By Roshan Thapa ‘Neerav’
At the moment, I am inside a pub on New Road. It has become a routine task for me to be here in the evening and stay there for a few hours. I leave my office and walk straight into the pub and sit for a few hours. If some ideas occur, I jolt them down. Else, I stay contemplating and brainstorm to strike on an issue to write about. Foods are always at my disposal. Accordingly, I am here at this hour to write a story, or say, to find a plot to write about. I received a call from Abhivyakti just yesterday; it said it wants to publish a story of mine, for it has been long since it published my story last. I have consented. But what could I write about? After three decades of writing stories, I now have no urge to write much, not only stories but any genre for that matter. I know not whether it’s a sort of melancholia, but I confess, I have incurred such weakness of late.
When I browse through the stories appearing in the market, or say the Saturday literary supplements of the periodicals, I notice that they are in Nepali script though the language has a lot of foreign inflection. At such a moment, I feel that it is graceful to have such a subject and linguistic competence. In the stories of such petty storywriters published with such ease, how naturally the greatest storywriters of the world come and settle down, and the write-up becomes a ‘story’.
Those who praise and accept have said such should be a story that develops ‘die-hard fans’. It requires no content. Think of a catchy title, lift some romantic incident or an estimation of any contemporary issue, and foist it. A story emerges. Or else, handle a free articulation of a woman-centric issue, crafted in a slightly erotic style. No other story shall be a better way to create a whim in the market.
Respected editor, this is not an idea that occurred to my mind. This is what the character of my story said to me just now. He has just entered this pub, and is sitting in front of my table. He does so to make my story writing more significant. It’s true that I don’t myself know where I am in the crowd of such stories. I stare at the character seated in front of me. He seems quite unruly. He says he intensely enjoys becoming a character in someone else’s story. I wonder how he discovered what I was thinking about. In this state of mind, I approach him.
“When did you come?”
“That moment when you were thinking of a story.”
“I have to write a story at all cost today.”
“What sort of a story will you write?”
“I am thinking. Trying to find an issue.”
He shows a red box whose cover reads: “Smoking is injurious to health.” From it, he takes out a cigarette and lights it to send forth a puff of ‘injurious’ smoke. And looks around.
“You, a witless story writer! Is such a place proper for writing a story?”
“Where should go then?”
“All you get here is a salad bowl of drinks, nymphets, cash and politics.”
“That too can make a good story.”
“If the occurrence of this issue is evaluated from the past to the present, nothing but repetition is seen.”
The character speaks in a natural tone. I agree that the story has taken newer structures. Stories earlier took up issues like the pristine sun, maidens clearing off their menstruation and basking in the sun, some boys chopping firewood, the Village Chief staring at the chest of Kanchhi next-door, fifth son in the neighboring family squeezing himself indoors on account of being of third gender, Gharahu Mahato still short of satisfaction in spite of having four wives, the river near the village flowing gustily on its own accord, landlord Rana Janga on a horseback chasing a sixteen-year-old maiden during her showers, Pundit Harhananda coming home with his gifts after finishing a shraddha, etc. I have read several stories with such characterizations.
And such are the stories that are canonized in Nepali literature as ‘timeless’, ‘modern’, or ‘progressive’ and for all these reasons, my own story writing has started appearing trivial for me. My character has just uttered the right thing. The issues that can feature in the upcoming stories are…coming safely out of world stories, characters addressing story writers like Sylvia Plath, Anton Chekhov, Sartre, and Camus to Haruki Murakami of our own days to the latest generation of Nepali storywriter, a woman-centric story involving a detailed description of a man’s phallus, the gluttonous members passionately speaking in the Constituent Assembly, the sudden disappearance of cooking gas cylinders from the country following the rumor of fall in price, the anecdote of celebrating one’s beloved’s birthday by borrowing cash for herself, a home-bound story-writer moving towards a cremation ground and becoming a recluse instead, memory of a night-out with a woman writer in Nagarkot flashing in the memory of a man preparing for sex with his wife…and many of such insignificant issues appearing en-masse from publishing houses. In such a situation, where should I stand and write my story? I ask myself again and again.
“This is the situation I am in. Yet, I cannot take up aeriform experimentation.”
“That sounds crazy, mister story-writer! That is your personal view?”
“Can’t a view constitute a story?”
“It can if it comes together with a story.”
“If so, you become a character first, and talk about the very essence of being a character.”
The character laughs. It seems I am mentioning for him a jocular subject. The pub is not short of visitors. It’s ringing with noises of various kinds. I stare at my character with interest. He draws in a deep puff of smoke from his cigarette and then turns towards me.
