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Posts Tagged ‘Nepal’


Little Princes
Conor Grennan| HarperCollins| 308 pp, Rs 399

One of the many untold stories of Nepal’s decade long civil war between 1996-2006 is the story of the stolen children. Unofficial estimates put the figure to several lakhs while official statistics are hard to come by. Grennan who spent three years in Nepal between 2004-2007 tells the story of the Humla children taken away by child traffickers to Kathmandu – children that were voluntarily given up by parents for fear of Maoists taking them away. The writer doesn’t interact with the Mao brigade but gives us a touching account of the tiny tots that he and his NGO was able to unite with their families. A work they continue to engage in and raise funds for.

*

Song Without End & Other Stories
Neelum Saran Gour| Penguin| 284 pp, Rs 299

Never mind the market, write for yourself – is a mantra that seems to sum up this collection of 15 short stories. The book jacket promises effortlessly written prose, trenchant wit and captivating tales. But it offers none of that. The prose is laboured, the wit missing and stories, pretentious. ‘If they’d only get along better, there could be such identity of attitudes between them’ goes one line in a story. This could well sum up Gour’s pen. There is no guarantee that when you dip into The Iliad or Tagore’s Geetanjali you’d come up with a ‘captivating’ tale. A story needs a life of its own. And borrowing doesn’t always work.

*

Balasarswati, Her Art & Life
Douglas M Knight Jr| Tranquebar| 325 pp, Rs 599

It is difficult to deny that Indian publishers and writers are singularly disinterested in bringing out biographies of classical musicians and dancers. After all who is interested in the classical arts? Tranquebar seeks to undo this lack of balance by brining out a scholarly dissertation on the life and times of one of India’s greatest dancers, Balasarswati. Bala, as she was affectionately called, grew up in the much maligned devdasi tradition and defied the moral injunctions of her peers to keep her craft alive. She danced, sang and emoted as no other, since. And we are richer for having her immortalised in this book.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 11 December 2011)

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The Lives We Have Lost: Essays & Opinion
By Manjushree Thapa, Penguin India, Rs 350

The cover of Manjushree Thapa’s book The Lives We Have Lost, fronts a man, camouflaged by spirals of smoke, head bent in prayer in front of lit votive lamps. He wears a cap. Is it a figure of a nameless Nepali Maoist? Could be. But maybe it is not. The visual illusion, whether contrived or accidental, captures the uncertainty that dogs Nepal’s transition from a monarchy to an ultra left dominated democracy.

To Thapa, who takes a Kathmandu view of the events that led to the overthrow of King Gyanendra Shah and election of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) as the largest party to the Constituent Assembly, the political old guard is ineffectual and Maoists a “shrewd” political entity whose greatest advantage is that they have a standing army.

In her first draft of Nepal’s bloody decade, sourced from the articles and personal accounts written by the author between 2002-2009, there is little that would throw light on the aspirations of the rural and dispossessed Nepal that spearheaded the people’s movement. She does, however, assiduously trace the timeline of changes that led to the overthrow of the monarchy and formation of the Constituent Assembly.

In many ways the book presents a one sided view of the events. In analyzing the decade of bloody insurgency and counter insurgency, she blames Nepal’s traditional parties for failing to rise to the occasion. “The eternal dilemma of Nepal is that it has to wait for the political parties to show some integrity,” she writes.

This integrity was never really displayed. Yet, as the author notes Nepal society underwent tremendous change. “There is a new lack of servitude, now, in the way Nepalis relate to one another. There is greater social equality than before, and some changed attitudes. There is new understanding of exploitation and a sense of being vested with rights.”

Thapa credits civil rights, human rights and political rights movements for this change. If it weren’t for them the country would have seen no progress. It was the civil society intellectuals that brought the term ‘loktantra’ (people’s rule) to replace the 1990s call for ‘prajatantra’ (rule of subjects), she says.

The high caste, feudal lord dominated old political guard that led the previous movements for democracy, most notably in 1960s and 1990s, though part of this change, didn’t exactly spearhead it. Through the worst years of the decade, the political parties – the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist) – linked their survival to the throne, the Royal Nepal Army and India. “Only a handful of capital’s liberal human rights activists, journalists and editors spoke about systemic abuse by the state,” she bemoans.

Yet India, she feels, could have helped as it did in 2005 when it brokered peace between Maoists and the Seven Party Alliance. But it didn’t. Its covert support of the Madhesi parties – in an attempt to upstage the Maoists in the run up to the Constituent Assembly – backfired. The problem according to the author, is that more than the Indian foreign policy, it is the Indian Ministry of Defence that has been extremely influential in shaping policy in Nepal and in many ways responsible for what is happening currently. “A closer look at the Maoist victory makes it clear that Indian policy has harmed the very force it sought to promote in Nepal – in particular the Nepali Congress – and with it, Nepal’s peace process.”

Be that as it may, people’s movement for democracy in Nepal, has led to the formation of a new republic. It may not answer the author’s preference for a ‘European liberalism’ but it does echo the call of the people. And that in itself is worth celebrating.

(An edited version of this review appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today issue dated 8 January 2012)

 

 

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