"What remains if sex is taken out from your fiction?" Samrat Upadhyay, acclaimed 42 year old writer, told us in our rendezvous at Babar Mahal Revisited in mid-June, "You'll find your answer in my upcoming story collection The Royal Ghosts. There won't be much sex in it, though not entirely sexless." Samrat's writing is often dubbed as 'soft- porn,' an epithet he thinks more fitting for Shobhaa Desque works.
With the release of The Royal Ghosts in early February in US market, these questions must have haunted him like a ghost. But, in an age of writers taking half decade to come up with a book, three books with six years is in itself a remarkable achievement.
I was in Dubai when I first read about Samrat in Kosheli, a Saturday supplement of Kantipur Daily. (Coincidently, I am told he taught in a university in Saudi Arabia). In the piece I read some five years ago, he was mentioned as the first Nepali writer to be published in the West. I murmured: "Here's a guy who can beat the Englishmen in their own game." As soon as I came back home in the autumn of 2002, I bought a copy of Arresting God in Kathmandu and relished reading it, though the title which didn't appear among the stories baffled me and I gathered it was inscribed willy-nilly. Arresting.. was followed by a novel Guru of Love which only received a lukewarm response.
We in Nepal Magazine featured him among Nepalis living in the West and making it big. Last June, when he came back home, he was treated like a movie star. He kept himself busy giving interviews to the media, attending programs and most importantly signing his books at a book fair at Brikutimandap. I peeked through the milling and cooing crowd at Bhrikutimandap. He was sweating apparently because of exhaustion. I also saw another writer Peter J Karthak taking leave from Samrat, his one time colleague at Nepal Traveller. Then, Samrat didn't know me.
As February fell, my anxiety to do new feature stories for Nepal Magazine grew, and the hullabaloo of Valentine Day began, how can I forget our very own Guru of Love? I mailed him inquiring about his story collection due in February. He had said: "Short story is my first love. So, in a way I am returning to it with The Royal Ghosts." He replied me that The Royal Ghosts is already out in US market, but it may take months to hit the South Asian market. I got a mixed feeling. I envied the people living in the US who were able to read the book instantly. Why this privilege only for them? I googled him and found very few informations on his works. Unlike Manjushree Thapa who has her own website, he doesn't have one. However, there's an interesting review of The Royal Ghosts in Samudaya by Rajani. Currently, I am reading Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies and hearing a lot about Kiran Desai's new novel Inheritance of Loss, set in the backdrop of Kalingpong. I was compelled to compare these three writers. I will dwell upon this sometime later.
As Samrat's new book is reviewed worldwide, from Time Asia to The New York Times, from Rediff.com to India Abroad, he obviously is the man of the hour. I fond an excerpt of the story titled "The Refugee." It bears the stamp of his lucid and illustrious prose. Characters are familiar, so are the milieu– Kathmandu and its vicinity.
Pic by Bikas Rauniyar