“Listen to me, my respected story writer! I am a man beset by a lot of debt.”
“What sort of debt?”
“The debt I loaned to build my house, to afford my children’s schooling.”
“Oh, you happened to loan it for a responsible cause.”
He thrusts the burning cigarette into the ash-tray and douses it, and sends the residual smoke from his mouth towards the ceiling. Turning towards a pair of maidens seated on a corner table and eating momo, he sings and old number by Narayan Gopal: ‘Mero behosi aaja, mero laagi parade bho…’ meaning — my inebriation has become a screen to me, today. Silently, I observe all these acts. The maidens, dressed in tight jeans, appear very seductive. As long as they are eating momos, nothing appears remarkable, but when they order two bottles of beer and start drinking, a few male eyes turn towards them. It appears that the maidens are quite nonchalant about this. They are busy in their own task: eating. Time has assumed many formidable changes. Freedom is for everyone, not just for men-folk. The same applies to thirst.
I turn towards my character. He follows suit and smiles.
“How should we react to this, my dear character?”
“See, my dear story-writer, freedom of the day has heralded the launch of a different age. In stories coming up hence, looking for an ideal character is as hilarious as explaining sin and virtue to women, who are ready to sell their bodies in Khulamanch.”
“You had been talking about your loans.”
“Yes, my debt! But what can I do? If I go home, the grumbling of my wife and children bothers me. Out of home, I am bored by the atmosphere. Unable to decide what to do, I come here every day, and satiate myself with a sip, soaking my throat.”
“Don’t they complain at home?”
He has hardly opened his mouth to answer me, when the cell phone in his pocket rings. He fishes it out and twitches his forehead. It is a call from his home. He picks it up and utters in a hoarse voice: “Hello!” His talk sounds normal, maybe because he takes it for an ordinary call that keeps coming casually.
“Where?” says his wife from the other side.
“Isn’t it time you were home yet? Why are you loitering for no reason?” says his wife with a tinge of indignation.
“I’m coming. I will reach after an hour,” he says in a sullen voice, fearing lest anyone should hear him.
A bargirl serves him a glass of rum. With the cell still attached to his ear, he signals something to the bargirl. The girl opens the lid and decants rum in two glasses.
“Or, are you in any pub? Be warned; you cannot come home drunk tonight.”
“OK; I shall reach home shortly.”
“Make it quick.”
“You ask why? We have run out of gas. Need to go and bring a new cylinder.”
What do say now? My character is pissed off, beyond the limit of characterness. His eyelids get heavy with indignation.
“Why don’t you ring the gas retailer? He will deliver it.”
“I did. But he says calling won’t do.”
“What does he say then?”
“Says, we need to queue it up, and get our name noted.”
“Motherfu… Didn’t you remind how much we have helped him?”
The line snaps. He then switches his phone off to avoid further calls, and turns towards me. I stare at him. What sort of a character is he? Looks quite domestic, and simultaneously quite willful. He also appears committed to the nation, though he is seemingly quite unruly. He is quite loveable as well. Thank God, in all these manifestations, he doesn’t look like a rapist.
“What’s wrong, dear character?” I ask, adding hot water into the glasses.
“Look, I had a call from home. They have run out of cooking gas. They never understand where a man is, in what sort of situation. Should I run to shoulder a gas cylinder right now?” He shares with me his domestic worry.
“One shouldn’t run away from responsibility.” I say with a smile.
“Oh no, my friend! We can’t carry a gas cylinder.” I can see that he is beset by the obligation to lift a ferry cylinder.
“Why? We should ferry it, if there is a need.” I speak.
He pops a momo dumpling into his mouth with a fork and utters, ‘ha, ha.’ The momo was quite hot; he swallows it with great difficulty. He almost pukes obscenity to the bargirl.
“You, bi…why did you bring such hot dumplings?”
“Drink water first,” I say.
“I cannot lift such gas cylinders.”
“Man, the characterness in you appears weak.”
Inquisitively, he turns his love-filled eyes towards me. After swallowing a chewed dumpling, I take a sip of rum and turn to him to answer his question.
“What a man you are! You can lift a woman forty to 40 to 45 kilo of weight. Why, then, shouldn’t you be able to lift a 15 kg cylinder?”
“What a dumb author you are! When you lift a maiden, her tender body lends you pleasure. What does lifting a hard and cold cylinder give you?”
“That is a duty, you know.”
“If so, isn’t lifting a girl our duty as well?”
“What should I say…?”
