and his wife and other contemporary writers is a new experiment in the literary arena of Nepalese literature. This book is not only his personal diary but a testimony of Mr. Bangdel’s struggle in Europe, his quest for identity, and his search for love and existence. Written in simple and lucid way, this book takes us back to Europe in the fifties; the Europe that just came out of Second World War, politically polarized and socially unequal. Born and brought up in Darjeeling, studied under the stalwarts of Nepali language and literature like Surya Bikram Gywali, Dharnidhar Koirala and Parasmani Pradhan, Lain Singh Bangdel, from the very beginning, was attracted to literature and painting. His thirst for excellence took him to Calcutta to pursue higher studies in art and painting, and later to London and Paris. Unlike today’s world narrowed by jet, his voyage was tedious and mundane. Starting from February 13, 1952, it took him almost 40 days to reach London from Calcutta. And, he wrote about all the places he saw or came across, and the people he interacted with during his voyage in the ship. He spent almost 10 years in Europe, studying fine art in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, mingling with the likes of Pablo Picasso and George Braque and made a name for himself as an artist with his distinctive, non-traditional Nepalese style. His penchant for writing on the life of a great painter could be seen in his biographical novel ‘Rembrandt’ which tells the life story of a famous Dutch painter Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. It resembles ‘The Moon and Sixpence’, a novel by William Somerset Maugham loosely based on the life of the painter Paul Gauguin.
One of the most interesting things in this book is the exchange of letters between Lain Singh Bangdel and his lover Manu who later became his wife. Various adjectives that he used for Manu while addressing her in the letter coupled with his sermon on the challenges in the life appears to be romantic and realistic. The letters and diary that Mr. Bangdel kept were full of longing and yearning, telling us their family background and their common interest. Living in same city- London, they were destined to live apart: Manu was pursing nursing course, and Lainsingh was struggling to create identity in art circle with financial constraints. Muluk Bahira Ma is a kaleidoscope that brings the sweet memories of Europe closer to us like a movie. It tells us a story about young Bangdel who worked hard to achieve something in his life despite having to endure London’s extreme cold weather without fire and enough food to eat. During his continuous ten-year stay in Europe, he exchanged letters with his mentors Dharnidhar Koirala and Surya Bikram Gyawali, and famous writers like Guru Prasad Mainali, Balkrishna Sama, Kamalmani Dixit, and these letters reveal so many things that are related to Nepali literature and his personal life crippled by lack of money to sustain his life in Europe. But he never gave up his dream. In London and Paris, he got to meet many Nepali dignitaries including Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala. In a letter addressed to Mr. Bangdel, Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala, Former Prime Minister of Nepal and an eminent writer writes, “It has been a pleasure to know you and your charming wife in London. My visit to the Tate Gallery in your company was extremely educative. I missed you in Paris, where the magnificence of the Louvre left me stunned………….. I think of you a great deal to organize our aesthetic movement after your return from Europe. We have some good artists in Nepal, but they are too parochial and deprived of the life-giving contact with the movement in arts and literature in the West.” It clearly indicates the role that Mr. Bangdel played in ushering in modern art in Nepal.
The writing of Lain Singh Bangdel in this book is like his painting: full of colours, and descriptions. But unlike his abstract paintings, the book is easier to fathom. Edited by Dina Bangdel and Devendra Bhattarai, Muluk Bahira Ma(When outside the Country) presents the most difficult and productive part of Bangdel’s life. The book helps me to understand the Bangdel that I knew during my college days, and the one I met later in a comprehensive way. To understand Bangdel and contemporary Europe through his writing, this is the book that you should not ignore.
Book: Muluk Bahira Ma by Lain Singh Bangdel
Edited by by Dina Bangdel and Devendra Bhattara
Publisher: Ratna Pustak Bhandar
Price: Rs. 695