By Atul K Thakur:
ENGLISH FICTION in Nepal has not yet achieved a critical mass whereas non-fiction, especially books by leading journalists, have won accolades both in the country and outside. In recent times, Manjushree Thapa and a few others have sporadically done well. Now another work of fiction — Palpasa Cafe by Nepal’s leading journalist and debutant novelist Narayan Wagle — appears very refreshing in a sensible English translation done by Bikash Sangruala.
Set in the backdrop of Nepal’s transitory democratic scene, this novel could be termed a testament of those painful years that started with the royal massacre of 2001. That brutal and mysterious incident caught up royalty, democratic forces and nascent radicalism in a mad spiral of events whose effects signs are still visible in Nepal. Palpasa Café is an original work completely woven around the realities of those citizens of Nepal whose lives have suffered immensely in the last two decades. In the novel, Palpasa is the female protagonist representing the insecure generation of her country with vivid charm and bewilderness. Her muse-like involvement with the artist is reassuring at some point; love can take the lead even in the deep darkness of war and uncertainty!
It is also true that adversity tests relationships in hard terms. Emotions alone can’t be a bulwark against extreme convictions. Under the guise of unpleasant circumstances, Palpasa ends up in a situation that is tragic and her better half seeks artistic deliverance. The author seems to want to reaffirm that the benign functionalism of bonds can easily coexist even beyond conventionally restricted relationships. Familiar as he is wth both India and Nepal, Narayan Wagle’s description from Goa to the valleys of turbulent Kathmandu allow readers to experience events and places with comfortable ease.
Wagle also delineates Nepal’s milestones of the last few decades with a balanced vigour which keeps the reader informed and engaged with the twists and turns of the plot. Moreover, his focus on the conflicts among community and vested political interests of different political groups necessitates knowing the ongoing struggle of Nepal’s democracy in a multi-layered way, not a monolithic frame. The way Palpasa’s fate is so easily decided can be taken as symbolic of the fact that the loss of a human being is no big deal for believers in strife like Maoists and other insensitive political participants. The book seems to nudge the reader towards disenchantment with existing institutional frameworks, although this might be a subjective interpretation by this reviewer.
THE BOOK tries well to establish those disenchanting urges with the directionless political development in Nepal. The pain of Nepal’s democratic transition is far from over. A big gulf created by the end of monarchy — perhaps the process started even before the palace massacre — still haunts the prospects of political normalisation. Elite Nepali journalists and intellectuals enjoying recognition at international level must concentrate more actively on their crisis-ridden homeland!
Source: The Financial World/Tehelka’.