A line of silence lurks between our conversations. We start munching at our snacks in silence. I run my eyes around all sides of the restaurant, hunting for a plot. He also gazes all around, seemingly willing to hunt for a girl. In the meantime, a man sitting in one of the corners stands up. He has a cigarette in his mouth. He comes sauntering towards us, and stands still. We stare at him with inquisitive eyes. Seeing his cigarette, my character enflames his lighter and moves it towards the man’s house, but the man refuges to light his cigarette. Instead, he presses closer to us and starts talking in a mysterious way.
“Friends, do you know…?”
“The new constitution is in the making.”
“Oh, is that so?”
That man stands, sauntering, staring at us with inebriated eyes. We feel, he is here to light his cigarette, but then, he is engaged in some other discussion.
“What’s your opinion on this?”
“Mine? I have no opinion. The gluttons get easy allowances. They show off, and will say, the duration of the Assembly is four years, and they have the luxury to write the constitution anytime during this period. ‘We must first settle the shares of our profit.’ they say.”
“Well said! We can hardly digest liquor, but those louts never satiate themselves even after digesting cash worth billions of rupees.”
“That’s it, my friend. What worth is living in such a country?”
“Where should we go, then?”
In reply, he first lights his cigarette, draws in a long puff and sends out the smoke with a ‘ha!’ Then, looking at the cover of cigarettes, he says, “The situation here is like that of this cigarette cover.”
“Means, it is injurious, but you can’t escape it.”
“You were talking about leaving the country.”
“No, I was not.”
After drinking our rum dry, we are now focused on him. Our conservation has run into disorder, like a pseudo-fiction of an amateur author. Drinking, however, has become even more streamlined.
“Who else is going, then?”
“My sons and daughters. They have become US green-card holders. They say, they won’t return to Nepal anymore. Let them hold back; what will they do by coming? Moreover, nothing happens in a country whose politics has deteriorated.”
“Brother, when will this country progress, if everyone says the same?”
“I can’t tell about progress, but I am sure, it is fast decaying. Why worry?”
“You are right.”
The man is still in standing position. It seems he enjoys that position, swaying left and right, rather than partaking in the conversation. From standing position, he suddenly falters as if he is falling. My character holds him and helps him balance himself.
“What’s wrong with you, brother?”
“Nothing has happened with me.”
“You nearly fell off. Are you hurt anywhere?”
“No. Do you know one thing?”
“The girls at this restaurant, this pub, get ready to sleep with any man for the sake of their bellies.”
“Is that so? How did you know that?”
“See there! A leader of our country is negotiating about sleeping upstairs, all inebriated.”
“There, at the corner.”
We turn our eyes towards the corner he indicates. Incidentally, we see a politician flirting with a bargirl, stroking her cheeks now, and inserting his hands towards her thighs in an objectionable fashion. Feeling awkward, the girl is trying to stay apart. My character is suddenly besieged by indignation. He stands up with a start and moves towards the politician and holds him by his neck.
“Mister politician! What is that you are doing?”
“This is none of your business. Do you know who I am?”
“You? You are a politician sucking the nation’s sap, and drinking the alehouse dry. People like you have pushed the country into a state of stalemate, a spell of indecision. The citizens are forced to live in trepidation. Like locusts that destroy our paddy, you are a disgrace, who cannot deliver a constitution.”
“Will you shut your mouth? Wait until I call the boys of my sister organization. Stay here until then.”
“Go; bring them! What can you do? Do not imagine me a citizen ever ready to stay oppressed.”
The politician charges out of the room, blind with fury. My character returns to our table, puking all his anger. I stare at him.
“What’s wrong with you, my dear character? Why are you so pissed off?”
“Look; their hegemony rules everywhere. How long should we bear? Our tolerance should have a limit. Do they have the freedom to do anything they want?”
“He is not the only one to be blamed. There are many architects of failure like him.”
“You are right. But we run across such representatives of the loss, loitering in public houses like this, acting wilfully all the time.”
“But then, with how many of them will you fight? Do you think it is possible?”
The character fishes out a cigarette from a box that shows the picture of a man with a dark heart all beset by cancer. Brushing aside the statutory warning: ‘Smoking is injurious to health’, he lights the cigarette and turns towards me, breathing out a cloud of smoke.
“I shall combat as many as I can.”
“Is that your patriotism?”
“You may term it whatever you like, but I shall do what my heart dictates, as I have always done.”
“Come; let’s go home now.”
