This was published in The Kathmandu Post on Saturday.
Dabbling in Non-Linear
By Deepak Adhikari
Anamolmani Paudel, a journalist by vocation and littérateur by volition, has emerged with his first short story collection Neelima Ra Gaadha Andhyaro. This slim book contains a dozen short stories that revolve around urban life, love, trauma and the disorder of war, science, and cyber culture. But the most overarching element that encompasses these stories is conflict. There is conflict between tradition and modernity, between scientific invention (particularly test tube babies and cloning) and human emotions. Love is the recurring theme in Paudel’s stories.
The stories are mostly set in a thinly-veiled Kathmandu, and Paudel beautifully captures the sounds and sights, colour, and character of urban life. The language is simple yet very evocative. The first story titled Test-Tube Baby Ra Meri Premika, like several stories in this collection, is experimental. In it, he has not only introduced cyber culture in Nepali literature but has also questioned the encroachment of science in the realm of human relations. The narrator of the story comes across a chat mate in MSN Messenger. The chat mate turns out to be a test-tube baby. After his parents’ (both university professors) disagreement on bearing kids leads to their divorce, he was conceived in another woman’s body. His mother, in a letter which the central character sends to the narrator as an email attachment, explains that as a modern woman she wanted to exploit science’s advancement, i.e. she didn’t want to be impregnated. As a result of this, the chat mate is a test-tube baby. He laments the decay of humanity. Bordering on science fiction, this story with the details of semen banks, vaginal plastic surgery, and the buying and selling of sperm and ovum at times sounds morbid.
In Peeda Nayak, a young man narrates his love story that unfolds in the backdrop of an old campus building. Eventually the lovers part ways. The storytelling technique of this story is similar to the first one. The writer’s obsession with the foetus is repeated in another story titled Anuttarit. After the death of his mother, the protagonist’s foetus is transplanted in his 18-year-old sister’s womb. The unnamed central character is in dilemma: shall I call her a mother or a sister?
The title story Neelima Ra Gaadha Andhyaro revolves around Padam and Neelima. A long time after their separation, Padam calls up Neelima and tries to rekindle the olden days. But the girl turns out to be his former beloved’s clone. This story also has hints of meta-fiction with the mention of Kumar Nagarkoti, the seasoned Nepali fiction writer who is an inspiration to Paudel, who has confessed to Nagarkoti’s influence in his introduction.
The stories depict love lost, love regained, sadness, loneliness, consequences of war, crisis in human bond, and struggle between scientific innovations and human emotions. The author seems to suggest that science’s triumph is a loss of emotion.
Ustai too is an experimental take where Ibsen’s Nora (of A Doll’s House fame) and Nepal’s iconoclastic Charitraheen Chelis are invoked with equal aplomb. This story basically talks about suppression, exploitation, and marginalisation of women in our society. Zebra Cross Ma Ubhiyera deals with the consequences of Maoist conflict. Cynthia is a former Maoist combatant meets a lecturer at the psychology department of a university and shares her story. The story is told in flashback, and is about her fleeing the cantonment when a Maoist comrade rapes her, and her subsequent post-traumatic disorder. Cynthia leaves the mental ward of the hospital. This story is poignant, but it could have been better had the author delved deeper into the lives of the armed fighters and the internal conflicts in Maoist domain.
Though most of the stories provide glimpses into the characters’ small, private moments, some read like soliloquies. Take, for instance, the last story Carnation, Dhunwa Ra Timro Jhajhalko. Written in epistolary form; it reads more like a maudlin expression than a story.
Banki Prashnaharu is a fantasy, in which a headless man, in the backdrop of politically turbulent times, epitomises the Nepali everyman. Neelo Rumal Harayepachhi weaves a tale of love’s labour lost. There are some memorable lines and an abundance of details. But the stories are also marked by repetitions of phrases, metaphors, and similes, even descriptions.
Call me old-fashioned but I like the linear storytelling format with a well-constructed plot and clearly-drawn characters. I’m a big fan of O. Henry-esque stories, especially a surprise ending. Seen from this viewpoint, Paudel’s stories are essentially in a formalist vein. And with a decidedly post-modernist leaning.