We move to the cash counter. I feel my pocket to find my wallet. By the time I am ready to tender cash, he has made the payment. We then move out of the commotion in the pub. Outside, the evening has turned ravishingly cool. I stand blank, unable to decide which way to take. He lights yet another cigarette. We walk a few yards without uttering a word. At one point on the road, there sits an old beggar with her hands stretched forward, shivering in cold, and begging from the pedestrians with her pathetic eyes. On seeing her, my character stops suddenly. There is a cake-shop nearby; he goes there, buys some cakes and cookies. I am walking behind him, observing all his acts like a mesmerized man. He walks near to the old woman and stops. A wave of joy emanates from the beggar’s eyes.
“Did you come, my child? I know you come here every day.”
“Yes, I did. Where else would I go?”
“Let God always be with you.”
“I have no faith in God, mother.”
“Have faith in him. Hadn’t I believed in him, would you come and feed me this way?”
He walks away without answering. I, following him silently hitherto, continue do to so, observing his latest acts with equal interest.
“I couldn’t understand one thing.”
“Not manners; say, it is my duty.”
“Do you really know the old woman?”
Pulling in a puff of smoke, he flings the cigarette into the gutter and turns toward me. I stay staring at him with curiosity.
“No, I don’t know her. I came to know of her while keeping this path. In fact, the old woman has sons, who are quite affluent. She also has daughters-in-law. They are educated too, but this old woman has nothing with her save the memory of her deceased husband. While the sons were away, the daughters-in-law forced her out of home, in a ritualistic manner, on vanaprastha.
Since then, she has been sitting on the roadside in the same fashion. She keeps herself going with whatever he gets. Still she has faith in God. One day, his sons shall come to find her, and take her home. Isn’t it a fabulous story?”
“I am not sure about the story. But your character is really impressive.”
“Why so, mister story-writer?”
“I can see the characterness in you, manifested in different manners.”
“Say whatever you may! Write it or not. That will make no difference to me.”
Without caring to answer me, he whistles out once. By now, we have walked across a fairly long distance. All of a sudden, he shakes hands with me in valediction and heads in a different direction. He utters something before taking his way.
“Somewhere along this street, my beloved is feeding her daughters. I need to meet her once.”
“Yes. It has been ten years since her husband sneaked into Qatar. He neither sent money, nor turned up himself. He is lost.”
“For how long has she been your beloved?”
Having said this, he leaves me in a state of stupefaction and curiosity and enters a lane, singing a song by Deepak Kharel: “Pratikshya gara meri mayalu, samayle manislai kaha kaha puryaunchha; kahile hasaunchha, kahile ruwaunchha, aansu ra haansoko sangam pani garaunchha”—meaning, have patience, my beloved! Time makes man far and wide; it makes him laugh and cry at times, and ensures a confluence of laughter and tears.
I continue to stand brooding for a few more minutes, before I move towards my home—my story site—carrying in mind several feelings, together with the manners my character exhibited today.
Everyone at home is asleep, having taken their dinner. When my wife opens the door for me, I enter. Without exchanging any word, she prepares to sleep with the kids. After I take off my shoes, I enter the washroom, relieve myself of pent-up urine, and enter the room again, having washed my hands and feet. I throw myself on the chair facing the table, and press on the switch of the table lamp. A zero-watt bulb glows in the room. I sit and close my eyes to recall the events of the day. Seeing me do so, my wife gets pissed off.
“Aren’t you eating your meal?”
“No, I am not eating tonight.”
“Why? It seems you are full.”
“No. I ate a little.”
“If so, what are you doing, still not going to bed?”
I stay silent, instead of tendering any prompt answer to the question of my wife. When I get hold of paper and pen, I say, “I will write a story now.”
“Story? So a story serves you things to eat now.”
“No. To drink, you might say.”
“What? A man made sluggish by poetry until yesterday has become a drunkard by writing stories today.”
“No, it’s not like that.”
I stammer. She is not in a mood to listen. The kids are fast asleep. They will wake up early in the morning and start playing. But time, at the moment, has chilled, as it is nearing midnight. Unwilling to switch on the computer, or weary of the coldness in the computer room, I place paper and pen in front of me and start brooding. My wife most often abhors such a habit of mine. I face observations that make me think that writing is getting slighted in the family gradually. The family knows that writing won’t solve its problems. There are several ways that lead to sorrow, and literature is one of their representatives. In that case, writing or announcing to write this story is, for my wife, an act of showing worthless heroism.
“I know nothing else. Go to bed straight. The night has gone very deep.”
“Listen to my story! I will tell it out to you.”
“Story? Which one?”
“The story goes like this…!”
[Translation: Mahesh Paudyal]
[Roshan Thapa Neerav is an experimental novelist and storywriter. His major publications include Prasthanantar, a novel in trilogy and Asahya, a collection of stories. He has also translated several international works into Nepali. He works at Editor at Nepal Academy.]